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Classical 101

New Linda Ronstadt Documentary Showcases Her Powerful Voice

Linda Ronstadt
Telling Pictures Productions
Linda Ronstadt

A new documentary about Linda Ronstadt tells the story her prime years. Thre were many, and provide a context of the struggle for what her life is today.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice opens at the Gateway Film Center on High Street on September 13.

As a music fan, I love voices and I love beautiful sounds. Well-tuned, even, expressive voices that embrace works and make music.

What I love more are voices that are not only pleasing but pulled up from the guts and out through the lips and teeth, digging dig deep into our hearts and psyches. I’m thinking of Janis Joplin, Louis Armstrong, Maria Callas, Dinah Washington, Jon Vickers and Ronstadt.

Ronstadt needs the least amount of help in maintaining a public profile. Though she retired from singing in 2009, her hits were so many, her music was so well documented, that we can hear that voice with the touch of any button.

Ronstadt didn’t exactly retire. She withdrew from public performance in 2009 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In recent interviews, she needs help walking and is very honest that her voice is gone.

In the early 1980s Ronstadt and Rex Smith starred in the Public Theater’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.  This was the talk of Broadway for over a year. There wasn’t a ticket to be had.

Linda as Mabel pared her voice down to a demure soprano with lots of suggestion behind the lines. She was, in fact, the perfect satire.

Members of the pit orchestra had formed a chamber group called The Music Project. I don’ t remember the instrumentation past a piano, a string quartet and maybe a couple of winds. Dan Berlinghoff was the pianist and music director. I worked for their management.

The Music Project had a concert series at Merkin Hall in New York.

To help launch their colleagues into chamber music heaven, Ronstadt and Smith agreed to appear at the first concert.

It was of course, very well attended. I think there was some Schubert and Mozart.

Then Ronstadt out came on stage. Hot is the only word to use. The woman was hot. Knee length purple one-piece dress. Big make up. Magnificent spiked heels. She giggled, smiled and sang the Rachmaninoff Vocalise. She had a sweet clear soprano. There was not a microphone within 100 yards of Merkin Hall.

Clearly, she was not used to singing without amplification. After the first few phrases, her voice blossomed. She would have been quite the sexy Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro.

After the concert, Smith and Ronstadt stuck around to say hello. No handlers, no publicists, just two nice young people. They were both sweet and gracious to all. Smith seemed hugely relieved to have made it through Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel - with some help.

It was a lovely afternoon of musicians helping one another, and giving and receiving pleasure from performance. It made me love Linda Ronstadt even more.

Editor's note: Gateway Film Center is one of WOSU's financial supporters.