Girls of Summer

SCOTT BARNES offers a preview of Ravinia Festival's new concert team — PATTI LuPONE and PATRICIA RACETTE.

Girls of Summer Racette lg 612
Racette, above, and LuPone, Ravinia's new concert team
© Dario Acosta 2012
Girls of Summer LuPone lg 612
© Sara Krulwich/The New York Times/Redux 2012

On Saturday, July 21, at 7 P.M., following in the vocal footsteps of the legendary teams of Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews (and later Burnett and Beverly Sills), Patti LuPone and Patricia Racette, two divas "only an octave apart," will join forces in a benefit performance entitled Leading Ladies, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Women's Board of Chicago's Ravinia Festival and raising funds for its outreach program REACH*TEACH*­PLAY.

Racette and LuPone together — really? But as Ravinia CEO and president Welz Kauffman explains, it makes perfect sense: "Both singers have had big successes at Ravinia. LuPone did her first Sondheim parts here and 'tried out' her Rose in Gypsy for the Ravinia audiences. James Conlon went to Juilliard with Patti and has a marvelous operatic relationship with Pat, including concert performances of Butterfly and Tosca at Ravinia. Patti did Mahagonny in L.A. with James, as well. The ladies met at the OPERA NEWS Awards, hit it off, and that's when the wheels began to turn — two great ladies honoring generations of great Chicago-area ladies. The Ravinia Women's Board is the heart and soul of the festival. They are our largest donor. In honor of that first year, Conlon will conduct three orchestral showpieces that were done in 1962. Pat and Patti each will sing with orchestra, and then in the middle of the evening, we'll roll out a piano, the ladies will change clothes, and then they will do what they do with Rob Fisher!"

The precise program is still in formation. Racette says, "We spend most of our time telling stories and laughing, so it's anyone's guess what we come up with. The plan is to do our party pieces. I will probably do some Edith Piaf songs, and Patti is looking at a section of Kurt Weill songs; and then that famous Garland and Streisand duet ("Happy Days Are Here Again"/"Get Happy") and "Anything You Can Do," from Annie Get Your Gun, probably with some extra lyrics, specially written for Patti and myself, and the event."

Racette has a strong connection to the world of pop standards. Increasingly, her concert appearances include cabaret material, sung in the lower, sultrier part of her voice, and always with microphone. "The mic is essential for this type of singing," she says. "It's really my partner up there. It enables me to sing softer than could be heard without artificial amplification, but as an actress, that means the possibility for emotional nuance is endless. And I love to do arrangements that mix my two worlds; I do a killer 'Come Rain or Come Shine' intertwined with the Bach C-major prelude!"

LuPone is not entirely on foreign turf either when she steps into the world of classical music. At the Kennedy Center, conducted by Steven Mercurio, she starred in a staged concert of Blitzstein's Regina; in addition, there was the aforementioned L.A. Mahagonny, and she has sung Weill's Seven Deadly Sins with New York City Ballet.

LuPone refers to the festival as "Camp Ravinia": the artists are well-fed and appreciated, and the stress level is relatively low — as low as it can be when you're singing with the Chicago Symphony. Since it's an outdoor performance, all indicators point to a major YouTube alert on Sunday, July 22. spacer 


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