Honorable mentions: “Il Mondo Era Vuoto,” “The Light in the Piazza”
If I were a braver man, I would have picked one of the several songs in Italian from this show, but that might have been almost prohibitively difficult to work with. There will not be a sequel to this series about opera, that’s for certain.
The Light in the Piazza is a love story, albeit an unusual one. the lovers, Clara and Fabrizio, are both well into their twenties and both very reliant on their parents. (I’m partial to the Kelli O’Hara/Matthew Morrison pairing in the original Broadway cast, more for her than for him; she has to live in genuine soprano territory, which is much harder than the place where he makes camp.) There are more movies about old people falling in love than there are about adults living with their parents falling in love, and there’s this weird blend of maturity and immaturity that invests itself in those lovers. It’s also a lovingly crafted love story; the characters exude nuanced affections, and the music is about as harmonically tight as you can ask for. Even the throwaway lyrics hit. One of the details about one of the songs in this show, “Passeggiata,” that I’ve always appreciated is that Fabrizio knows the English word for “snow” down pat, has “milk” available to him, but has no idea what the word is for “skin.” I took like, six years of French: “la neige” came to mind before “le lait,” which came to mind well before “la peau.”
“Say It Somehow, like “Passeggiata” before it, isn’t scared to drop the lyrics and leave the vocalists alone with the music. If desire – desire to take a luminous American stranger on a walk around the town, desire to marry her – is difficult to express, then its more impolitic pal, love, is practically unsayable. There may be a significant language gap between them, but romance language is greater barrier; Fabrizio really isn’t quite sure what it is he’s trying to say in either language when the song begins. There are not many songs, in or out of musicals, and there are not many sentences, in or out of the theater or poems or real life, which can express love with anything like authenticity, much less veracity. Guettel does well enough: a line like “I think I hear the sound of wrap your arms around me” is at least a 95th percentile expression. But the ultimate profession of love in this song is a few ticks up: punt on words, and let wordless, sung music carry the concept instead. Midway through the song, Fabrizio proposes (after Clara does – he knows “it must be mine to ask it”), and from there, words are barely part of “Say It Somehow.” There’s only a rolling “ah” in harmony, so surprising the first time you hear it, which sounds more like love than virtually any words could sound; it’s more adequate than merely somehow. It’s almost unbearably pretty.