Personnel: Anna Russell (piano).
Liner Note Author: Barrymore Laurence Scherer.
Translators: Floriana Bivona-Lockner; Mike Danner.
In the world of comedy, there are many artists you'd consider classic, but many fewer you'd call classical. Anna Russell is one of the latter, gifted with an amazing classically trained voice and a wicked sense of humor, which she uses to good effect on two albums, Anna Russell Sings? and Anna Russell Sings! Again?; those two albums were later compiled into this two-album set, The Anna Russell Album?. On these two albums she is the funniest classical music teacher you'd ever want to hear, taking you through topics like how to write your own Gilbert & Sullivan opera, what to do if you're a singer with only one or two strong notes in your range, and how to approach your art if your aesthetic sense is brilliant but your voice is not. Russell proves here that Richard Wagner is the most amusing of all of the opera composers, by giving a demonstration of how a "buzzsaw" soprano voice is better than a good voice for cutting through the music itself. The piŠce de r‚sistance, however, is a run-through of the entire four-opera Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle, in which she compresses all 20 hours down to just over 20 minutes and demonstrates just how absurd the entire plot is. (She also gives the best tip there is about Der Ring: Since there's a recap at the beginning of the fourth opera, you may as well just skip the first three if you want to save yourself 15 hours or so.) While Russell is obviously very knowledgeable about her subject matter, she never makes it feel like she's looking down on you if you're not, and consequently this album is enjoyable whether you're a longtime classical music fan or just merely curious. ~ Sean Carruthers