singing.....(Stingaree 1934- with Richard Dix)
If Irene´s singing voice would have been a little more on the weighty side I probably wouldn´t be sitting here. But as life goes when she auditioned for the MET in 1920 she was turned down with the statement of having too slight a voice. Thus her initial wish to become an opera singer didn´t come true, but this refusal led her to musical comedy and consequently to Hollywood...
Little Irene grew up in a musical home under the guidance of her mother Adelaide, herself a musician. Adelaide taught her daughter as a very small girl to play the piano, singing lessons followed and Irene was early in life confronted with the fact that art is a lot of work: "Whenever I wanted to play with the neighborhood children I had to practice. There were lessons, lessons, lessons, always lessons." (Screenland, June 21 1937) If there ever was a doubt that the course was set for a professional life with music, it was blown away when Irene at the age of sixteen attended a performance of "Madame Butterfly". Irene remembered this evening in 1936: "It was as if I´d been asleep all my life...Farrar and the beauty of her singing had awakened me."(Movie Mirror, November 1936) What a wonderful opera for an awakening, Miss Dunne!
singing... (Unfinished Business 1941)
But before the access to the coveted stage some musical education was still to master. The core of it took place at the Chicago Musical College where Irene won a scholarship in 1919. Though busy with growing success at the theatre since 1922, Irene went on with her studies in Chicago till her graduation with high honors in 1926. This parallelism of work and study shows how serious she was about her formal musical education.
singing...for once in the chorus (Unfinished Business 1941)
Music is always an important instrument in films. A tool to create atmosphere, to comment and interpret the ongoings on screen or to add subtext, which old Hollywood loved so much to do. Never, ever miss the lyrics of the songs in the background!
But to have an actress at hand for whom music was such a natural part of her being as it was for Irene, creates a new dimension. She sang in 26 of her 41 films and for all kind of purposes: to comfort, to put someone to sleep - and not only kids, to shut her man up, to get her man, to show that she is happy, in love, or even to prove that she is still nuts...and of course for sheer entertainment! Music is a self-evident element of Irene Dunne´s films.
still singing...(Never A Dull Moment 1950)
Her upbringing in a house which she describes as :"Music was as natural as breathing in our house."(Picturegoer, Feb.17 1945) is reflected in her natural performing style, though she is every inch an educated singer. It´s not an operatic voice but a well conducted voice with beauty and warmth - her phrasing and musical expression are flawless. Obviously Miss Dunne found - through her turning to the musical comedy stage - the perfect kind of music for herself. Anyway a fundamental step a singer has to take: finding the material which is fitting for her/his voice.
Our love for the opera and a singing education is something Miss Dunne and I have in common and that mostly when Irene is around a song isn´t too far away is one of the great joys for me in her films. Especially because I don´t have to compromise: Irene did not only sing beautifully for an actress, but she did sing beautifully for a singer.
Go on and sing my heart...(Love Affair 1939)
Thank you for all the music, Miss Dunne!