Idina Menzel – or “Adele Dazeem” according to John Travolta’s botched introduction – gave a riveting performance of “Let it Go” at the 2014 Oscars this past Sunday. But perhaps it was John Travolta’s mispronunciation stealing the media focus away from Idina’s performance, or perhaps the problems that came up were too subtle for an untrained ear to pick up on, but for whatever reason, few seemed to notice some of the tempo and vocal problems in Idina’s performance (which she sold like a pro, to her credit).
Idina’s fantastic voice was a show stopper in her role as Elphaba in Broadway’s Wicked, which won her a Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. Then there was her recurring role on Glee as the birth mom of Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) who happened to conveniently have a spectacular voice for endless duets with Lea. Now she is gaining rising acclaim with her performance of the Oscar winning “Let it Go.”
So what happened at the “Let it Go” Oscar performance? Idina took off like a race horse from the start, rushing through the first verse until she was a full beat ahead. She had to hold off on starting into the next section to get back on track, but then there was still more rushing throughout. It seemed like Menzel was nervous – which would just go to show that even a Tony award-winning performer, who sang on stage live for 8 performances a week for 2 years with Wicked, can still sometimes get nervous! But to be fair, this problem can also happen if there is an issue with the monitors. Since sound waves take time to travel, being too far away from the orchestra (or speakers if they used a per-recorded track) and then not having good ear monitors to rely on instead of the live sound, can throw a performer out of sync very fast. If this was the situation, there would be nothing Menzel could do – you can’t tell the orchestra “hold it, stop everything, I’m having trouble hearing you right” in the middle of the Oscars.
Secondly, Idina virtually screamed her last high not (“the storm raged oooon“). She totally committed to it with plenty of breath support and luckily, the pitch didn’t change, but the tone broke into an airy crackling sound, then turned back into a clear tone for a moment with a little nice vibrato, but then just cracked and broke off completely at the end so that the note came to an involuntary halt. (You can see this progression at the end of the video above.) You could tell Idina Menzel felt a little insecure about that when she closed her mouth, but of course the audience was already so impressed by her at that point that she could do no wrong. She jazzed up the last moment of “the cold never bothered me anyway” with a little riff to pull focus from the rough note, and of course she totally sold the song regardless. But from a vocalists point of view on this performance, it sounded like Idina’s voice was a little worn out – which could be caused by different stressors like a little cold, too much singing, or not enough sleep.
Even for someone who has a top notch belt, a singer is at the mercy of their vocal health. That’s why professional singers have to be extra careful all the time about taking care of themselves, especially if they need to have regular access to the best version of their voice for constant performances. That means they have to keep their immune system strong and find a way to never be sick! A professional working vocalist has to do things like go to bed early, eat healthy, avoid foods that can create mucus or acid reflux, avoid caffeine or alcohol that could dry them out – basically live the life of a Saint – if they want to guarantee that they will always have the perfect version of their voice to conjure up at a moment’s notice.
So it’s understandable why both the rushing and voice cracking can happen even to an expert like Idina Menzel, and luckily she still made the song come to life like the pro she is. The aesthetics of her gorgeous dress and the twinkling ice mountain-shaped curtain light display set the scene. The amazing versatility of Idina’s voice created dynamic, emotion, and contrast. And her acting talent brought life to the lyrics. When it comes to musical theatre (and Frozen could fairly be called an animated musical), the emotion and acting of a song takes precedence over tone quality and vocal perfection. Adele Dazeem, er, uh, we mean, Idina Menzel, is still a singing goddess.
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