Anna Russell (born Anna Claudia Russell-Brown, 27 December 1911 18 October 2006) was a gifted English singer-comedienne-pianist-satirist-composer-parodist who made fun of Opera, Gilbert and Sullivan, Classical Music, Advertising, Jazz, and pretty much anything else she could get her hands on. Audiences loved it.
Some of Madame Russell's most notable routines:
- "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera"
- "A Practical Banana Promotion"
- "The Decline and Fall of the Popular Song"
- "The Ring of the Nibelungs: An Analysis"
Discographical note: most of her routines were recorded live in concert and released on short records (with bizarre names like Anna Russell Sings?, Anna Russell in Darkest Africa and Anna Russell Sings! Again?). All of these concert recordings are currently available collected on three CDs:note
- The Anna Russell Album?
- Anna Russell Encore?
- Anna Russell Again?
Anna Russell's works display examples of:
- Affectionate Parody: Her spoofs of popular and classical music varied widely in their sincerity. In "Survey of Singing from Madrigals to Modern Opera," though the parodies of madrigals and coloratura arias are too silly to be true, "Wir gehen in den Automaten" could be mistaken for a Bach cantata if the lyrics weren't about ordering bacon at the Automat, and "Aria from 'The Psychiatrist'" only sounds insane when compared with Magda's aria from The Consul and its repetition of the question "What is your name?"
- All for Nothing: Her interpretation of the Ring des Nibelungen.
- Anti-Love Song: "Miserable," a Torch Song parody on how awful it is to be happy without her lover and how she'd much rather be miserable (or as she renders it, "mizz-urr-ubb-ull") with him.
- Birthmark of Destiny: In "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera," the fat contralto character of Dandelion reveals (in song, assisted by chorus) that the rich tycoon Claude Billy Bunion was born with a mark "just like a Spanish onion" behind his ear, but being a stupid Gilbert and Sullivan character she switched the bassinets. Such a mark is discovered on the tenor, whom the soprano can now marry instead of the patter baritone, who has to marry the contralto.
- Blowing a Raspberry: A vital component of "The Old Sow Song".
- Brawn Hilda: Lampshaded.And [Siegfried] makes the classic understatement of all time: he says "This is no man." I mean—have you seen the average Brunhilde?!
- Christmas Songs: Lampooned with "Please Santa Claus."
- Damned by Faint Praise: Describes Pneumonia Vanderfeller as "very sweet." The tone in which this compliment is given suggests that it's not exactly meant as a compliment.
- Death by Woman Scorned: "Dripping With Gore" and "Two Time Man" are (mild) parodies of this trope as used in country music.
- Diseased Name: "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera" has Pneumonia Vanderfeller, a typical "British piercing-type soprano," and Claude Billy Bunion the Rich Tycoon. And then, of course, there's the heroine of "Anaemia's Death Scene."
- Exactly What I Meant to Say: From "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera":"As you know, you always have to start with a homogenous chorus. I know a lot of people are going to say that isn't homogenous, that's homogeneous. But that isn't what I mean: I mean homogenous, as in milk."
- Fate Worse than Death: In the classic sense.
- Freudian Excuse: Parodied in "Jolly Old Sigmund Freud".
- Hooked Up Afterwards: "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera" spoofs (along with every other G&S trope) the tendency of "the little man who sings the patter song" to end up with "the big fat contralto". Dandelion (the aforementioned "big fat contralto") even sings about it in the final number, although it appears it will come as a surprise to Claude Billy Bunion ("the little man who sings the patter song").
- Idiot Hero: Siegfried in "The Ring of the Nibelungs: An Analysis."And he's very young, and he's very handsome, and he's very strong, and he's very brave—and he's very stupid... he's a regular Li'l Abner type.
- Impoverished Patrician: The plot of "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera" stems from how Parnassus Q. Vanderfeller has lost all his money but is "much too aristocratic to work."
- Jingle: "A Practical Banana Promotion" includes not only "Eta Banana," a parody of the Chiquita jingle, but also "Alas, What Should I Do," which sounds like just a rather mushy ballad when played the first time, but with subliminal advertising supposedly included. The song is repeated to reveal many contemporary (1950s) commercial jingles and slogans.
- Not to mention some ads that piggyback off parts of the song:"For love of you/My heart is clogged with feeling/It overflows with passion—" "Phone your Roto-Rooter service man!"
- Not to mention some ads that piggyback off parts of the song:
- Jumping-On Point: As Anna explains, in the opening of Götterdämmerung, the Fates re-tell the story of the first three operas "right over again from the beginning. That is, of course, in case you couldn't hear it the first time. As a matter of fact, you can miss out parts one, two, and three, and go in at the beginning of Götterdämmerung and you'll be just about as far ahead as anyone else is."
- Ladies and Germs: "Introduction to the Concert (By the Women's Club President)" begins: "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen...and others."
- Last-Second Word Swap: In the grand-opera spoof "Anaemia's Death Scene," the dying Anaemia refers to her Unwanted Fiancé as a "miserable old...baritone."
- Love at First Sight: Russell was absolutely vicious towards this kind of storyline, e.g. between Siegfried and Brunhilde, or Tamino and Pamina.
- Never My Fault: Mocked; see Freudian Excuse.
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: "The Ring of the Nibelungs: An Analysis" includes what is probably the Trope Codifier: after describing Gutrune as "the only woman that Siegfried has ever come across who hasn't been his aunt," she says "I'm not making this up, you know!" The line became so associated with her that her autobiography is called I'm Not Making This Up, You Know.
- After mentioning that Mozart's librettist for The Magic Flute (and the first to play Papageno) was named Emanuel Schikanedernote , she insists "I mean it!"
- Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List: In "Introduction to the Concert (By the Women's Club President)," the speaker introduces "that magnificent pianist, Miss ... er ... Miss Hamburger."
- Old Money: Parodied in the opening chorus of "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera."We're in the social register
All lower-class types we shun
But to keep our niche we must stay very rich
'Cause we'll be thrown out when we've none
And it's very very funny
When you've lots and lots of money
To be horrible to those with none
- Parenthetical Swearing: In "The Ring of the Nibelungs: An Analysis", when Siegfried meets the Gibichungs, Russell notes that Gutrune is a Gibich and that her half-brother Hagen is a son of a Gibich, with the emphasis very much on the second syllable.
- Poirot Speak: "Schreechenrauf," introduced as a pastiche of Wagnerian arias for dramatic soprano, is actually a parody of the Ring cycle, with mangled Anglo-German phrases like "wir fallen in lieber" set to Richard Wagner's music. The aria reaches a climax when it puts down one of the characters from Götterdämmerung (Gutrune, daughter of Gibich) as "Gutrune, die Götterdämmerung Gibich!"
- She does the same thing with what can only be described as dog-Italian, in "Canto Dolcemente Pipo", from the opera La Cantatrice Squelante.
- Porky Pig Pronunciation: The Women's Club President quotes a line from "Caelius Jusar—I'm sorry, Sulius Jaesar! ...Macbeth!" (It's the famous "food of love" quote from Twelfth Night.)
- Precision F-Strike: As detailed under Sophisticated as Hell, but there's another (relatively mild) one in her summary of The Magic Flute:"Is that what she told you?" says the priest. "Women, huh! Well I can tell you something, you've got it all arse-backwards."
- Questioning Title?: The titles of the three collected CDs: The Anna Russel Album?, Anna Russell Encore?, and Anna Russell Again?.
- Rule of Funny: Invoked in "Hamletto, or Prosciuttino":
- As you know, Verdi has made operas out of many of the Shakespeare plays. He has not, as a matter of fact, made one out of Hamlet, but I'm not for a moment going to let that stand in my way.
- Anna Russell's claim that the Norns are Siegfried's aunts is incorrect. While they are daughters of Erda, making them Brunnhilde's half-sisters on her mother's side, they are not related to Wotan (Siegfried's grandfather and Brunnhilde's father).
- At the point in Götterdämmerung when Hagen gives Siegfried the potion, Gutrune is indeed the only woman Siegfried has met who isn't his aunt. However, Siegfried has a later scene with the Rhinemaidens (the three daughters of Father Rhine).
- Running Gag:
- In "The Ring of the Nibelungs: An Analysis", Siegfried's tendency to run into women who unbeknownst to him are his aunts.
- Also, whenever a character or plot element reappears after Wagner has gone an entire opera without mentioning them, Russell pausing to check with the audience that they still remember that character or plot element.
- Shout-Out: "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera" skewers a number of recurring tropes from their works, but the characters and overall plotline have a one-to-one connection with H.M.S. Pinafore.
- Sophisticated as Hell: One of many examples: Anna states that, when one enters the world of opera, one will discover, "that the competition will be fierce. The currying favor with the impresario and the visiting conductors, and the Machiavellian plottings and plannings that go on are absolutely legendary. So to be reasonably certain of success in this field, you would need be a glorious-voiced, independently wealthy, sexy, politically motivated, backstabbing bitch."
- Standard Snippet: In "The Ring of the Nibelungs: An Analysis", when Alberich puts a curse on the Ring, she plays the standard snippet that usually accompanies a Dastardly Whiplash up to no good,note then apologizes — "That's the wrong curse, isn't it?"
- Surprise Incest: Spoofed in "The Ring of the Nibelungs: An Analysis.""That's the beauty of grand opera: You can do anything. (Beat) So long as you sing it."
- Take That!: A few, yes. "Introduction to the Concert," for example, makes it clear that "Our organization stands for the better things in art, not expecting either reward or enjoyment."
- That Came Out Wrong: Possibly a Freudian Slip...Of course, [introducing the concert and featured artist] is really the job of the Chair of Entertainment, but she's awfully sorry she was unable to be here this evening. She's been in bed all week with the doctor.
(waits for laughter to die down)
I think you're very unkind, she's having a horrible time!
- Victorian Novel Disease: "Anaemia's Death Scene," naturally.
- Victory Is Boring: Claude Billy Bunion seems to feel this way.I got mixed up in politics and found it quite delectable
I did a lot of chiseling in manners undetectable
But now I'm so conspicuous I'm forced to be respectable
It's really very dull to be a rich tycoon!
- Vocal Range Exceeded: The coloratura parodies "Canto dolciamente Pipo" and "O gentle bird with feathered breast" end with cadenzas that are obviously going to end on notes high above the staff, except that, after a few seconds of breathing (and, in the case of "Pipo", with an audible mutter of "Oh, the heck with it"), she instead sings her final note two or three octaves lower.
- Wacky Americans Have Wacky Names: In "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera", the wealthy American patriarch is named Parnassus Q. Vanderfeller. The Nouveau Riche Romantic False Lead is named Claude Billy Bunion.
- You Bastard!: Played for Laughs in "The Rubens Woman": "She is dead, and who killed her? Who killed her? You killed her! You!"