Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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The Gunn Show

December 12, 2009

Nathan Gunn
Photo: Bill Phelps

Nathan Gunn took a break from L.A. Opera’s current run of Il Barbiere di Siviglia and extensive workout profiles in the Wall Street Journal Friday for a recital in Santa Monica at the Broad Stage. The reigning king of the barihunks brought along his wife, Julie Gunn, to accompany him on piano and gave a good program if one that got noticeably better the more cross-over-friendly the material got. He appeared in a thin mustache (I presume it is for the opera production) and a badly-fitting tux which worked against a kind of old Hollywood glamor he might have been able to achieve otherwise. The program itself started out with the two big Papageno arias from Die Zauberflöte - pieces he can sing in his sleep, I’m sure. And while he wasn’t asleep here, he wasn’t bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in them either. Between these book-ends were a number of Schubert lieder. Gunn’s German sounds very good, but I found his voice a bit too bright and warm for these particular songs. None of them quite had the angst or tragedy you might like. He could have used just a touch more Ute Lemper and a touch less Robert Goulet.

Not that he was crooning. He saved that for the cabaret and musical theater songs in the second half, where it was more appropriate and where he really came to life. There were some lovely settings from Benjamin Moore, followed by two songs from Tom Waits, “The Briar and the Rose”, and “Innocent When You Dream.” Though interesting, these were not entirely successful either. Stripped of Waits’ haggard and drunken performance style, the dark undercurrent of these lyrics got lost making them sound oddly sentimental. The most satisfying moments of the evening for me, strangely enough, were the Christmas songs he performed including “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song”. Together, they sounded like I was at the best holiday party ever and they got me in the Christmas spirit faster than anything else I’ve heard yet this December. Gunn even took a stab at some self-deprecating humor by finishing “White Christmas” with some Bing Crosby inspired ba-ba-booms. There were two superbly acted bits from Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot as well. For an encore, Gunn delivered the two best performances of the evening. First was a raucous version of Bolcom’s “George” that fully plunged into the campy tone of the piece that I’ve not heard anyone else pull off so well. It was very, very charming. And in conclusion, there was Harburg’s “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” Suddenly all the anger and pathos missing earlier in the show came raging out in a very good performance that showed off why Gunn is much more than a pretty face.


hardly a word about his (lack of) voice. Why'd you pay for this garbage, let alone devote cyberspace to its coverage??
Oh I don't know. Probably for the same reason that outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Good Morning America cover him. Regardless of his vocal capabilities (or lack thereof) he's a big opera star here in the US.

Plus vocal technique is perhaps one of the least interesting topics to consider at length when discussing a singer.
Not just his (lack of) technique. (I wouldn't expect a non-specialist to be able to speak articulately about technical matters, anyhow.) But what about his unremarkable voice? Certainly the qualities of a voice are what identify a singer.

He's a star, but undeservedly so.
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