Fedallini’s Catalog

It’s Tuesday, and I’m home with a raging cold, so not therefore up to writing an extensive post, but I did get some work done on Moonlight on Sunday that I could talk about.

In Act I, Thurgood (Groucho) is hiring Fedallini and Pinke (Chico and Harpo) to kidnap the girl so his son can be the hero. He expresses doubt that Pinke could die convincingly, whereupon Fedallini strikes up a cheesy saltarello and catalogs the many ways Pinke kicks the bucket.

Here’s the intro:

You think he look healthy,
like in-a da pink,
He no kick-a da bucket,
Dat’s what-a you think,
But he’s great at da croaking
and dat’s-a no lie;
Give him some room-a
And watch-a him die:

The rest of it’s in couplets, and I don’t have one I’m happy with yet, although this one comes close:

You can chop off his head wit’ da axes of steel,
He can cough up da blood like dat lady Camille.

One problem is that “I Would Never” is still fresh in my head (and why not, since it’s not complete, either) and that song’s triplet melody keeps intruding. No independent melody has suggested itself at this point, so I’m contenting myself with working on the words.

Another problem is that this kind of patter is very hard to write. It not only has to make sense and rhyme in a meaningful way (meaningful = within the sense of the lyric and often setting up a punchline if not a frisson of delight at the mastery of the lyricist), but it has to, more than most lyrics, be speakable. It can not trip the tongue. It can’t even approach tripping. That’s why the “dissociative disorder Delores” verse in “I Would Never” will be the first to be cut: dis-sosh-tive is impossible to sing.

There are two lyrics I’m very proud of that illustrate what I’m talking about, both from Figaro. The first is from Bartolo’s Act I aria:

Digging through cases for clarification,
I’ll cover our bases for alienation.

That’s damn good, folks. The crafty old lawyer is going to take up his housekeeper’s breach of promise suit against his enemy Figaro and has worked himself up into a lather at this point in the song. Notice the internal rhyming as well. Mostly notice how the singer’s tongue never has to make a false move here, especially if you ‘tip’ your r‘s like you’re supposed to.

The other example is from the end of the Act II finale, when Bartolo, Basilio, and Marcellina burst in, waving the contract and demanding justice. Each has a little outburst, starting in eighth notes but erupting into sixteenth notes halfway through:

MARCELLINA
See the contract that he’s signed here,
It’s designed to be unbroken
With his promises unspoken,
And I want to make it clear!

BARTOLO
As her lawyer, I’ll defend her
And intend to publicize it
So the world will recognize him
As a scheming profiteer!

BASILIO
As a man who’s known for living
Well, I’m giving testimony
That he promised matrimony
If he couldn’t pay the dear!

In each case, I went da Ponte one better and threw in that quick cross rhyme at the end of the first line. The –eer rhyme was the “anchor rhyme” of the scene, the one that was used across the entire scene. That was a handy way to signal a shift in the proceedings.

The point is that “patter songs” are devilishly tricky. It’s not enough to have something that rhymes and makes sense. It also has to be singable in a way that is much more comfortable than every other kind of lyric.

It occurs to me, just now, that Fedallini isn’t going to sing this song anyway, he’s going to speak it, so I don’t have to worry about the whole lyric/melody/character nexus at all. Well, that’s one problem solved.

5 thoughts on “Fedallini’s Catalog

  1. Actually, I’ve been mulling that over. I have realized that my couplets are not really saltarello rhythm: instead of triplets, it’s a dotted rhythm. Think “Funiculi, Funicula.” It will actually make life a little easier, both on me and the performer, since now all I have to do is iambic meter instead of anapestic.

    Anyway, with a little more relaxed rhythm, we can squeeze in some honks and faces from Pinke/Harpo, who at any rate was going to be madly miming all the means of extinction.

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