On Friday, April 22, 2022, we were introduced to Joan Ellison as she arrived from the airport for Behind the Notes, a talk hosted by the Punta Gorda Symphony Director and Conductor Raffaele Livio Ponti. Along with this charming, welcoming session with Ellison, Ponti previewed the upcoming 2022-23 concert season in which these talks are available to the public at the Punta Gorda Library con gratis.
Ellison spoke of her restoration of Judy Garland’s original orchestrations by Nelson Riddle, rich, vibrant masterpieces of a golden era. She hinted at the turbulence of the 47 years Judy Garland performed, starting as a child. Garland worked with her vaudeville family from the age of two and throughout her adult life, which partly explains how Garland earned status as a national treasure from a lifelong performance span, from an era that may never reoccur due to child labor laws.
“There is no barrier between her and song,” Ellison says about Garland. Garland’s personal, reflective, intimate style can be seen in The Judy Garland Show when she was often moved to tears during a song. Garland frequently stopped everything, sat down, and drew the listener close. Garland was a wonderful storyteller and dancer, and Ellison notes that all eyes are inexorably drawn upon Garland in the movie Easter Parade as she upstaged fellow luminary Fred Astaire. In that film, Garland’s husband Vincente Minnelli was the director who stepped down during production. As Ellison explained, the family’s psychiatrist advised that Minnelli and Garland were working and spending too much time together. They needed a break and once, according to the story, had to abruptly leave the movie set to restore their respective mental health.
MGM fired Judy Garland for not showing up for rehearsals in 1949 for Annie Get Your Gun. Ellison shared many tidbits about Garland and her career, and one is transfixed listening to her. She is lovely and uncannily resembles the iconic star. Throughout the concert, she shared these and other anecdotes.
The concert on Sunday kicked off with the symphony’s performance of a wonderfully orchestrated medley of Duke Ellington songs. With The Trolley Song, Ellison arrived on stage. Next was Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart from the Judy in Love studio album.
Ellison performed an arrangement of The Boy Next Door from Garland’s television show. From recently discovered papers of Garland’s husband, composer, and bandleader David Rose emerged a whimsical performance of A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow, with many of Garland’s affectations flawlessly and respectfully performed by Ellison. From 1954, A Star Is Born – The Man That Got Away was touching, pensive, and romantic.
Ellison suggested to the audience, “Imagine you are a superpower, and you could have any guy you wanted. Garland did; Johnny Mercer, Eddie Fisher, Arty Shaw, JFK, and Frank Sinatra!”
A medley of songs from the 1955 Judy At The Palace studio recording followed, including You haven’t Lived Until you’ve Played the Palace, Shine on Harvest Moon, My Man, Some Of These Days, and I Don’t Care.
Ellison captivated her audience through her own vulnerability and passion with song and facon de parler. She charmingly conveyed the marvelous musical poetry and spirit of Garland and the composers, touching the hearts of the listeners just as Garland did so long ago. She doesn’t imitate Garland; instead, she honors her and, for the audience, intimately portrays and shares a legacy of romance, love, loss, and longing. We were captured by her sumptuous musical badinage and expressed poignant tensions. Ellison is sensually dazzling, graceful, and glittering, from her signature red lipstick and costumes to the music.
The rich harmonies, delicate shadings, and intones of the orchestra warmly enveloped the audience and our chanteuse alike, drawing all into the pathos and lyrical ecstasy of the songs. We understand and celebrate the orchestra’s well-earned approbations.
Closing with Over the Rainbow, and with a click of the heels, the 43rd season of the Punta Gorda Symphony glided into its denouement. After all, Maestro Ponti did have to get his rented tuxedo back by 9:30.
The enthusiastic, adoring audience was treated with an encore, Chicago That Toddling Town.
“They have the time, the time of their life, and I saw a man who danced with his wife In Chicago, Chicago, Chicago, Chicago Free and easy town, brassy, breezy town.”
Get Happy! Joan Ellison Sings Judy Garland
Soprano – Joan Ellison
The Punta Gorda Symphony
Music Director and Conductor – Maestro Raffaele Livio Ponti
Musicians: Violin I-Ming Goa (Concertmaster), Liviu Onofrei (Asst. Concertmaster), Judith Yanchus, Davis Qi, Baoling Xu, Chaeyoung Son, Ben Maynard, Carlos Jáquez. Violin II-Cindi Qi, Prinipal, Cathy Pflieger, Ileans Ciumac, Sandra Rubio-Wang, Xiomara Sepúlveda Rueda, Kaitlin Richardson. Viola Rachel Cox (Principal), Julie Franklin, Elizabeth Bonta Moll, Anna Ivanova, Juan Carlos Siviero. Cello David Calhoun (Principal), Roy Garcia, Si-Cheng Liu, Mikel Thomas. Bass Laurence Glazener (Principal), Spencer Stowers, Joseph Trunk, Daniel Chiva Sanz. Flute David A. Suarez-Rios (Principal), Nicole Granroth. Oboe Evan Ocheret (Principal), Dawn Hardy. Clarinet Troy Negron (Principal), Claire Valentine. Bassoon Chris Eberle, Shawn Karson. Horn Jennifer Miller (Principal), Lexi Hebda, Lisa Bontrager, M. Edward Nagel. Trumpet Richard Stoelzel (Principal), Robert McCabe, Jeff Uban, Benedetto Salvia. Trombone Michael Zion (Principal), Katherine Rodriquez. Bass Trombone Aaron Chan (Principal). Tuba Todd Handley (Principal). Timpani Miguel Angel Pagua Molina (Principal). Percussion Dean Anderson (Principal), Gabriel Stoelzel. Piano Isabelle Aubin (Principal).
Sunday, April 24, 2022. 7:30 pm at the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center. $65 includes an after-party.
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of the Punta Gorda Symphony at the Charlotte PAC, Behind the Notes with Raffaele Ponti, Punta Gorda Symphony and Carnegie Hall, The Punta Gorda Symphony at the Charlotte PAC Reprise, and Maestro Raffaele Livio Ponti’s Pre-Concert Seminar with Violinist Sirena Huang.