11 July 2022

The art of the duet

Admin note – from now on, I’ll be posting about music on Mondays, under the tag #musicmonday. I can’t guarantee it will be every week, but I’ll try. Fiction posts will be on Fridays under the tag of, yes, #fictionfriday. Other posts will be as and when around those fixed points.

There is something about the vocal duet that seems always appealing. Perhaps it is the flexibility of the human voice, the way singers can bend their voices around each other. For me, they come in two forms, the operatic duet, which is a sort of sung conversation, and the form more common in popular music, where two people sing the same song. I don’t know why the popular music form is so popular, but examples abound. Before I get to them though, here is one from opera, the famous ‘Pearl Fishers’ duet with Placido Domingo and Andrea Bocelli.

Here are Cecilia Bartoli and Renee Fleming in a duet from the Marriage of Figaro.

Luciano Pavarotti sang many operatic duets in his life. In full flow he probably had more lung capacity on his own than most boy bands in total, so pairing him with pop singers seems almost cruel. Some of them worked though. One of the surprising ones, for me anyway, is this duet with Elton John.

Probably better known is this one, between Freddy Mercury and Monserrat Caballé. If ever a pop singer deserved the appellation ‘operatic’ it was surely Freddy!

It seems to have been more than just a recording. Here’s an interview with her which suggests a great mutual affection.

One artist who seems to enjoy duets is Barbara Streisand. Indeed she made a whole album of them called, appropriately enough, Duets. Here she is with Barry Gibb singing ‘Woman in Love’ by Barry and Robin Gibb.

Available on the same album is this great partnership with Ray Charles.

Jools Holland’s TV show, ‘Later’, often brings singers together with mixed results, although to be fair the rehearsal time available will be limited. Sometimes though, the stars are aligned, and the result is magical. Here are Paul Weller and Amy Winehouse with a song called ‘Don’t go to Strangers.’ Every time I listen to this, it moves me as I think how much talent was lost with her death.

Amy sang with Tony Bennet too. She seems so filled with joy in this video, singing ‘Body and Soul.’ Sadly, though, this was her last ever recording.

Another unlikely combination, for me anyway, is Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga. I never knew she had such a great voice, and brilliant diction and phrasing. Before seeing this I would have said she would be outclassed, but not in the least. Listen to ‘But Beautiful’ – it is indeed.

What is remarkable about his performances with Lady Gaga is not just his age (95) but also that he is suffering from Alzheimers. Despite everything he gave two full shows at Radio City in New York including at the end with Lady Gaga. See how he prepared in this video. (Keep the handkerchief handy…)

[EDIT: The last video appears not to be available any more, but I’ve left the link in case it reappears.]


  • Enjoyed your music and commentary here. I am an unabashed jazz fan so was so saddened when Amy Winehouse died. Like you, I was more than pleasantly surprised with Lady Gaga’s vocal talents. Tony Bennett retaining the quality of his voice at his age has been quite remarkable. By comparison, I think of U.S. pop singer Andy Williams whose vocal cords did not hold up as well. Given the brain’s organization it’s not at all unusual for individuals to be able to sing even when they may cease other communication including speech. As is known, too, people who stutter can often sing quite fluently. Rhythm and elements of singing can sometimes facilitate individuals regaining speech as those in my profession use in the therapy we provide when appropriate.

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