Album Review: ‘Great Voices Sing John Denver’

On June 11, 2013, MPE Music released Great Voices Sing John Denver, a 17-track tribute album produced by Milt Okun and Elisa Justice Holdridge that brings together some of opera’s great voices and the music and lyrics of singer-songwriter John Denver.

Released 15 years, seven months, and 30 days after Denver’s death, this recording includes performances by such world-renowned singers as Danielle de Niese, Patricia Racette, Sheyang, Rodney Gilfry, Daniel Montenegro, Denyce Graves. Dolora Zajick, Thomas Hampton, Stuart Kelton, Barbara Padilla, Placido Domingo, Placido Domingo, Jr., and Matthew Polenzani.

Per the official website for the award-winning film of the same name, Great Voices Sing John Denver was conceived as a result of a suggestion by Milt Okun’s wife Rosemary during a dinner conversation. Okun, who was John Denver’s original producer in the 1970s and was the man behind many of Denver’s best-known studio albums, collaborated with Elisa Justice Holdridge and her composer/arranger husband Lee Holdridge, to blend opera’s best voices with some of Denver’s best-loved songs.

The album, which has a running time of one hour, seven minutes, and 40 seconds, consists of the following tracks:

  1. Rhymes and Reasons (Danielle de Niese)
  2. This Old Guitar (Rodney Gilfry)
  3. Leaving on a Jet Plane (Patricia Racette)
  4. Sweet Surrender (Thomas Hampson)
  5. The Eagle and the Hawk (Rodney Gilfry, Daniel Montenegro, and Dolora Zajick)
  6. Goodbye Again (Daniel Montenegro)
  7. Sunshine on My Shoulders (John Denver/Dick Kniss/Michael Taylor) (Denyce Graves)
  8. Like a Sad Song (Dolora Zajick)
  9. Shanghai Breezes (Sheyang)
  10. Fly Away (Barbara Padilla and Stuart Skelton)
  11. Follow Me (Rene Pape)
  12. Per Te (Matthew Polenzani)
  13. Calypso (Nathan Gunn)
  14. Perhaps Love (Placido Domingo and Placido Domingo, Jr.
  15. Annie’s Song (All)
  16. For You (Matthew Polenzani)
  17. Shanghai Breezes (Mandarin Chinese) (Sheyang)

My Take

The original version of Perhaps Love,as sung by John Denver and Placido Domingo

John Denver passed away nearly 16 years before Rosemary Okun came up with the idea for this beautiful tribute album, but he always said that the songs he wrote, co-wrote, and sang during his career did not really belong to him, but rather were a gift to be shared with the rest of the world. And considering that his 1981 classic Perhaps Love boosted Placido Domingo’s profile in the fickle pop music scene and helped pave the way for The Three Tenors, Josh Groban, and Andrea Boccelli (the Popera subgenre), he would have been thrilled to hear this album. 

Patricia Racette knocks it out of the ballpark when she sings Leaving on a Jet Plane.

Milt Okun died three years after Great Voices Sing John Denver was released, but this beautiful recording will be a highlight of his legacy as a legendary producer and music impresario. The 17 tracks in the record show not just the greatness of John Denver’s artistry as a composer and collaborator, but also prove that other musicians in many genres outside Denver’s Western and folk music roots love and appreciate that artistry. 

I really enjoy this album, even though I’m not an opera buff and have not heard any of these singers in their “natural environment” as operatic performers. My favorite performances are Patricia Racette’s passionate rendition of Leaving on a Jet Plane, Matthew Polenzani’s Per Te, which is For You sung in Italian, and the father-and-son duo of Placido Domingo and Placido Domingo, Jr. performing Perhaps Love, which is my favorite John Denver song of all time. 

You don’t have to be an opera fan to enjoy Great Voices Sing John Denver, and you don’t necessarily have to be a John Denver fan, either. This is one of those rare instances where the music is simply so beautiful and emotionally raw that it touches your heart. This is also an album that is best listened to with a glass of wine and several handkerchiefs close at hand; it’s extremely well-done and all of the songs are lovely and have an emotional resonance that lingers long after the last notes fade out. 

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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