Over the past decade, Elvis Costello has worn many skins. He's collaborated with Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and classical musicians the Brodsky Quartet. On Monday night, he even took the stage with mock hard rockers Spinal Tap for a version of "Gimme Some Money."
So it's not really surprising that Costello's latest endeavor has been producing a pop record for the acclaimed Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Tonight at 9, the two will perform selections from the album For the Stars during a live broadcast on WFUV (90.7 FM).
Unlike the pop albums of many other opera singers, this record, which has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, features few standards. "There's not a lot of point in singing 'Yesterday' again, is there?" says Costello.
Instead, the album is centered around a half-dozen Costello compositions, as well as lesser-known songs by Anna McGarrigle, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Paul McCartney and Ron Sexsmith. Utilizing both pop and classical musicians, the record can best be compared to the esoteric sound of Costello's earlier The Juliet Letters.
"It's like chamber pop," von Otter says. "I think that was probably what Elvis Costello had in mind all along. I was much less sure about what I wanted this disc to sound like. I was worried that the musicians might think I was terribly boring."
To give her voice a proper pop sound, von Otter says she concentrated on "leaving my opera voice behind." She largely succeeded, giving the songs a tender, understated sensibility.
"It wasn't about real bursting-with-energy performances like in a rock and roll record," Costello says. "It was about making her at ease."
Von Otter has already returned to her regular round of classical performances. Costello, meanwhile, is planning his next record, which will not be a collaboration. It will be his first proper solo record since 1994's Brutal Youth, and this time Costello plans to produce the songs himself.
"My intention is to make a record this summer," he says. "I've made 20 records and I've never made one completely on my own. So this time I'm planning to put myself at the center."