Renée Zellweger performing ‘Over The Rainbow’ as Judy Garland is so epic we asked a professional soprano to analyse it

30 August 2019, 11:11 | Updated: 2 September 2019, 14:46

By Rosie Pentreath

Renée Zellweger is set to play Judy Garland in the Rupert Goold-directed biopic about the beloved ‘Over the Rainbow’ singer. But how do her pipes hold up?

Renée Zellweger will play a late-career Judy Garland in Rupert Goold’s 2019 biopic Judy.

We have seen glimpses of Zellweger playing Judy in the film’s official trailer (see above), and heard short clips of her singing in the part.

And now, the first single from the official Judy soundtrack is out. Released today on Decca, ‘Over the Rainbow’ is a three-minute showcase of Judy Garland’s most famous song heard through Zellweger’s voice.

We enlisted the help of professional soprano and Classic FM presenter, Catherine Bott, to analyse Zellweger’s singing on the new track...

Read more: Is Renée Zellweger really singing as Judy Garland in ‘Judy’? >

Renée Zellweger's 'Over the Rainbow' from the Judy soundtrack is out now
Renée Zellweger's 'Over the Rainbow' from the Judy soundtrack is out now. Picture: Pathe / Decca

First up, what made Judy Garland’s voice so special?

“It's often said that the key to Garland’s mystique is her vulnerability, heard in that all-too-human vibrato that coarsened into tremulousness as, unlike Dorothy, she got older and more damaged by life,” Catherine says of the late movie star.

“But without ever drawing attention to it, she’s a profoundly musical singer, with a flawless technique – that octave leap on ‘Somewhere’ still right on the money even in the 1960 live recording, by which time ‘Over the Rainbow’ was such an indelible signature number, it’s amazing that she still sings it with total involvement and wonder.

“Garland made that song almost un-coverable by anyone else – she owns it in perpetuity.”

How good is Renée Zellweger’s version of ‘Over the Rainbow’ from Judy?

So how does Renée Zellweger fare, in the new biopic covering Judy's tragic final visit to London?

“Pretty well, actually,” Catherine says. “She's clearly been doing a lot of listening, and she goes for a breathy, slightly nasal sound, pitching each note confidently and accurately.

“It’s a compelling evocation of how the burnt-out star might have sounded at The Talk of The Town in 1969.”

Renée Zellweger plays Judy Garland in 'Judy' film 2019
Renée Zellweger plays Judy Garland in 'Judy'. Picture: Pathe

Rhythmically, Catherine notices a difference.

“Zellweger doesn’t have Garland's miraculous instinct for sitting back on the beat, but it’s much more than a ‘who knew an actress could sing?’ performance. Hearing this version definitely makes me look forward to seeing the movie.”

So it’s a thumbs up from the professional, and it’s a thumbs up from us. You can listen to Zellweger’s full performance in the track below.

Why is The Wizard of Oz so widely loved?

As is the case for many, Judy Garland – and specifically her role in The Wizard of Oz – has a special place in Catherine’s heart.

“Listening to 16-year-old Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is a deeply emotional experience: not simply because we can all identify with the wistfulness of Dorothy, stuck in Kansas, but because there's something else going on that is almost incomprehensible.

“How can someone so young sound so mature, almost world-weary? Where did she get that deep voice, and who taught her to phrase like that, playing with the rhythms of the music to make it sound as if these over-the-rainbow thoughts were only just popping up in her mind as she sang?”

Listen to Judy Garland’s original version of ‘Over the Rainbow’ below.

Renée Zellweger’s Judy, the original soundtrack to the film, is released globally on 27 September 2019.

As well as ‘Over the Rainbow’, it will also feature ‘Get Happy’, which is a duet with Zellweger and Sam Smith, and ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, which features Rufus Wainwright.

Judy is out in cinemas on 27 September 2019 in the USA, and 2 October 2019 in the UK.