Up to now, the Ohio Light Opera Company has had a near monopoly on CD recordings of old time musicals. But now Light Opera of Manhattan has weighed in on the Albany label with Victor Herbert’s 1922 “Orange Blossoms.”
Herbert is forever connected with operettas, mostly “Naughty Marietta” and “New Moon”—and that mostly because of the Macdonald-Eddy film versions. But he knew how to keep up with the times, and “Orange Blossoms” is as much of the Broadway genre as other shows that appeared in the early 20s such as “Lady, Be Good,” “No, No, Nanette,” and “Dearest Enemy.” Yet it is also as much of the operetta genre as works like “The Student Prince” and “The Vagabond King.” It is this “keeping up while looking back” aspect of the score that makes this recording so interesting.
The plot revolves around Roger (Glenn Seven Allen) who wants to marry Helen (Sarah Callinan) who is a Brazilian divorcee. But he will lose an inheritance if he does; and so he will marry Kitty (Natalie Ballinger), who will then divorce him and leave him free to marry Helen. Get it? Others in on the plot are Tillie (Lisa Flanagan) and Jimmy (Ben Liebert).
But it is the songs that count. “A kiss in the dark” is the only number from this score that is familiar; and alas Ms. Ballinger does not have the voice that will erase memories of other artists who have recorded this gem, such as Beverley Sills. However, she and the rest of the cast are certainly up to the less demanding songs that Herbert has provided.
There is an interesting duet for Tillie and Jimmy in which they plan to live “way out west in Jersey,” thereby anticipating Larry Hart’s “Way out west on West End Avenue” by fifteen years. Critics back then noted that the music in the last act is not as good as what went before. But this happens in “Student Prince” and “Die Fledermaus.” To be honest, while most of “Orange Blossoms” is entertaining, little of it is very memorable.
Conductor Evans Haile makes a good case for the score, however, and I am especially happy with the natural way in which the dialogue is delivered. None of this “isn’t this funny?” intonation that is so prevalent in productions of older operettas. I am not happy, however, with a “revised edition” by director Michael Phillips. If you are going to revive a gem, revive it as written. It is a director’s challenge to make even weak dialogue sound good.