“Cabaret Girl” Sparkles in New Recording

1922 Kern Musical Sparkles in New Recording

   A-OLO-Cabaret GirlThere was once a form of entertainment called the Musical Comedy that actually had both delightful music and a good deal of comedy. Of course, the plots were bubble headed and served mainly as a peg on which to hang the songs. One of the masters of the genre was Jerome Kern, a disciple of Victor Herbert, whose influence on Kern is very obvious in his earlier works.

Of course, “Show Boat” dared to introduce a serious plot into the mix and prepared the ground for “Pal Joey,” “South Pacific,” and later much of what passes for musicals today. But back in 1922, musicals like Kern’s “The Cabaret Girl” were much in vogue. Most have deservedly vanished, but with Kern composing the music and P.G. Wodehouse and George Grossmith working on dialogue and lyrics, the show was heads above most of the others.

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Jerome Kern

Now cut into the 21st century. The Ohio Light Opera has been producing and recording on CDs a good many American and European operettas, with considerable success, most of which I have reviewed in my columns. Now with “The Cabaret Girl” on the Albany label, they have what I consider one of their finer efforts. Since the recording and program notes include all the dialogue, I will pass over the silly plot.

What is most impressive is that just about every song makes one feel good! The comedy songs find their sources in past operettas (Gilbert and Sullivan’s influence is most apparent) as well as vaudeville routines, in particular those of Gallagher and Shean.

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Two of the original cast

Conductor Michael Borowitz brings sparkle to a score that demands it; and even the dialogue flows a little faster than it does in some of the past OLO recordings. Compliments to the leads, among whom are Lindsay O’Neil, Stefan Gordon, Julie Wright, Steven Daigle, and too many others to list here.

The running time of the two CDs is 114 minutes, and for once I wish it could have been longer!

So for lovers of old time songs, students of the American musical theatre, and all who want to revel in things as they used to be—this is a definite Grabbit!

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Scenes from the OLO production (2008)

Victor Herbert’s “The Fortune Teller” Comes to Life on CD

 

A-OLO-Fortune TellerVictor Herbert’s “The Fortune Teller Comes to Life on CD

It is interesting to note that Victor Herbert’s “The Fortune Teller” opened in 1898, only two years after Gilbert & Sullivan’s last collaboration, “The Grand Duke.” In the latter work, one man finds himself engaged to four women; in the former one woman finds herself engaged to three men. Even Herbert’s music in “Fortune Teller” sounds similar to parts of “Grand Duke.” But in the world of musical theatre, such things are bound to happen.

The Ohio Light Opera has a long series of operatic recordings, to which “The Fortune Teller” is the latest entry. It is  available in a 2-CD set from Albany Records. The book and lyrics by Henry B. Smith tell the story of a Gypsy named Musette who is a dead ringer for the prima ballerina of the Budapest Opera, Irma (both roles sung here by Amy Maples).

The penniless Count Berezowski (Logan Walsh) wants to marry Irma because of her bracelet (just accept that for now), but Musette poses as Irma and winds up engaged to him while Irma disguises herself as her twin brother Fedor, lest he be charged with desertion. (I am not making this up!) At any rate, the dialogue is included in both the recording and booklet and can be cheerfully ignored.

More than one Herbert tune does not quite make it, such as the military choruses, which suffer by comparison with Sullivan’s march in “Patience.” But two melodies have often been sung out of context on collections of Herbert’s songs: “Romany life,” which celebrates the Gypsy world outlook, and the hauntingly beautiful “Gypsy love song,” which is sung to entice Musette into staying with her people.

In fact, I have grown so used to hearing sopranos and mezzos sing the latter that I was surprised to find it is a man, Sandor (David Kelleher-Flight), who is assigned this gem.

Although one or two of the men read their lines in that “this is an operetta” lilt, the silly plot can stand that treatment, while the other musical pieces range from pretty good to exquisite.

And I am assured by John Ostendorf, the Recording Producer, that the dialogue is found in the original script though it is highly abridged.

Finally, Conductor Steven Byess leads singers and orchestra with brio. Good work all around.

Friml’s “Firefly” Flits Finally in Complete Recording

Friml’s “Firefly” Flits Finally in Complete Recording A-OLO-Firefly

 “Love is like a firefly” is a line from Rudolf Friml’s 1912 Broadway operetta “The Firefly.” The score should have been by Victor Herbert, but he wanted nothing to do with any work that would star the recalcitrant lead in his “Naughty Marietta.” Therefore, Friml was engaged, and Otto Harbach (spelled Hauerbach back then) provided lyrics and dialogue.

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Scenes from OLO production (2006)

As part of its forever growing series of full-scale operettas, The Ohio Light Opera some time ago added “The Firefly” to its collection of recordings on the Albany label. Running just a few minutes over 2 hours, this performance convinces the hearer yet again how insipid the old plots were (I will decline to give any synopsis here) and how generalized and banal the lyrics. Was NOTHING learned from Gilbert and Sullivan?

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Friml in 1932

As is the case with almost all modern productions of the old-time operettas, the dialogue—and often the plot—is changed in many performances and recordings. However, I am assured, however, by a gentleman connected with the OLO recordings that their CD productions stick close to the original dialogue, except for cuts when time demands necessitate them.

Now and then, the music is well worth the purchase price. Nina, sung here more than adequately by Robin DeLeon, gets a few show stoppers, the most famous of which is “Giannina mia” in the first act. One must be grateful to Albany for supplying all the text, without which most of the choruses and Harbach’s lyrics would be impossible to understand.

The rest of the cast is quite good for this kind of music; but what there is of the Ohio Light Opera production’s dialogue should have been speeded up quite a bit. I doubt if any listener would want to hear it on repeated hearings at any rate.

51aOcQehyBL._SX362_BO1,204,203,200_One word. “The Donkey Serenade” is nowhere to be heard. It was written for the film version, which replaces the goofy romantic doings of the New York upper crust in the city and in Bermuda with the goofy political and romantic doings in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars! The Serenade was based without Friml’s permission or knowledge on his piano piece “Chanson,” latter revised as “Chansonette.”

I think this recording is important enough to belong to any collection of Broadway shows. And the dialogue can be programmed out.

Ohio Light Opera Dishes Up a Happy “Gondoliers”

 

IMG_20150531_0001Ohio Light Opera Dishes Up a Happy “Gondoliers”

  I believe that the score to Arthur Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers” is his happiest, while the plot is a topsy-turvy affair in the true William S. Gilbert manner.. In the past, The Ohio Light Opera has been performing and recording on CDs full productions of rarely done operettas. The Gilbert & Sullivan works so far in their series of recordings have fairly complete dialogue and therefore are in competition with the D’Oyly Carte recordings of those works that contain only the musical segments..

However, the latest release on the Troy label, “The Gondoliers,” has competition from a D’Oyly Carte recording with dialogue on the Decca label; and I was afraid that this OLO version would suffer in comparison. In two words, it doesn’t!

This is a nearly perfect recording of the musical tale of two gondoliers, Marco (Jack Beetle) and Giuseppe (Nicholas Hartley), who having just married Gianetta (Kemper LeCroy-Flarin) and Tessa (Sahara Glasener-Boles) then learn from the Grand Inquisitor Don Alhambra del Bolero (Gary Moss) that one of them is really the King of Barataria and (later in Act II) that the same one is also married to Casilda (Anne Marie Frohnmayer), the daughter of the out-of-pocket Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro (Ted Christopher and a light-voiced Sandra Ross). Trouble is, no one but the king’s mother knows which is the king and which the gondolier. And she is on her way to sort things out.

And so the two rule jointly as a monarchy based on republican (small “r”) principles. The only satire is against the belief that ALL people can be equal in rank, and that line of thought comes to an end half way into Act II. The plot’s ending is a nod to one of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas, and no more need be said.

The dialogue is spoken with a good tempo and the enunciation is very good with final “t’s” and “d’s carefully hit off. (I cannot understand why “livery” is pronounced with a long “i,” but let that go.) The dialogue is absolutely complete and the music is conducted with verve by J. Lynn Thompson.

The booklet has minimal notes abut the background of the play and the entire text of the dialogue and songs. I would call this one a Grabbit.

“Mlle. Modiste” Anticipates the Early Broadway Musical

 “Mlle. Modiste” Anticipates the Early Broadway Musical        A-OLO-Mlle Modiste 

By 1905, it was starting to be difficult to tell Victor Herbert’s operettas from the musical comedies of that time. Sigmund Romberg’s “Student Prince” (1924) for example, sounds very European, while Herbert’s “Mlle. Modiste” (1905) sounds like early Jerome Kern. The tunes are snappy, the lyrics bordering on intelligent now and then, the plot (alas) just as cliché-ridden as most of the others.

Still, it is so good to hear the score with most of the original dialogue, albeit only on CD, well performed by a company that is turning more and more to early musicals. Yes, it is the Ohio Light Opera that is featured on this 2-CD set issued some time ago on the Albany label. Aside from an occasional line reading that implies “isn’t this a funny show?” the singing is up to OLO standards, the acting is more than adequate, given the lines the cast has to speak, and the whole thing is a lot of fun.

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Victor Herbet

The two “big tunes” are “Kiss me again” (that comes as the last part of what is known as an “audition” song) from Act I and “I want what I want (when I want it)” from Act II. The funniest lyrics of all—and every English teacher should copy them and hand them out to the class—are those in “Ze English language.” (The rest of the show is done without the annoying “French” accents.)

The plot is concerned with Fifi (Sara Ann Mitchell), a salesgirl in a Paris hat shop, who wants to be a singing star. She is courted by Capt. Etienne (Todd Strange), whose family considers her too low for him, and by the pathetic Gaston (Jacob Allen). It is easy to guess which one she loves and which one gets her at the end.

Conductor Michael Borowitz instills good humor into the playing of his Ohio Light Opera Festival musicians and vocalists.

To those who miss memorable melodies in what once were musical comedies and to those who are interested in the development of the American musical stage play, “Mlle. Modiste” is not to be passed over.

Herbert tried his hand at operatic works such as “Natoma,” a tale of an Indian maiden. But the public preferred the bouncy tunes of “The Red Mill” and there we are.

By the way, my comparison with early Kern can be backed by hearing “Mlle Modiste” and Kern’s “The Cabaret Girl,” also available in the OLO series of recordings.

“Ruddigore” is Given Complete in Ohio Light Opera Recording

 

IMG_20150528_0001_NEW“Ruddigore” is Given Complete in Ohio Light Opera Recording

When Cole Porter’s “Out of This World” premiered in 1950, the critics could not help (I assume) crying down its value because it did not compare with his 1948 “Kiss Me Kate.” So when Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Ruddygore, or The Witch’s Curse” opened in 1887, boos were heard for the first time in their career, mostly because it could not top “The Mikado” of 1885. Not fair, but that’s what audiences are like. So several revisions were made, mostly cuts, for the rest of the run. And the title was changed orthographically but not phonetically to “Ruddigore.” The subtitle was nearly changed to “Not so Good as The Mikado,” but that silly idea was dropped.

When revived in 1920, even more cuts began to be made, the most important of which were the Act I love duet “The battle’s roar is over,” an Act II patter song for Robin Oakapple, and a very snappy Act II finale sequence that led into the usual reprise of an earlier number. Even the Overture, which contained the excised material, had to be revised—and not for the better.

The three D’Oyly Carte Company recordings keep most of the cuts. None of them have the snappy finale or the patter song, while the 1931 electric recording omits the duet, which is included on the 1924 acoustic and the 1962 stereo versions. The monophonic LP of 1952 has even further cuts. Including the 1962 stereo version with Glyndebourne singers and the very complete 1987 recording with the New Sadler’s Wells forces, there are scarcely two recordings that are consistent in what is included.

However, what they all lack is the dialogue. And now the Ohio Light Opera company’s production is out in a 2-CD set on the Albany label, and any Ruddigore-lover’s fondest wish has come true. Not only are many of the musical cuts restored but the complete dialogue is included.

Although it lacks the period charm of the older 78 rpm recordings, the cast sounds just right for this spoof on the Victorian gothic melodrama of pure village maidens (who know how to follow the money), simple village lads (with horrible secrets), wicked baronets (who crave to be virtuous), simple seamen (who are motivated purely by self-interest), faithful family retainers (who become as wicked as their masters), village mad women (who are almost cured by a sort of mantra), and haunted castles (with picture galleries that come alive at “the night’s high noon”).  And one must mention a female population entirely devoted to being bridesmaids during a depression in the marriage market.

The tunes are as delightful as any found in the other G&S works, while the dialogue spoofs the genre simply by sounding exactly like it with slight exaggerations. And, of course, the Act II patter trio is the patter song to end all patter songs. Some say that the ghost music is almost too good for a spoof; but Sullivan is more of a major composer than some admit and must be given some leeway to “show his stuff.” (The next work, “The Yeoman of the Guard,” gives him an entire work to show his serious side.)

My only slight complaint (too strong a word for this excellent OLO production) is that the pacing of the dialogue could be a little snappier. As with all of their past G&S recordings, they speak it very slowly lest a single bit of humor escape the audience. That said, I can find little fault with any aspect of this recording. I do wish, however, they used the original, not the revised, Overture.

The cast includes Ted Christopher (Robin), Cecily Ellis (Rose), Frederick Reeder (Despard), Anthony Buck (Dick), Dennis Jesse (Roderic), Jessie Wright Martin (Hannah), and Sahara Glasener-Boles (Margaret). Unlike the male vocalists in the New Sadler’s Wells recording, those here have the deep voices needed for their characters, especially the bottomless basso of Cory Clines (Adam).

While conductor Michael Borowitz’ tempos are now and then a little slow, he obviously loves the score and even gives an encore of the last stanza of the patter trio.

The running time is a very enjoyable 130 minutes and the complete text is provided in the program notes.

A Victor Herbert Smash That Failed

A-OLO-Dream CityA Victor Herbert Smash That Failed

When the great vaudeville team of Weber and Fields broke up, Joe Weber wanted to create and star in something completely different. With a book and lyrics by Edgar Smith, “Dream City & The Magic Knight” came to be, and none other than Victor Herbert was asked to compose the score. It opened in 1906 to great critical acclaim…and then fell into total oblivion. What happened?

Jump to the present. The Ohio Light Opera Company, known for its complete CD recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan and other operettas, now and then resurrects an old Broadway musical. It has recorded a version of this “lost” work on the Troy label. The artistic director, Steven Daigle, explains briefly in the program notes that he has restored a lot of the original show and made several changes.

The show is in two parts or “puffs.” The first tells the story (with resemblance to “Coconuts” and “The Music Man”) of how J. Bilkington Holmes (Nathan Brian) convinces Mr. Dinglebender (Daniel Neer) to sell his farm out on Malaria City, Long Island, NY  to make way for Dream City. Among the other are Mrs. Dinglebender (Julie Wright Costa), Nancy (Natalie Ballenger), Amanda (Alexa Devlin), and  Seth (Andrew Maughan).

And special mention for the cast of the opera sequence: Elsa (Emily Nelson), Lohengrin (Clark Sturdevant), Ortrud (Julie Wright Costa), Frederick (Adam Smerud), and King (Ted Christopher). Nancy’s imitations of some famous vaudeville stars of the day have little meaning to listeners today; but the original audience loved them.

The second “puff” takes place in the newly built Dream City. Dinglebender is dismayed that he must sit through a very long opera by Wagner called “The Magic Knight.” This spoof of “Lohengrin” takes 30 minutes of playing time—and, alas, is not very funny today, even those familiar with the opera. The denouement of the show is too silly…and I won’t reveal it here.

Although half the running time of the first puff is given to dialogue, the tuneful Herbert songs, especially a ragtime number in the second puff, make it all worthwhile. The critics raved about it when it opened; but Weber tried to bilk Herbert out of his profits, and …you can read about that in the program notes.

The OLO cast is livelier than I have ever heard them, reading the corny dialogue with conviction, if with somewhat slipping accents now and then.  Steven Byess seems to be having a grand time conducting and it is infectious. This recording is a valuable addition to the collections of those who love the old musicals that paved the way for Gershwin, Kern, and Rodgers.