"Noel Coward's evocative score with it's nostalgic tribute to Viennese operetta is beautifully recorded here. A rare gem."
GLORIOUS "COMPLETE" RECORDING OF A TRUE CLASSIC . . . .
J. T Waldmann | Carmel, IN, home to the fabulous new Regional Perf | 07/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"NBC Radio. February 23, 1953. Marvin Miller, announcer:
"Ladies and gentlemen, The Railroad Hour. (train whistles) And here comes the star-studded show train. (Theme music: orchestra & chorus) Tonight the American Association of Railroads presents Noel Coward`s operetta, BITTER SWEET, starring Gordon MacRae and his guest, Dorothy Warenskjold. Our choir is under the direction of Norman Luboff and the music is arranged and conducted by Carmen Dragon. Yes, tonight another big musical hit is brought to you transcribed by the American Railroads, the same railroads that bring you most of the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the fuel you burn, and all the other things you use in your daily life. And now, here is our star, Gordon MacRae!"
BTV (before TV), my sisters and I would gather around the radio practically every Monday night for The Railroad Hour. It was never an "hour" show, debuting on ABC radio on October 4, 1948 with guests Dinah Shore and Jane Powell. The show was GOOD NEWS, condensed to 45 minutes. On May 2, 1949 the program switched to a 30-minute format -- SHOWBOAT with guest Lucille Norman. On October 20 of the same year it moved to NBC Radio, where it stayed through its final show on June 21, 1954 -- THE NEW MOON, also with Ms. Norman. I don't know how many of the 299 episodes I heard (a lot), but BITTER SWEET - "Coward's shameless attempt to revive sentimental operetta" - remains a particular favorite of mine.
Maybe it's because BITTER SWEET is, if anything, a nostalgic show. The heroine, Sarah Millick - now the Marchioness of Shayne - recounts her life story at a party. Forty-five years earlier, ". . .she fell so desperately in love with her handsome young singing master that she threw it all away in order to be with him. In Vienna, five poverty-stricken years later, her adored Carl is killed in a duel. But his music lives on as the self-reliant Sarah earns fame throughout Europe with her singing. Finally returning to England, she marries the elderly Marquis of Shayne who has waited so patiently for her." -- The Guide to Musical Theatre
Sure, the plot is corny, but the music is magnificent. "I'll See You Again," the theme song of the operetta, is probably Noel Coward's best known song, and a true classic. There's also the rousing "Tokay," magnificently sung by Donald Maxwell; "Dear Little Café," the Act Two duet for Sarah & Carl; the quartet "Ladies of the Town;" and "We All Wear a Green Carnation," sung by four overdressed, 1890s dandies; "Zigeuner," Sarah's big song in the final act; and my personal favorite, "If Love Were All," which includes the poignant phrase "I believe that since my life began/The most I've had is just a talent to amuse."
Noel Coward's BITTER SWEET does more than merely amuse. Its soaring melodies and sophisticated lyrics actually have the power to lift the listener to a higher, better place. The production by the New Sadler's Wells Opera is absolutely first rate, with outstanding vocal work by Valerie Masterson as Sarah, Rosemary Ashe as Manon, & the previously mentioned Donald Maxwell. I tried to like Martin Smith (Carl Linden) but would have preferred a bigger, more operatic voice - Frank Porretta would have been ideal. But it's a minor quibble. The large supporting cast of singers is also outstanding.
Very highly recommended. It's so good to hear melodies like these sung so gloriously. How unfortunate that its no longer feasible to mount shows like this (or THE GREAT WALTZ or KISMET, etc.) anymore.
Regina Hilburn | Columbus, Ohio United States | 10/13/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I originally acquired this recording on vinyl in the summer of '89 during my first trip to London, & was stunned at the haunting richness of the score & the beauty of the perfomances, particularly Valerie Masterton's as Sarah. It remains one of my very favorite albums--I am listening to it again as I write this. Run, don't walk, to buy this, & discover one of the truly great gems of 20th century operetta that deserves to be staged more often."
Mr. J. R. H. Black | East Sussex | 10/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Can it really be nearly 20 years since this joyous revival? Tears still flow on hearing the ravishing Valerie Masterson, with the purity of youth in her tone but the sensibility of maturity in her vocal colour (it sounds anachronistic but listen and you will hear what I mean) as Sari. For those who saw her lose fifty years in full sight of the audience at the start this recording will make a heart-breaking reminder (if you didn't see it, you really cannot believe how extraordinary it was) whilst the exquisite tenderness of her singing will melt your heart even if you were not there at the time. It was a most magical show and this recording with sterling support from Martin Shaw and Rosemary Ashe makes a more than satisfactory souvenir of a most touching show."
David Wheeler | Cheshire, UK | 04/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I caught this production on tour in 1988. twice as I enjoyed it so much.
The recording is just as good, not least for the new orchestrations by Michael Reed which give some numbers, such as 'Tell Me What is Love?' and 'Tokay' a showstopping feel.
Valerie Masterson is superb in the large role of Sarah, who is required to play ages from 18 to 70+ during the course of the show. 'Zigeuner' is beautfully poised, the Finales are deeply felt, 'What is Love?' a tour-de-force but my favourite must be 'The Call of Life', aided by the orchestrations which cut to piano near the end before the full orchestra join for the thrilling climax.
Martin Smith was a very sincere and appealing English Carl Linden in the theatre, and the decision not to attempt a Viennese accent did not detract from his performance. His is a much lighter, music theatre rather than operatic voice, and Masterson blends well with him in their duets, with 'I'll See You Again' being the obvious highlight.
Rosemary Ashe as the crowd-pleasing Manon doesn't disappoint, reinventing 'If Love Were All' from the now rather quaint-sounding delivery of Ivy St Helier in the original. Her cabaret act, a saucy French number followed by a more restrained 'Kiss Me' are delivered with great style.
Donald Maxwell (who didn't appear in the stage production) sings well in his one number, 'Tokay' complete with ringing top Ab which was added by the orchestrator.
This recording is also greatly helped by the ensemble players, such as the six girls who are Sarah's bridesmaids and later have a rather middle-aged comment on marriage, 'Alas! The Time is Past' which was cut from the stage show, perhaps to cut the length down. The 'Green Carnation' boys have also done excellent work earlier as the quartet of footmen after the party (a typical Coward lyric). The choral singing is thrilling in such numbers as 'What is Love?', 'We Wish to Order Wine' and 'Tokay'.
One of my all-time favourite nights at the theatre, this recording is one I never tire of hearing. It shows how an older show can be given new life and vitality given the right treatment."