Fine recording, Dorothy Kirsten is stunning
Byron Kolln | the corner where Broadway meets Hollywood | 06/09/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is a rather lovely 1952 studio cast album of THE MERRY WIDOW starring renowned soprano Dorothy Kirsten in the titular lead role. Broadway fans will delight in hearing CANDIDE's Robert Rounseville as Count Danilo.As another reviewer has stated, the sound quality is quite awful (but I've heard cast albums that post-date this and sound even worse), however the ear easily adjusts.Dorothy Kirsten is absolute magic as Anna (or depending on the translation, Sonia, Hanna or Zenia). She is at her best with "Vilia" and "I Love You So". Robert Rounseville's voice is full and rich, as befits the role and the music.This is the Adrian Ross translation of WIDOW, which isn't the best. I still consider the Joan Sutherland studio album on the Decca label as the definitive translation. However, despite its shortcomings, thanks to Miss Kirsten, this is a WIDOW to treasure."
An all-American "Merry Widow" from Broadway in 1952
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 12/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
Studio production recorded on April 6-9, 1952. As was the practice in those days, the cast of a well-reviewed Broadway show would march off to a New York sound studio to record about an hour of their show. This performance was originally released on the Columbia Masterworks label as an LP and, if memory serves, also in a 45-rpm version.
Dedicated audiophiles will be appalled by the fact that the sonics of this recording are noticeably less than those of a digitally recorded piece from, say, last week. People possessing commonsense, on the other hand, will find the relatively closely recorded voices of the principal singers to be perfectly clear. The orchestral sound is slightly boxy, but still fully enjoyable to anyone listening with a little goodwill.
Sonia, widow of the richest man in the Balkan kingdom of Marsovia - Dorothy Kirsten (soprano)
Count Danilo, a nobleman attached to the Marsovian Embassy in Paris and not doing very much to earn his salary. Once, long before, he had sought Sonia's love - Robert Rounseville (tenor)
Baron Popov, Marsovian ambassador to France - Unidentified (baritone)
Valencienne, Baroness Popov, a lady dangerously attracted to a good-looking Frenchman - Genevieve Warner (soprano)
Camille, a dashing young Parisian infatuated by the wife of the Marsovian ambassador - Wesley Dalton (tenor)
Baron Cascada, a Parisian would-be suitor for Sonia - Clifford Harvuot (baritone)
Nisch, a junior functionary of the Marsovian embassy, and the only one in the cast who knows what is going on from beginning to end - unidentified (comic baritone)
Count St. Brioche, a Parisian would-be suitor for Sonia - Unidentified (tenor)
Lead Grissette, a lady of negotiable virtue, a denizen of Maxim's - Betty Bartley (soprano, sort of)
Lehman Engel, with an unidentified orchestra.
As a Broadway production, this "Merry Widow" was obviously presented in English. The text used was the then universally used version penned by Adrian Ross, which held sway well into the 1970s.
Consistent with the time limitations imposed by the recording technology of those days, no dialogue was included in this recording.
My old, battered piano-vocal score has vanished for the moment, but it seems to me that the major numbers of the show are in place, although I think a few brief connective passages and a bit of extended dance music is missing. The ending is the correct ending for the operetta, not the finale of Lehar's "Paganini," that was torn in bloody hunks from that operetta to beef up "The Merry Widow's" too-short third act for the benefit of Joan Sutherland. Years after "The Merry Widow," had achieved world-wide success, Lehar transferred into it a comic song for Nisch, so that that untidy diplomatic gofer could preposterously claim to be the very last word in fashion. Sadly, the song was not included in this production.
In this performance, the big number for six Grisettes in Act III is presented as a solo for Betty Bartley with chorus back-up.
No libretto, although one is hardly needed, since the English words of the singers are immaculately clear. Track list that identifies singers (some of them, anyway) but not characters in the cast. No timings. A brief essay on the history of the show, with emphasis on the 1907 premier of "The Merry Widow" in New York. Once again, if memory serves, that essay is a word-for-word reprint of the text on the back cover of the old Columbia Lp album.
This is the first version of "The Merry Widow" I ever heard and I still think it one of the best.
An earlier Amazon reviewer is clearly not a fan of the Adrian Ross translation. Ross was certainly free with his work, naming Danilo's country "Marsovia," demoting Danilo from prince to count, simplifying the nearly unpronounceable Njegus into "Nisch," changing Hanna Glavari into "Sonia," and a hundred other things. But the plain truth is that all translations of this operetta are only loosely based on the original--which is, itself, a very loose adaptation into German of a French comic play. And consider the horrors inflicted by Hollywood in its various bloody-minded cinematic adaptations. In my time, I have performed on stage in the roles of Camille, St Brioche, Cascada and (heaven help me) Nisch/Njegus, always using the Ross translation. It works perfectly well before audiences and has the great virtue of sounding and feeling appropriate for a work set in 1905.
Dorothy Kirsten was a major American soprano who had a fine career at the Metropolitan Opera and in many other places. She has pulled back a bit on her operatic voice for this lighter work, and done so with great success. Her diction is flawless, even in the Vilia song/Viljalied, which very definitely demands an operatically-trained voice. He characterization of the Widow is equally flawless.
Robert Rounceville was a fine American lyric tenor. He can be heard on the original cast recording of Bernstein's "Candide" as Candide and he can be seen doing a very creditable job in the fiercely difficult role of Hoffmann in the movie of "The Tales of Hoffmann," made at about the same time as this recording. His performance here is proof positive, as far as I am concerned, that Danilo should be sung by a tenor as intended, rather than a baritone, as is now usually the case.
About Genevieve Warner, Clifford Harvuot, Wesley Dalton and Betty Bartley, I know no more than what I hear on this disk, although the liner notes make passing mention of the fact that the first two were singers with the Metropolitan Opera. They were good singers, whatever their backgrounds. Betty Bartley, on the other hand, was apparently a musical comedy character performer of the type often cast as Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls." Having had my own struggles with the high-lying part of Camille, I can assure you that Wesley Dalton was a very fine lyric tenor indeed. And on top of that he managed to be intelligible throughout--amazing!
By 1952, "The Merry Widow" had been playing more or less continually somewhere in America for 45 years. Pick-up singers and accompaniments adjusted to fit local abilities and talents had become the rule. It is clear that this 1952 revival was intended to be a class act. The singers are very strong and the producers proudly proclaimed that they had revivified the original orchestrations used in the smashingly successful 1907 New York premiere.
The only real fault I find in this recording is centered on the chorus. In 1952, a typical Broadway show had ten chorus singers, whose job it was to sing, and eight dancers who, well, danced. "The Merry Widow" is not a dancing show--except in that abomination cobbled together for Sutherland--so I'd expect more singers rather than less. On this recording, my impression is that the chorus consists of two or three men and two or three women, none of them particularly strong. Now, this may be the fault of the recording engineers, but I suspect that it was a cost-cutting measure to use a handful of Columbia's house singers instead of a stage-full of singers from Broadway.
Because of the "historic" sound and the anemic chorus, I might have assigned a miserly four stars to this American and Broadway version of "The Merry Widow," but, no, the performance overall is so good that I think it's worth a full, solid, five stars. And devil take the hindmost!
NOSTALGIA and more!
L. E. Cantrell | 09/23/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"but FIVE stars for the devine Ms. KIRSTEN! A highly recommended recording - quite rare for its period, and imminently enjoyable. The recording quality is not too great, but considering the period quite acceptable ~ an absolute must for the collector!The zither usage is especially effective![Sure there ARE other recordings, but this one has special charm]"