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Herbert: Naughty Marietta / Byess, Ohio Light Opera, Et Al


Release Date: 02/27/2001 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 432   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Victor Herbert
Performer:  Stephen CarrJohn SumnersJohn PickleKarla Hughes,   ... 
Conductor:  Steven Byess
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 49 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life! At last we have found a serviceable, complete recording of Victor Herbert’s most famous operetta! For many listeners, the signature tune of this work will be indelibly linked to the images of Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn in Young Frankenstein. In the actual operetta, the song is the lynchpin. The heroine cannot remember how the song continues after its first lines and swears to marry whoever can complete the song for her. It is like the role of “My Ship” in the Gershwin-Weill Lady in the Dark, but without all the pretentious psychological baggage of Moss Hart’s play.

However, Naughty Marietta is no one-song musical. Listeners coming to this 1910 work for the first time will be struck not only by
Read more how many of the musical numbers are first rate, but how many of the actual tunes leap out of the dim recesses of their Broadway memories: “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” which injects a dash of Americana into the old Penzance marching chorus formula, the effervescent “Italian Street Song,” and the haunting waltz duet “I’m Falling in Love with Someone.”

It is also—as is actually typical for Herbert—an adventure story, a political satire, and an essay in sympathetic ethnic stereotypes. Pirates, maidens dressed as boys, choruses, and a marionette theater. Who could ask for more?

The title character is an Italian noblewoman who has obtained passage to New Orleans by disguising herself among some “casquette girls” (marriage prospects for the predominantly male population of the town, who carry their dowries with them in small cases). She falls in with Captain Dick, who has been sent by the government to track down the pirate Bras Pique, and who quickly figures out that she is in disguise. Although he is attracted to her (and she to him), Dick swears platonic friendship instead; when she reveals to him the thrall in which the uncompleted melody holds her, he disguises the fact that he knows its completion. Meanwhile, the dashing and dangerous Etienne Grandet spurns longtime lover Adah with cold bluntness and sets his sights on Marietta. He also informs Dick that his father is acting-governor during the mysterious absence of the real governor, but pledges to help Dick and his band as much as possible. In an aside, though, Grandet reveals that he is himself the dread Bras Pique and that he has imprisoned the real governor on an offshore island. Comic relief is introduced in the form of Silas Simoneaux, a Cajun member of Captain Dick’s band who desperately hungers after wealth and position. His first act of self-betterment is to trick one of the casquette girls, Lizette, into giving him the gold in her casquette; she not realizing that by doing so she has either become betrothed to him or doomed her own chances of marriage.

Dick agrees to help Marietta hide, this time as the long-lost son of the puppeteer Rudolfo; however, Marietta’s disguise and Rudolfo’s memory are so poor that she is re-cast as his long-lost daughter. Etienne has no trouble seeing through the charade and, furthermore, recognizes her as the runaway contessa. He invites her to a ball as his guest, and she accepts, against Dick’s warnings. Simon, meanwhile, has had himself appointed to the official position of “whipping boy” to the governor. At the ball, Marietta reveals her identity and offers her hand to Etienne. However, Adah reveals Etienne’s true identity; a member of Dick’s band arrives with the news that the captured governor has been freed. The acting governor Grandet must have his son arrested, and Dick arrives singing the complete “Mystery of Life,” thus winning Marietta’s hand.

The score of Victor Herbert’s 27th operetta is a breath of fresh air, but air that is also heavy with echoes of Gilbert and Sullivan, Johann Strauss, and Jacques Offenbach, as well as the scent of lilacs and magnolias. Admittedly, much in the score is clearly derivative, and at first glance, the plot may seem a hodgepodge of stock devices. However, the freshness derives from Herbert’s timbral resourcefulness and the sheer quality of the writing. The satire may seem overly Savoyard, the waltzes Straussian, but Herbert was a professional who had mastered the styles he chose to imitate. The text is a first-time effort by one of the rare women to write for the early-American musical theater, Rida Johnson Young, who handles its heavy dose of clichés with humor, warmth, and even realism. We recognize the old-fashionedness of it all, and at the same time sense the contemporaneity of the political corruption and sexual brutality embodied in the character of Etienne Grandet.

In every respect, this new recording from Ohio Light Opera’s 2000 summer season surpasses that released in 1981 by the Smithsonian and once ubiquitously available in cassette-tape remainder bins. Across the board, the cast outscores the earlier effort and the chorus and orchestra are professional in a way that the Washington cast was not. Sparkling and ringing by turns is coloratura soprano Suzanne Woods in the title role; she captures the florid exuberance of the “Italian Street Song” as deftly as she soars through her broadly phrased duet numbers; she delivers a passable Italian accent besides. Ann Marie Wilcox smolders as the jilted Adah, her dusky, full mezzo emphasizing the haunting, show-stopping qualities of her act II ballad “‘Neath the Southern Moon.” As the dark villain of the piece, baritone Ted Christopher blusters and primps in the best operetta tradition, his voice full and clear, though his “Marry a Marionette” is a little heavy in delivery. It took several listenings before I fully warmed to Stephen Carr’s Simon, but his light tenor and convincingly exaggerated Cajun accent made his character sympathetically well rounded. The one weak link is tenor John Pickle, who captures the earnestness and stalwartness of Captain Dick, but his voice is under almost constant strain, detracting from many of the score’s high points, including the climactic reprise of “Mystery”; his “Tramp, tramp, tramp!” is almost consistently over-sung.

Unlike the old LPs/cassettes, the OLO production includes all the spoken dialogue, and the singers do reveal themselves as idiomatic actors. Occasionally, awkwardly jarring splices in the dialogue betray the fact that the recording was cobbled roughly from different live performances, but these moments can mostly be programmed out along with the rest of the dialogue. However, I recommend the dialogue, and indeed the whole recording, for capturing a lively performance of one of the livelier chapters in the birth phases of American music theater.

Christopher Williams, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Naughty Marietta by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Stephen Carr (), John Sumners (), John Pickle (),
Karla Hughes (), Suzanne Woods (), Ann Marie Wilcox (),
Ted Christopher (Baritone), Zanna Fredland (), Boyd Mackus (),
Richard Stevenson (), Spiro Matsos (), Amy Van Looy (),
Nancy Maria Balach (), Anthony Maida (), Lucas Meachem (),
Michael Gallant ()
Conductor:  Steven Byess
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; USA 
Date of Recording: 2000 
Length: 108 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Language: English 

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