This classic three disc set really did make waves in the recording world when first released in 1988. It led the way in proving that if first class musicological scholarship is applied to any musical work, even if it is considered ‘lighter’ fare, the results can be a revelation. John McGlinn’s patience, skill and sheer bloody-minded determination in researching archives and restoring the original score - including missing items - of this ground-breaking piece of music theatre were rewarded with a recording of instant classic status. There was a less positive side to its success, in that other recordings of Broadway shows featuring full-blown opera voices followed, most with far less successful results, but Show Boat’s casting is a triumph.Read more
From the rousing overture onwards, it is obvious Kern draws on many influences, including Scott Joplin, G&S, as well as European operetta and operatic repertoire. One of the revelations for me was the subtle underscoring of the many spoken passages, where the story and characterisations are developed over an ‘underlay’ of melodic and harmonic texture based on themes from the piece. This is Kern taking operatic practice and using it for his own purpose, weaving the themes and leitmotifs with Wagnerian skill. How hard it is to believe that even Porgy and Bess, itself a landmark, was a few years away, so familiar and beloved are these tunes. One can see why one critic referred to the history of the American musical as ‘…simple – there’s before Show Boat and after Show Boat’.
McGlinn’s love of the score shines through every bar. He conducts with a passion and insight that are infectious, and this rubs off on his starry cast. Frederica von Stade’s Magnolia Hawks is meltingly beautiful, her voice soaring with Kern’s ravishing melodies. Jerry Hadley’s Ravenal is no less inspired, his heady tenor just lightened enough to take off the heavy operatic edge; their famous Act 1 duet ‘Only Make Believe’ is simply but beautifully phrased, the build-up to the climactic moment sending shivers down the spine. The other true opera star, Teresa Stratas, also tones down the operatic side of her voice, giving a charming and heartfelt performance as Julie. This really is how to switch from, say, the angular intricacies of Berg’s Lulu to the affecting simplicity of a number like ‘Bill’ and still be totally credible and convincing.
Bruce Hubbard, taken on to the project as a late replacement for Willard White, is a magnificent Joe and the best compliment one could give is that all thoughts of how White would perform ‘Ol’ Man River’ are completely erased. White’s controversial withdrawal, as well as that of the Glyndebourne Chorus, mainly due to the regular and, to our modern ears, uncomfortable use of the word ‘nigger’, threatened to overshadow the whole enterprise, but McGlinn’s insistence on sticking to Kern and Hammerstein’s original lyrics is triumphantly vindicated. This is the period being portrayed, whether we like it or not, and McGlinn is correct when he says ‘Nigger is a hateful word, but it’s there for shock value, to stun an audience and make them think about what conditions were like then’. Inter-racial marriage is a central theme of the work and a brave subject to tackle in 1927, another reason this show is so influential.
All the other parts are also superbly sung. I especially like David Garrison and Paige O’Hara as comic couple Frank and Ellie, both possessing more authentic ‘Broadway’ voices with bags of pizzazz and personality. Praise has to be lavished on the London Sinfonietta who must have loved the break from complex contemporary scores to let their hair down here, giving McGlinn playing of razor-sharp clarity and an authentic jazzy swing. Similarly, the Ambrosian Chorus’s substantial contribution is memorable, gutsy and joyful and with authentic sounding accents – try ‘Cap’n Andy’s Ballyhoo’ to see what I mean. Recording quality is exemplary.
As with most GROC re-issues, the booklet is paired down from the lavish original and consists of an updated essay praising the recording, certainly fully justified here. Richard Osborne avoids the controversial elements but provides a typically stimulating read. The full text is replaced by a cued synopsis which, given the singers’ superb diction and clarity of the recording, is perfectly fine. A heart-warming experience and another GROC to savour.
Show Boatby Jerome Kern Performer:
Kevin Colson (Baritone),
George Dvorsky (Tenor),
Tayleurs Dumme (Voice),
John McGlinn (Voice),
Deborah Poplett (Voice),
Simon Green (Voice),
Maryetta Midgley (Voice),
Mark D. Kaufmann (Voice),
Dyer Thurst (Voice),
Jeanne Lehman (Voice),
Gillian Bevan (Voice),
Rebecca Luker (Soprano),
Ray Gill (Voice),
Vernon Midgley (Tenor),
Evan Pappas (Voice),
Meriel Dickinson (Voice),
Michael Pearn (Voice),
Leslie Fyson (Bass Baritone),
Teresa Stratas (Soprano),
Jerry Hadley (Tenor),
Frederica Von Stade (Soprano),
Lillian Gish (Voice),
Wayne Marshall (Piano),
Robert Nichols (Countertenor),
Paige O'Hara (Soprano),
David Garrison (Tenor),
Karla Burns (Mezzo Soprano),
Bruce Hubbard (Baritone),
Margaret Tyzack (Voice),
Ron Travis (Voice),
Ed Bishop (Voice),
Jack Dabdoub (Voice),
Steve Barton (Voice),
Kerry Schultz (Voice),
Nancy Kulp (Voice),
Merwin Goldsmith (Voice)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1927; USA
Show Boat: Overture
Show Boat, Act One Scene One: Niggers all work on de Mississippi
Show Boat, Act One Scene One: Andy!!! Drat that man. he's never around!
Show Boat, Act One Scene One: Here comes the Show Boat parade!
Show Boat, Act One Scene One: Hey, Julie! That's a hell of a thing to do
Show Boat, Act One Scene One: It's a man...
Show Boat, Act One Scene One: Who cares if my boat goes upstream
Show Boat, Act One Scene One: Only make believe I love you
Show Boat, Act One Scene One: Oh Joe! Did you see that young man I was talkin' to?
Show Boat, Act One Scene Two: What cher doin' all by yourself, Miss Nola?
Show Boat, Act One Scene Three: Why do stage struck maidens clamor?
Show Boat, Act One Scene Three: The man who ventures with chance
Show Boat, Act One Scene Four: Mis'ry's comin' aroun'
Show Boat, Act One Scene Four: Take her up, Rubberface!
Show Boat, Act One Scene Four: Hello, Windy
Show Boat, Act One Scene Four: You needn't all look at us like we were a couple of animals
Show Boat, Act One Scene Four: Looks like a swell
Show Boat, Act One Scene Five: Her face is fair to look upon
Show Boat, Act One Scene Five: Little girl, you are safe with me
Show Boat, Act One Scene Five: Is de theatre fillin' up, Cap'n Andy?
Show Boat, Act One Scene Six: Villain Dance
Show Boat, Act One Scene Seven: That you, Nola?
Show Boat, Act One Scene Eight: Oh tell me, did you ever!
Show Boat, Act Two Scene One: When we tell them about it all
Show Boat, Act Two Scene One: I'm walking on the air, dear
Show Boat, Act Two Scene One: Dyunga doe! Dyunga doe!
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Three: Alma Redemptoirs MAter
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Four: All right, Jake - call 'em at twelve
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Four: I used to dream that I would discover
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Four: Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Four: Whaddaya say, boss?
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Six: Let's make the new year far from a blue year
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Six: Apache Dance
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Six: So you're going away
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Six: Ladies and gentlemen - I regret to announce
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Seven: Ol' Man River
Show Boat, Act Two Scene Seven: When you yen for a gent
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