ROMBERG Blossom Time • Steven Byess, cond; Justin Berkowitz (Schubert); Amy Maples (Mitzi); Luke Bahr (Baron Schober); Ted Christopher (Scharntoff); Boyd Mackus (Kranz); Caroline Miller (La Bellabruna); Danielle McCormick Knox (Read more class="ARIAL12i">Fritzi); Sarah Best (Kitzi); Christopher Cobbett (Vogl); Ohio Light Opera O & Ch • ALBANY 1401/02 (2 CDs: 104:23 Text and Translation) Live: Wooster 2012
Let’s be clear, the score of Blossom Time consists mainly of the melodies of Franz Schubert, only appropriate considering the story is about the famed Austrian composer as well. Sigmund Romberg generally credited with the score “adapted and augmented” Schubert’s music as is claimed in the original playbill, taken from various sources in the Viennese master’s fairly extensive catalog. The work started out life as Das Dreimaderhaus (The House of the Three Maidens) a very popular production seen in Vienna during World War I with a score arranged by Hungarian-born composer Henrich Berte. After the war, the New York based Shubert brothers (of Shubert Theater fame) were offered the American rights to Das Dreimaderhaus, and quickly jumped at the deal. At the time, the young Romberg was being employed by the Shuberts as house composer, rearranging and adapting foreign musical works for American consumption, particularly Broadway consumption. Romberg was assigned the Blossom Time score (as the Americanized version was to be titled) and house librettist Dorothy Donnelly given the task of adapting the story. Their work bore rich fruit, Blossom Time was one of New York’s most popular light musical works, running for some 516 performances during its initial run beginning in September 1921 at the Ambassador Theater, and another 576 performances by satellite companies in Philadelphia and Chicago. A bevy of touring companies made Blossom Time one of the most well-known operettas in America’s heartland, and it was constantly seen in revivals in New York and elsewhere up until the late 1950s.
The story is a fictionalized account of how Franz Schubert falls in love with a young Vienna girl, but is too shy to make his feelings known. Ultimately, he loses her to a dashing young baron, and the piece ends in romantic tragedy as the ill Schubert expires of unrequited love while a chorus of angels sings his Ave Maria (to different words); quite a schmaltzy finale, but not out of place in a town and a theater district that made a staple of schmaltzy endings. Romberg cleverly built the score around a waltz melody, Song of Love sung as a duet by Schubert and the girl, Mitzi, taken from Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony. Another duet for the pair, “Tell Me Daisy,” is taken from the same source, and in act III Schubert claims he can no longer finish the “Unfinished” Symphony because his muse, Mitzi, has abandoned him for another. What must surely be anathema to musical purists also makes for quite a good romantic story in this operetta.
The production mounted here by the Ohio Light Opera Company (OLO) in the summer of 2012 is musically very fine, with as good a young cast as I have yet heard from this company. The two tenors, the Schubert of Justin Berkowitz and the Baron Shobar of Luke Bahr are both first-rate, with the latter getting many of the show’s finest melodies. I have praised the singing of young soprano Amy Maples previously in her assumption of the lead role in Victor Herbert’s Fortune Teller, and I like her even better here. The Tennessee native has just the right type of attractive light soprano voice for these roles and her amazing range and agility when she sings high bode well for her future. She is truly an operetta songbird in the tradition of the legendary Hilde Gueden, and a pleasure to hear. The other roles are sung more than competently, with Caroline Miller singing the role of opera diva and philandering wife La Bellabruna, with strong midrange and plenty of drama. Veteran Boyd Mackus quite expertly provides the comedic foil of Herr Kranz, father of the three sisters, Mitzi, Fritzi, and Kitzi (no, they are not to be married to Huey, Dewey, and Louie). The OLO Orchestra and Chorus both acquit themselves particularly well in what sounds to be a recording session or sessions without audience. Some of the dialog is a bit over-emphatic and over-enunciated, as one might expect from young, neophyte actors, but I suspect they came off just fine in performance.
The break between discs was done to accommodate the inclusion of complete acts, but with some 35 additional minutes available it seems like Albany Records could have provided a bit more of the truncated dialog. There are no other complete recordings of Romberg’s version of Blossom Time, but there are three sets of Bertes version, Das Dreimaderhaus, including one in English translation in an earlier OLO production, with apparently none of the same singers. There are also floating around copies of the 1934 movie titled Blossom Time starring Richard Tauber and June Baxter which is based on the British version (Lilac Time) with quite different music and story. This Albany recording is one of its finest recent OLO releases and merits a top recommendation.