This highlights disc is a compilation of 78s issued
by Columbia, Parlophone and Odeon (German) at the time of their London
West End theatre productions.
Pearl has sensibly mixed in records of German origin
to extend the highlights and in The Dubarry also provide an interesting
comparison between two versions of The Dubarry number as performed
by different leading stars Ahler and Alpar, the stars in Britain and
Of particular interest to collectors are the singers
themselves. Evelyn Laye, Heddle Nash and Derek Oldham are well known
in Britain but not necessarily in this repertoire. In her time Anny
Ahlers, a discovery by Richard Tauber, was also much loved by theatre-goers,
but a tragic accident one year after her West End appearance, and the
time of these recordings, put an end to her life. (Read the detailed
CD notes to understand the complete picture)
Karl Millöcker is best known for his success
with Der Bettelstudent (1881) which overshadowed The Dubarry
two years later. His style is light yet engaging. Originally called
Grafin Dubarry the piece was short-lived despite the critics'
positive approval of it. The sensuously romantic score was close to
that of Lehár yet it was so well suited to the musical tastes
between the wars that Theo Mackeben revised the music for a new German
version with book and lyrics by Eric Maschwitz The thirties revival
adhered closely to the original plot concerning Madame Dubarry, mistress
of King Louis XV of France.
The Berlin production by Mackeben which starred Richard
Tauber was very successful. A British impresario Stanley Scott decided
it was an appropriate time to introduce the work to London and launched
an anglicised version. His casting of Ahlers (with her undoubted charisma)
attracted Heddle Nash to join the company and embrace the world of operetta
instead of his usual oratorio and opera. Earlier Nash had refused to
accept an offer by Rupert D'Oyly Carte to sing Gilbert and Sullivan
in his company. The inclusion of Nash was an added attraction to the
audience. The show became popular in Paris and in London, running to
a substantial 397 performances.
In The Dubarry, an opening orchestral pot-pourri
usefully substitutes as an overture. Amongst the most notable showstoppers
"I Give my Heart" (tk6) and the waltz duet "Without your Love"
(tk3) were best remembered. The partnership of Ahler and Nash works
well and some of the tracks are gems. Ahler has a glorious voice and
soars effortlessly. She sings with considerable clarity and feeling
and her strong confidence can be judged in the hit song, "I Give
my Heart" (tk6)
Nash, with his velvety voice and elegant phrasing,
needs no introduction. By the time of this recording he was already
well known in music circles. (Try him in tk4.) Once or twice I find
some of Nash's sustained notes in this recording a touch uneven: he
is not at his absolute best.
Gitta Alpar was also a remarkable soprano who matches
the qualities of Ahler mentioned above. Listen to her high notes that
end "The Dubarry" song (German version) conducted by Mackeben
The lack of chorus numbers (apart from the brief opening
of tk2) in these vintage recordings is understandable but it would have
been nice had some been recorded to help make a total assessment of
the show. These Parlophone electric recordings with their treble cut
and distant miking are a little disappointing but the product gives
fair balance to the orchestra. Irving conducts with Lehár panache
and theatrical rallentandos.
For the 1930 revision Irving included a ballet using
Le Tombeau de Couperin (Ravel). An authentic (1929) recording
of it by the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra under Coppola is included
since Irving did not record it.
Leo Fall, as the son of a bandmaster, received
a good musical education at the Viennese conservatoire and was known
to Lehár. He is best known for a successful score of The Dollar
Princess (Die Dollarprinzessin). Apart from a few songs, his music
is not particularly memorable and the orchestrations are regularly 'thin'.
Hearing the numbers on these recordings I am surprised to find that
rarely do musical introductions start a song. Instead they are replaced
by a couple of bars of rhythm leading straight into the vocal line.
Wondering whether this was due to the direction of the studio I looked
at my Dollar Princess score. This turns out to be a characteristic
of Fall's compositions - many of The Dollar Princess songs also
lack proper introductions. (To me an introduction always serves an important
purpose in musicals to set a song's mood for the lyrics and vocal line
Madame Pompadour is somewhat Lehárish
in parts and consequently is an appropriate coupling for The Dubarry.
The London production followed a production of The Merry Widow
as did its soprano star, Evelyn Laye.
Evelyn Laye is a memorable stage singer and actor.
Here she does not disappoint and is possibly at her best. Her light,
feathery voice and sonorous tone coupled with excellent diction make
her a joy to listen to. Try tk15. Derek Oldham is a different matter.
A pleasantly warm tone and wide vocal range, his voice is either liked
or disliked: his affected vowels are over-rounded, and sound particularly
artificial. Love's Sentry is the best known of the songs from
this show (tk17). Despite its odd 'clanking chain and piccolo' introduction
with minor key accompaniment at the beginning it is an unusual song
which has much appeal once it gets going. (With Desert Song characteristics
it could pass for a composition by Romberg.) Laye and Oldham are here
The number, "Two Little Birds in a Tree" is a nonsense
piece and contains the worst of trivial lyrics and orchestral effects
where the bird noises sound more like a robust Aylesbury duck. The song
is only rescued by the serious musicality of Elsie Randolph's singing
and the 'Chabrier' feel to sections of the music.
This Columbia recording is one of the last acoustic
recordings, made eight years prior to the Parlophone recording of Dubarry
yet is strangely superior both in balance and clarity. This Pearl
release carries detailed notes and the information on the recording
matrices and catalogue numbers is useful.