When the Sadler’s Wells Opera, as it then was, produced “The
Merry Widow” in 1958 with June Bronhill and Thomas Round
it had a big success on its hands, just as there had been when
the operetta was first performed in London in 1907. In both cases
it was sung in English, and even if this did change the nature
of the work to some degree towards Edwardian musical comedy or
Gilbert and Sullivan the ability of the audience to understand
what was being sung was surely a crucial factor in its success.
There is no point in singing in English if the words are not
articulated clearly. Here it must be admitted that some of Chandos’s
otherwise admirable Opera in English
series have been
let down by singers unable to take proper advantage of the vernacular
to communicate with the audience. That is not a charge that can
be levelled at the present disc. Although very properly Linn
do include the texts in the booklet this is unnecessary as Alfie
Boe sings them with complete clarity and apparent sincerity.
Given what might charitably be described as the period quality
of some of the translations this is no mean feat but it does
add greatly to the listener’s pleasure.
And pleasure there is to be had here in abundance. Despite the
efforts of marketing men to portray him as yet another so-called “opera
singer” with neither the talent nor the experience to perform
operatic roles, Alfie Boe does have plenty of experience and
all the necessary qualities to extract the maximum of charm from
this music. He may not be Tauber - but who is - and not everyone
will take to his vibrato when singing full out, but he does recognise
the individuality of each of the items on the disc. Listening
to a collection such as this might seem like too much of a good
thing but the order - not that above - is cunningly devised to
maximise the contrast between items. Although I would not necessarily
recommend that you do the same, I was never bored when listening
to it right through.
Not everything is perfect. A chorus is sadly missed in “Vilia”,
and despite the special pleading in the booklet that it was performed
that way in 1928 I cannot see any real justification for this
being sung by a tenor. Bearing in mind that Boe’s normal
role in “The Merry Widow” is as Camille de Rosillon
it would have been better to have included some of his music.
As my other complaint is about the very short measure there would
have been more than enough time to have included both.
But enough of complaining. For the most part this is a well produced
and well presented issue, with the Scottish Opera Orchestra responding
idiomatically and a clear and well balanced recording. This is
a very enjoyable disc which I hope will be followed by similar
collections of tenor songs by Sullivan, Strauss and other composers
of operetta. It would have been wonderful to have such collections
from Thomas Round or John Brecknock but the opportunity was missed.
I hope that next time it will not be.