Richard RODGERS (1902-1979)/Lorenz HART (1895-1943)
Dearest Enemy - A musical comedy in two acts and an epilogue (from the book by Herbert Fields (1897-1958)) (1925)
Annalene Beechey, Kim Criswell, James Cleverton, Philip O’Reilly, Hal Cazalet, Joe Corbett, Rachel Kelly, John Molloy, Stephen Rea
Orchestra of Ireland/David Brophy
rec. 19-32 Aug 2012, The Helix, Dublin City University, Dublin, Eire.
NEW WORLD RECORDS 80749-2 [39:09 + 61:35]
This is another top-flight production by New World Records. It brings to our ears this 1920s American War of Independence charmer in which flights of historical fancy are spun together with two love stories. You know the sort of thing: after tribulations happiness is found. This set also serves as testimony to some pretty impressive revival work from original - or as close as possible - sources. Would that this endeavour was taken as a model for revivals from the otherwise lost music theatre repertoire of other states, including that of the USSR.
The medley overture for Dearest Enemy instantly asserts the recording’s warm sound signature. It nicely brings out the rewarding original orchestration by Emil Gerstenberger and Harold Sanford as reconstructed and supplemented by Larry Moore. What we hear is all flighty charm and airy wit so we are firmly in the soft embrace of music that grew from the nourishing mulch of scores by Sigmund Romberg, Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml and John Philip Sousa. It made me think of Chicago Folks Operetta’s recent and delightful revival of Leo Fall’s Die Rose von Stambul (Naxos 8.660326-27). There’s the same mix of dalliance and delightful superficiality all faithfully rendered by singers and musicians.
This blend is sustained - even celebrated - despite, or perhaps because of, the proximity of the Great War … only seven years distant at the time of the premiere. For example War is War (CD 1 tr. 4) remains defiantly ingenuous and consummately frivolous - no jazz; no dissonance; no acid. There’s a light slap in the words “cheer up we’ll all be home by Christmas” but that’s about it. The writing often carries the sentimental patina of music-hall ballads as in the yeomanry song Cheerio! which smacks of Leslie Stuart’s Soldiers of the King. This song returns in the Act One Finale (CD 1 tr. 9) and also in Old Enough to Love (CD 2 tr. 8) which, in its glinting spick and span wordplay, also references Gilbert and Sullivan. It even looks to the Tauber and Lehár territory of Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss from Paganini, also from 1925. While in Act 2 the delicate I’d Like to Hide It,as sung by Kim Criswell - an elite performer in music theatre- recalls the early Gershwin brothers’ collaborations, though more cosy and less corrosive.
Some of the music is triangulated between winsome, sentimental and cutesy caramel as in The Hermits (CD 1 tr. 7) so be warned … or encouraged. Mind you, Fionnuala Hunt’s solo violin in the Intermezzo (CD 2 tr. 14) touchingly steps the right side of the line that separates affecting from sugar-overload; one for the Classic FM shortlist, please. You have to be in the right mind-set, though, to face the skilled rhyming of ‘kissable’ and ‘permissible’ and in Act 2 ‘Manhattan’ and ‘sat in’ and ‘chat in’ (CD 2 tr. 4) from Where the Hudson River Flows. This is squarely in the tradition half- hymned and half-affectionately parodied by Bernard Herrmann in The Magnificent Ambersons and much later by Stephen Sondheim in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and in Follies. Between the characters Harry and St John there are even echoes of the two delectably foppish princes in Sondheim’s irresistible Into the Woods. Rodgers was to bring the genre to a new level of ripe maturity in his Carousel in 1945 but Dearest Enemy was his first Broadway hit and dates from his mid-twenties.
New World can count this as a quality addition to their stable of ‘music-theater’ recordings under the rubric of ‘The Foundations of the American Musical Theater’. It’s all done with laurel-draped style and much the same can be expected of previous instalments you may have overlooked and which I have not heard: Rodgers & Hart’s Babes in Arms (80386), Jerome Kern’s Sitting Pretty (80387) and Victor Herbert’s Eileen (80733).
Given the production values this 2 CD set places existing single CD recordings - on the Aei and Bayview labels - of Dearest Enemy in the specialist appendix category; again I have not heard them.
New World’s buttressing documentation includes a 68-page booklet furnishing all the data you could reasonably want. This includes notes, plot synopsis, a full libretto in a font you can comfortably read and artist profiles.
The voices are spot-on - firmly music-theatre and not opera ‘slumming it’. There are no weak entries in the singer roster or anywhere else for that matter. Delightful.