The 1977 film version of Stephen Sondheims fabulous Broadway musical
was a somewhat fumbled affair. It starred Elizabeth Taylor as Désirée
and Diana Rigg with members of the original Broadway production including
Hermione Gingold. One of the numbers of the film, a reworked (by Sondheim)
The Glamorous Life, is included as a bonus track at the end of
Sondheims A Little Night Music is more than just a musical
it has stature and can compare with the best of operetta. This original Broadway
Cast Recording consists of 16 numbers each one a perfect gem a perfect
fusion of bitter-sweet, ironic music and words. A Little Night Music
is based on the Ingmar Bergman film, Smiles of a Summer Night. It
is set in turn-of-the-century Sweden and it is a light confection of complicated
romantic liaisons. Briefly, middle aged lawyer, Frederik has married a girl
(Anne) his sons age. She is still a virgin after 11 months of marriage.
Frederiks son, Henrik, lusts after Anne. Frederik has sentimental feelings
towards his old flame Désirée who still lusts after Frederik.
Désirée is lusted after by Count Carl-Magnus who has to cope
with his long-suffering wife, Charlotte. Observing this tangle is
Désirées elderly mother-with-a-past, Madame Armfeldt.
It is she who alerts her granddaughter - and us - to watch for the summer
night to smile: "It smiles three times first, for the young, who know
nothing; second, for the fools who know too little; and, third, for the old,
who know too much."
A Little Night Music is clever and sophisticated; and innovative. It sparkles.
The music is very much based on the waltz - appropriate to its fin de
siecle setting. The Overture (and Night waltz) begins in a novel fashion
with a quintet of principals singing la-la-la before the music breaks into
the engaging Viennese Waltz that has that certain Ravelian touches that vaguely
disturbs. Then another interesting number follows - the 10½ minute,
Soon in which Frederik, Henrik and Anne
all state their own agendas: Frederik (Now) muses on the problems caused
by his new marriage; Henrik is concerned with flirting with the maid and
moaning about being perpetually frustrated in love (Later); while Anne promises
Frederik she will allow him to consumate their marriage (Soon). All the themes
are cleverly dovetailed, and progressed against their varied conflicting
interests, as the number proceeds.
Of the other numbers I must mention two or three. Frederik who has just met
Désirée again after a long interval, tells her You Must
Meet My Wife. The verbal sparring between the two is delicious;
heres a sample: She flutters how charming.
She twitters my word. She floats
isnt that alarming; what is she a bird?
She makes me feel... Like an old man? Yes
NO! No?!? - I must meet your Gertrude; Sorry your Anne.
The point is that shes really simple. Yes, that much is
Then there is the inimitable Hermione Gingold recollecting
her Liaisons as she sings Liaisons whats happened
What was rare champagne is now just an amiable hock. What once
was a villa, at least, is now digs. What was a gown with a train is now just
a simple frock.
At the Duke of Ferraras castle I acquired some
position and a tiny Titian
Then of course there is Désirées
famous number Bring on the Clowns which Glynis Johns sings with
such pathos when she thinks that Frederik will not abandon his child wife
for her. It is reprised when he does just that and they both realise they
have both been clowns. All, of course, ends happily with the lovers paired
A hugely delightful album that will make repeated visits to my CD player.