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Opening the Vault of Cast Recordings

Opening the Vault of Cast Recordings

By David Foil

At long last, the celebrated 1958 recording of Marc
Blitzstein’s Regina will enter the digital era when Masterworks Broadway
releases it on July 20, for digital download and disc-on-demand through
Arkivmusic.com.

The release of Regina will be the first in a
long-range plan to issue a “new” classic Masterworks Broadway title each month,
transferred from the original masters in the Sony Music Archives. In most
instances, these will be the first authorized releases of these recordings in
the digital era, and the first time they have been available directly from the
original masters since the LP era.

Each digital release in this series will include a
downloadable digital booklet with the original liner notes, cover art and
photos from the Sony Music Archives. The same booklet will also be available in
physical form for Arkiv’s disc-on-demand. Future releases will be announced in
the fall.

The next two releases in this series will be the 1959 stereo
recording of the Jones Beach Marine Theater revival of the Wright/Forrest
operetta Song of Norway with John Reardon and Brenda Lewis, conducted by
Lehman Engel (August 17); and the 1951 original Broadway cast recording of Make
a Wish
(September 14). Make a Wish will also include a rare cover
version of a song from Hugh Martin’s charming score – Judy Holliday’s 1958
recording of “What I Was Warned About,” introduced in the show and sung on the
original cast recording by Nanette Fabray. Make a Wish has appeared on
CD in unauthorized versions created outside the U.S., but never before using
the original RCA Victor masters – an essential and irreplaceable step in
preserving this recording for the digital era and the future. The releases of Regina and Song of Norway really are CD debuts, in every sense, and both are
long overdue.

The recording of Regina captures all the theatrical
excitement of the 1958 New York City Opera revival of the work, with a
brilliantly effective cast that includes both opera and musical theater
singers. Marc Blitzstein himself oversaw the recording (he is photographed with
the cast on the original cover) and even secured the assistance in underwriting
it through the Koussevitzky Foundation.

Blitzstein’s operatic version of Lillian Hellman’s The
Little Foxes
was meant to straddle the worlds of opera and musical theater.
It had premiered on Broadway on Halloween night in 1949 at the 46th Street Theater (now the Richard Rodgers). Reviews were mixed, Hellman was
angry about some conceits Blitzstein added to the play in his libretto (which
he also wrote), and Regina closed a month-and-a-half later. A successful
1953 New York City Opera staging featured cuts to the score, and Blitzstein cut
even more when the production was revived, again successfully, in 1958. This is
the version that inspired the recording and became, at least, a reference point
for future performances. Among the cuts were virtually all the inventions
Hellman so thoroughly disliked. In fact, she was placated enough to write a
(carefully) complimentary short essay for the liner notes of the recording. It
has been reproduced in the Masterworks Broadway release, along with glowing words
from Leonard Bernstein, to whom Blitzstein was mentor and close friend, and
Frank Loesser.

The title role in the recording is sung – and fiercely – by
Brenda Lewis, who had created the second (scene-stealing) role of Birdie in the
1949 Broadway premiere. (Jane Pickens was the original Regina.) Lewis sang the
title role for the first time in the 1953 City Opera revival. Blitzstein
apparently had to be convinced to cast Elisabeth Carron as Birdie in 1958, but
it’s clear from her performance on the recording that she triumphed in the
role, still singing it twenty-two years later when the Houston Grand Opera
revived Regina. The role of Ben Hubbard, Regina’s affably sinister
brother, is unforgettably etched by George S. Irving, a Broadway veteran and
Tony winner (in 1973) for Irene. The role of the vicious nephew Leo is
taken by operatic tenor Loren Driscoll, who would appear on Broadway the
following year in Blitzstein’s unsuccessful musical Juno. Contralto
Carol Brice brings gravitas to the role of the maid Addie. Conducting the City
Opera orchestra and chorus is Samuel Krachmalnik, best known perhaps as the
conductor of the 1956 original cast recording of Bernstein and Hellman’s
musical Candide.

The release of Regina signifies once again Masterworks
Broadway’s determination to keep our promises. When we launched
MasterworksBroadway.com, we said we would make as much of the recorded
catalogue available as possible. These monthly releases begin to deliver on
that. They follow the 2009 release of eight long-unavailable Broadway (and
Off-Broadway) titles – disinHAIRited, Hazel Flagg, Jimmy, The
Last Sweet Days of Isaac
, Let It Ride!, New Faces of 1952, New
Faces of ’56
and The Threepenny Opera. The new plan will keep titles
such as these coming on a monthly basis, and we will be adding album pages and
(where we can find them) photos to the web site to accompany their release.

Of course, we want eventually to make available all the musical theater recordings in the Masterworks Broadway catalogue. That will
include Broadway, Off-Broadway, studio and international cast recordings, as
well as key “cover” recordings of songs and scores from the musical theater.
Please feel free to let us know what you would like to see released in the
coming months. Stay tuned, and keep listening.

-DAVID FOIL

David Foil is Senior Director, Product
Development, for Sony Masterworks. In that role, he supervises A&R for the
Masterworks Broadway catalogue and produces the Masterworks Broadway podcast
series. Foil began his career in print and on TV as a film and performing arts
critic. In the last two decades, he has compiled and annotated well over 100
Broadway and classical recordings, and has written twelve introductory books on
classical music and opera.