Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Sound of Music: The Original Version?

You might have watched the live production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's stage version on NBC on Thursday, December 5--and that was the crucial note about the broadcast: that it was of the stage version. Too many people in on-line comments said the live version did not measure up to the original (the Julie Andrew's movie), not realizing that they had never seen the original: Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel as the Maria and the Captain in the last musical play that Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote together. I think many viewers expected a remake of the movie. What we saw was the (almost) original order and selection of the songs from the stage play--no "I Have Confidence in Me" (which Rodgers wrote for the movie). I was disappointed that they did not include "An Ordinary Couple" from the stage play, but instead chose "Something Good", which Rodgers also wrote (lyrics and music) for the movie.

I have not heard the soundtrack from the 1998 Broadway revival with Rebecca Luker but I did hear her sing "The Hills Are Alive" on the Kennedy Honors program for Julie Andrews. That revival included both "I Have Confidence in Me" and "Something Good" from the movie and the two songs for Elsa Schrader and Max Detweiler ("How Can Love Survive" and "There's No Way to Stop It"). The last song is really important to the plot because Elsa sings herself right out of her engagement to Captain von Trapp--and she knows it immediately.

For a really complete version of all the music for The Sound of Music, I guess the Telarc 1987 studio cast album wraps it all up: all the songs from both stage and screen. Frederica von Stade, Haken Hagegard, Eileen Farrell (the Abbess), and Barbara Daniels (Elsa Schrader) make up a strong vocal cast. Erich Kunzel, the late great conductor of the Cincinnati Pops did present a series of concert versions of the musical so there was some performing background for the opera stars. Except for Farrell (who did have a pop recording career along with her operatic career), the others sang operetta during their stage careers so they weren't completely unfamiliar with the musical form. Barbara Daniels sang Mama Rose and Dolly Levy!

Of course the movie version is what we think of first for this musical--and as I've watched it over the years, much as I have loved the music, it's the performance of Eleanor Parker as Baroness Schrader that I've appreciated more and more. She plays that role so brilliantly, because she doesn't let you hate her when you almost should. Even as she encourages Julie Andrews to leave and run back to the Abbey, it's clear that she is surprised at how right she is: the Captain and Maria do love each other, and "There's no Way to Stop It". She has some of the best lines in the movie--"Why didn't you tell me to bring my harmonica?"; the line about helping Maria becoming a nun in the Abbey, and even her breaking up with Georg: delicacy and some real strength of character there. Here's some that coincidential-connection trivia: Eleanor Parker played the role of opera singer Marjorie Lawrence in the 1955 movie Interrupted Melody, and Eileen Farrell, who sang the part of the Abbess on the Telarc CD, dubbed her opera performances.

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