Tanglewood 75 - From the Audio Archives: Day 54
Rodgers & Hammerstein:
Carousel, A Concert
Koussevitzky Music Shed, July 10, 2007
Keith Lockhart, conductor
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on Ferenc Molnár's play Liliom as adapted by Benjamin F. Glazer
Original dances by Agnes de Mille
Orchestrations by Don Walker
Dance arrangements by Trude Rittmann
Concert adaptation by Tom Briggs
Billy Bigelow - Aaron Lazar, baritone
Nettie - Rebecca Eichenberger, mezzo-soprano
Julie Jordan - Eve-lyn de la Haye, soprano (Tanglewood Music Center Vocal Fellow)
Carrie Pipperidge - Rebecca Jo Loeb, soprano (TMC Vocal Fellow)
Enoch Snow - Matthew Anderson, tenor (TMC Vocal Fellow)
Jigger Craigin- Mischa Bouvier, baritone (TMC Vocal Fellow)
Narrator - Patrick Shea
Mrs. Mullen - Paula Plum
Louise Bigelow - Jaclyn Sabogal
Enoch Snow, Jr. - Andrew Kosten
Miss Snow - Natasha Ashworth
Members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver, conductor
Background on the Music
Carousel, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945. The three-and-a-half month rehearsal and out-of-town tryout period was very troubled, and the show reached the Majestic Theater in New York after major revisions of text, music, and choreography. But it was a substantial hit and ran for 890 performances.
And it is safe to say that it has been running somewhere ever since. There have been at least five important New York revivals, and three productions in London, as well as national tours and countless other productions professional and amateur. The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which administers the performing rights, lists 13 productions in this country within the next year. Some of the songs are part of the collective consciousness of everyone in the English-speaking world, and "You'll Never Walk Alone" has become an international anthem.
In some ways this success was surprising. To begin with, this was for its day a very adventurous and risk-taking show with a difficult subject as one of its themes - spousal abuse. This aspect of the show has dated because contemporary audiences take this matter far more seriously than the playwright or the creators of the musical did, but contemporary stage directors have made Carousel even more powerful by not softening any blows.
The show also begins in a realistic style and ends with something very stylized and symbolic. The leading man, Billy Bigelow, a carnival barker, is a complex character, appealing in some respects but appalling in others. He is his own worst enemy and knows it, but he consistently makes bad choices anyway. And he is dead early in the second act; the rest of the show is about the consequences of his actions and about his difficult redemption.
The source for Carousel was Liliom, a famous play written in 1909 by the Hungarian writer Ferenc Molnár. Both Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III saw the second Broadway production of the play in 1940, when the leading roles were taken by Burgess Meredith and Ingrid Bergman, and most likely they had heard Orson Welles's radio production the year before which featured Welles himself opposite Helen Hayes.
The Theater Guild suggested Liliom as something Rodgers and Hammerstein could use as a basis for their second collaboration after their megahit Oklahoma! It took the men a long time to come round to the idea, but once the idea came that they could relocate the story to the New England coast in Maine, everything began to fall into place.
In another sense, the show was not a risk at all, because both Rodgers and Hammerstein were experienced men who knew what they were doing, and they were at the very top of their game. For the rest of his life whenever Rodgers was asked which of his shows was his favorite, he invariably responded Carousel.
And his score is a wonder, especially the first act, which is almost through-composed, like an opera. "If I Loved You" is a wonderful song, but one with precedents like "Make Believe'' from Showboat. What had no precedent, and few worthy successors, is the long and varied musical sequence that precedes the song, a sequence in which Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow tell us everything they know about themselves, and everything the audience needs to know. Billy's "Soliloquy" is also an astonishing piece to find in an American musical comedy of the period, and it would be even more astonishing to come across anything like it in a recent show - a song longer than most operatic arias, and covering a wide range of emotional expression. Billy has just learned that Julie is pregnant, and these are his thoughts about his potential son or daughter, and the kind of father he wants to be, but doubts that he can. There are bows to convention in the rest of the score, but Rodgers knew how to make the conventions fresh, and everything passes in an irresistible flow of rhythmic melody, caught up in the romantic waltz of the carousel.
In his last years, Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops, dreamed of turning a concert over to a complete musical performance of a Broadway show. He knew and loved the power of show music - his very first Pops program featured a medley from a then current Broadway hit, Sigmund Romberg's New Moon. Fiedler wanted to revive a forgotten musical by John Philip Sousa called El capitan, which opened in Boston in 1896; this never came to pass. In the 21st century, Pops conductor Keith Lockhart did lead complete concert performances in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood of Carousel and A Little Night Music, as well as an all-Sondheim evening. On these occasions, Broadway luminaries appeared alongside Vocal Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center in the principal roles, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus joined in the festivities.
Carousel has probably never been performed by a bigger or a better orchestra, and the sheer sound of the magnificent overture, as led by Keith Lockhart, sweeps you away and deposits you in the world of Carousel body and soul. And the cast is uniformly and individually excellent. There were two Broadway performers in this Carousel, Aaron Lazar and Rebecca Eichenberger, both of them giving lessons in clear and meaningful diction. Lazar is Billy Bigelow, singing with technical assurance and meaningful diction in a tenorish timbre; even without his physical presence, this download demonstrates what a powerful actor he is. At the time of this performance he had appeared in The Light in the Piazza and Les Misérables and since then he has been in a Broadway revival of A Little Night Music, A Tale of Two Cities, and Impressionism. He has also been active on television and in film, most recently in J. Edgar. Eichenberger is the sympathetic Nettie who sings "You'll Never Walk Alone." She appeared on Broadway in The Phantom of the Opera and is currently performing in the ensemble of Evita with Ricky Martin. She performed in national tours of Ragtime and Carousel. Her delivery of her great song is intimate and in the context of the moment in the show; she is consoling Julie, not performing an anthem like "God Bless America."
The Vocal Fellows from the Tanglewood Music Center are fully equal to the Broadway veterans, and all of them have done well for themselves since this performance. The captivating Eve-Lyn de la Haye, a lyric-coloratura from Canada, has sung in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia at the Aldeburgh Festival in England and in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Israel, as well as singing in opera and concert in Canada. Her performance as Julie is sweet-voiced, genuine, and touching. Mezzo Rebecca-Jo Loeb, charming as Carrie, is now at the Hamburg State Opera, where her roles include Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, and Hansel in Hansel and Gretel.
Tenor Matthew Anderson sings so beautifully that he makes the insufferable Mr. Snow tolerable. Anderson is a member of the famous resident Bach ensemble at Emmanuel Church is Boston and sings the Bach Passions and the Mass in B minor with ensembles across the country, as well as Handel's Messiah and other oratorios. He also regularly appears as a vocal soloist with the Mark Morris Dance Group. Baritone Mischa Bouvier, who plays the villain Jigger, has been busy in recital and oratorio, appearing with such ensembles as the New York Festival of Song, the Princeton Glee Club, and the Bach Collegium San Diego. In 2010 he won the Concert Artists Guild International Competition.
The spoken roles were in the capable hands of New England actors; and Paula Plum, an especially versatile Boston actress and director, and Patrick Shea, actor, narrator, host, and longtime member of the cast of Shear Madness in Boston, came in for special praise from the press.
"Lockhart, deeply committed and clearly attuned to the complex nuances of the music, brought out rarely heard details, especially in the famous 'Carousel Waltz' overture, the underscoring and the extended ballet sequence near the end of act two. . . Aaron Lazar, a rapidly rising Broadway matinee idol, conveyed the bluster and rough-hewn charm of Billy Bigelow . . . Lazar's baritone is supple, wide-ranging and powerful. . . . [de la Haye's] performance was heartfelt and beautiful, as was her depiction of Julie's anguished sobbing appeal for help in Billy's death scene. Musical-theater veteran Rebecca Eichenberger sang with conviction and nobility as the maternal Nettie Fowler; Rebecca Jo Loeb, a superb singer-actress from the TMC radiated charm as Julie's flighty best friend . . . and TMC tenor Matthew Anderson was vocally stunning as her fiance, the starchy, virtuous sardine entrepreneur Enoch Snow . . .For a highly attentive, enthusiastic audience that appeared to number well over 10,000, this was a production that captured the considerable heart and soul of the magnificent score, and bodes well for future Pops explorations into that uniquely American art form, musical theater.
-Clarence Fanto, Berkshire Eagle