Original Broadway Cast

Carmen Jones [Original Broadway Cast]

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Carmen Jones is lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II's restyling of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen. Where Bizet and his lyric collaborators Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy took novelist Prosper Mérimée's setting among Spanish gypsies working at a cigarette factory in Seville for their 1875 French opera, Hammerstein put his "musical play" in a parachute factory in South Carolina in the present day and wrote it for an all-African-American cast. But the story of love, betrayal, and death remained the same; as did the music, minus a couple of arias, and in slightly re-orchestrated form courtesy of Robert Russell Bennett. Casting was a challenge for two reasons: first, the vocal demands of the score meant that, as with the opera, two casts had to be employed to alternate performances for the eight-times-a-week schedule; and second, in the still racially restricted time, it was hard to find African-Americans with enough voice training. Luther Saxon, who played one of the Joes (aka Don José) and does so on this recording, was working in a naval yard when he was cast; Glenn Bryant, who became Husky Miller (Escamillo), was a New York police officer on leave. But when they all turned up on Broadway on December 2, 1943, the result was a triumph. Carmen was given a new lease on life in a version in which the "Habanera" became "Dat's Love," the "Toreador Song" was "Stan' up and Fight," and the "Chanson Bohémienne" was now "Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum." The show ran 502 performances. It is unfortunate that Decca Records was able to record only one of the two casts, so that, while Muriel Smith's Carmen is impressive, succeeding generations will not be able to compare it with Muriel Rahn's. But these were the early days of recording Broadway shows, and we can be thankful there is any record of this masterpiece. (The original 1944 release of this recording was an album containing six 78 R.P.M. records. Later LP versions such as Decca DL-8014 were abridged, deleting the tracks "You Talk Jus' Like My Maw" and "Card Song.")

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