English National Opera / James Holmes

The Pacific Overtures [Original London Cast]

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AllMusic Review by

Although it failed to find a sustaining audience when it opened on Broadway in 1976, Pacific Overtures, a musical about the opening of Japan to the West written by John Weidman with songs by Stephen Sondheim, continued to attract interest over the years, with an Off-Broadway production in 1984 and a British regional premiere in 1986. The English National Opera took it up the following year, opening the first London performance on September 10, 1987, followed shortly after by a recording of the full show that was issued on two CDs (That's Entertainment Records TER-21152) and a slightly abridged double-LP set (TER-21151). The most commonly available version, however, was this highlights disc, which contains the songs only. Roughly comparable to the Original Broadway Cast album (though 11 minutes longer), it presents a somewhat more formal version of the score, probably because the Broadway version employed Asian and Asian-American actors, while this one features British opera singers who miss much of the humor of the score. For instance, Simon Masterton-Smith, playing the Shogun's mother, sings "Chrysanthemum Tea," a song of murder, with plenty of menace but none of the character that Broadway's Alvin Ing brought to it. The one song that the opera singers do really well with is "Please Hello," in which admirals from various countries demand admittance to Japan; particularly effective is the British one, played by Eric Roberts, who sings a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan's "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" with both the necessary speed and individual phrasing. Nevertheless, the Broadway album remains superior. [In 2004, Jay Records released a remastered version of this album that improved it enormously. The original 1988 TER Classics edition had been mastered so softly that it was difficult to hear well, even at high volume. The new version largely corrected this problem.]

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Pacific Overtures, musical play
1 3:00
2 6:23
3 5:41
4 4:50
5 9:58
6 3:51
7 5:08
8 6:50
9 9:38
10 5:17
11 3:09
12 5:37
blue highlight denotes track pick