In his liner notes to this studio cast recording of Carousel, Stanley Green recalls that Ferenc Molnar had turned down Puccini among others who wanted to adapt his play Liliom musically before agreeing to let Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II do it. One gets a sense of what a Puccini version might have been like here, at least in the casting. Operatic bass Samuel Ramey takes the lead male role of Billy Bigelow, and other principal roles go to opera singers Maureen Forrester and David Rendall. Only Barbara Cook, in the lead female role of Julie Jordan, and Sarah Brightman, as second female lead Carrie Pipperidge, come from the musical theater (though Brightman has a classical background as well). Billy Bigelow was played originally by John Raitt, a light baritone, and Ramey's deep, trained voice gives the role a sense of authority absent from previous portrayals and is somewhat inappropriate. When, at the end, Billy sings "The Highest Judge of All," demanding to be judged by God, he sounds more like the Supreme Being himself than a mere sinner. Even if Cook is not an opera singer, her casting reflects the opera convention of paying little attention to physical details; she was 59 years old when she recorded this album, and engaging as her voice always is, she just doesn't sound like an ingenue. Brightman is more convincing, but her timbre is so similar to Cook's that it's easy to confuse them. It would have been a better idea to cast Brightman as Julie and someone with a distinctly different voice as Carrie. Rather than hewing to the original orchestrations, the recording employs no less than five new arrangers, and their work often makes this sound like a compilation of several different recordings of Carousel. This, then, is a version of the score that makes some surprising choices. It is also a recording that presents the full version of the "If I Loved You" scene between Billy and Julie for the first time, with a running time over 12-and-a-half minutes, and it marks the first recording of the song "Geraniums in the Winder."Not surprisingly, it was the longest recording of Carousel yet released (though it was outdistanced subsequently by the 1993 London revival cast album).
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: David Rendall
feat: Barbara Cook