Thomas Hampson

Kurt Weill on Broadway

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Just going by the title Kurt Weill on Broadway, one might expect to encounter certain songs from certain shows, for example, the title song from Lost in the Stars and "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday. Composer Kurt Weill's biggest hit show on Broadway was One Touch of Venus, and when you consider that this album, although credited to opera singer Thomas Hampson, who is heard to one extent or another on all but two of the 16 tracks, is really something of a studio cast recording of selections from Weill musicals also featuring 21 other singers (notably Elizabeth Futral, Jerry Hadley, and Jeanne Lehman), you might expect to hear "Speak Low," "That's Him," and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" from that show (even though they're sung by the female lead) and, perhaps, "Jenny" and "Tschaikowsky" from Weill's second biggest Broadway hit, Lady in the Dark. You might even expect to hear a song or two from The Threepenny Opera, which, even though it dates from Weill's early career in Germany, has had several Broadway and off-Broadway productions. But all such expectations should be banished; none of these songs is included. The title of this album really should be The Lost Songs of Kurt Weill on Broadway, or something like that, because it is in fact a reclamation project that looks to some of Weill's least successful shows and most obscure compositions.

Forget about Lady in the Dark and Lost in the Stars, much less The Threepenny Opera. This collection is devoted to music from shows like The Firebrand of Florence (a 48-performance flop) and Johnny Johnson (68 performances), shows that never had cast albums. Neither did Love Life, another show highlighted here, even though it ran a comparatively long 252 performances, if only because, as annotator Miles Kreuger points out, the year it opened on Broadway there was a strike of the musicians union that prevented anything from being recorded. Kreuger, in his extensive notes, provides much of the rationale for this album, claiming, for example, that The Firebrand of Florence, an operetta with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and excerpts from which take up half the album's running time, "failed, not because of its writing or composition, but because almost everything that could go wrong with its original Broadway production went wrong," among those things that the show was "poorly directed, and four out of the four leading characters [were] poorly cast...." The annotator says nothing about the casting on this album; in fact, he says practically nothing at all about these recordings, restricting himself to historical comments about the original productions.

But the implication would seem to be that Hampson and company, along with conductor John McGlinn and the London Sinfonietta, are finally doing right by Weill and resurrecting much worthy music. That is hard to tell from the bits and pieces heard on the album; it might have been better, as Kreuger suggests, to have had them go ahead and record The Firebrand of Florence in toto. Another possible project might be Love Life, with a libretto and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, which sounds promising based on the lengthy soliloquy "This Is the Life." (It should be pointed out that the song "I Remember It Well" heard here, although it is similar in content to a tune of the same name in Lerner's film score for Gigi, written later with Frederick Loewe, is an entirely different composition.) To his credit, Hampson treats the sometimes very diverse material in different ways, coming on like the opera singer he is in The Firebrand of Florence, but managing a convincing musical comedy style elsewhere, which is not true of all of his fellow singers. Kurt Weill on Broadway is to be applauded for bringing onto disc much forgotten Weill in competent, authentic performances, as long as the buyer doesn't purchase it expecting to hear Weill's best-known Broadway music, as its title inevitably implies.

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