Nick Ingman

West Side Story [2007 UK Studio Cast]

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2007 was the 50th anniversary of West Side Story, so Universal/Decca decided to record a new studio version, hoping a cast of "popera" stars might capture the best of both the original Broadway cast recording and Leonard Bernstein's 1984 recording with opera singers. The result does have the youthfulness of the former, but generally the producers managed to find the same pitfalls that made the Bernstein recording so disappointing. No amount of wishing by Bernstein would have ever made a very polished, precise sound in the orchestra and singing suit the characters and story of the play. To accommodate the breadth of the more operatic sound, the music frequently loses the rawness and spontaneous spark (and speed) of a pickup theater orchestra and less mature voices. Hayley Westenra, as Maria, and Connie Fisher (winner of the BBC reality series How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria), who sings "Somewhere," have the least operatically shaped voices of the cast here, but they are still sometimes too careful trying to get the pronunciation and some articulations just so. Westenra also does not have the vocal power to hold her own in duets with Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Tony. He actually does give his role energy and passion, but as with José Carreras in Bernstein's recording, it's humorous to hear someone with an accent singing such an all-American character, no matter how hard he's working at it (and not that the pseudo-Puerto Rican accents are any better; Westenra doesn't even try). (By the way, "mambo" shouldn't rhyme with "Rambo.") More believable are the ensemble pieces -- "America," "Cool," and "Gee, Officer Krupke" -- and the singing by mezzo-soprano Melanie Marshall. It's really no fault of the performers that Universal/Decca's gimmicky idea comes out exactly as you might expect.

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