American Operetta

It is remarkable how music almost a century old can sound as fresh, lively, and modern now as it did when it was first composed. Last week's concert of selections from American operetta presented by the Collegiate Chorale offered a trip back in time to the dawn of the modern American musical. Directed and narrated by the Chorale's Artistic Associate Roger Rees, the evening was an exciting and fascinating study in musical history. With Maestro Robert Bass conducing, the Juniper Symphony Chamber Players performed the grand, sweeping, but ultimately bright and joyous music that lead directly to the musical as we know it today.

Act One was dedicated to Victor Herbert, an Irishman who immigrated to America at the turn of the century, and scored his greatest hit (pun intended) with Naughty Marietta in 1910. Glamourous soprano Anna Christy sang the titular role in the selections, finding the right balance between Victorian innocence and modern sensuality. She performed with a strong, sweet, and expressive voice, especially in the sassy title song. The "Italian Street Song," which could rival Sondheim in its rapid-fire choral complexity, showed off the Chorale to its fullest strengths.

Several of the songs became hits of their day– the finale of Naughty Marietta, better known as "Sweet Mystery of Life," has been used in countless movies, as has "Indian Love Call" from Rose Marie, with its chorus of "When I'm calling yoo-oo-oo-oo-ooou..." Rose Marie, by Czech-born Rudolf Friml, earned three songs in the second act of the evening, and aptly displayed Friml's grand, sweeping musicality. Baritone Daniel Narducci, with the face and charm of a matinee idol, reveled in the silliness of the musical comedy, but also found genuine emotion in the text. "Giannina Mia" and "Donkey Serenade," both performed by Anna Christy and the ladies of the Chorale represented some of Friml's work in Hollywood: both songs were composed for the 1937 movie version of his 1912 operetta The Firefly. (Incidentally, the movie versions of The Firefly, Rose Marie and Naughty Marietta all starred Jeanette MacDonald.)

Hungarian-born Sigmund Romberg's work was represented by The Desert Song, one of the most successful operettas of its day. Christy and Narducci's chemistry for the titular duet made the song especially touching. The true highlight of the Romberg section, however, was Rees' charming rendition of "It,"a witty ode to sex appeal. (This is the song that should underscore any Clara Bow silent movie.) Extra praise must go to Rees for his very apt direction of the evening: these songs were originally written for theatre, not merely for a concert hall, and Rees did not lose sight of that fact. His narration provided context for most of the musical moments, and he had the Chorale set scenes with dialogue and action. It kept the evening of music firmly grounded in the theatre, and gave us a closer glimpse of what those audiences of so long ago might have experienced. As entertainment and as an education, the evening was an exciting celebration of the roots of musical theatre.

Upcoming theatre-related music from the Collegiate Chorale: A concert version of Beethoven's

Fidelio on Thursday, March 3, 2005, at 8 PM at Carnegie Hall, and Shakespeare and Verdi on Wednesday, April 20, 2005, at 8 PM at Carnegie Hall. Call (917)-322-2140 for more information, or visit

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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and (read more...)

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