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Concert Operetta’s ‘Remembering Romberg’ (1st review)BY: Tom Purdom 02.01.2011
Concert Operetta’s recent Sigmund Romberg program provided an enjoyable afternoon, with two caveats. Even a hopeless Romberg addict like me learned a few things I never knew before.
Concert Operetta Theater: “Remembering Romberg.” Romberg, songs from The Desert Song, The Student Prince, New Moon, My Maryland, et al. Catharine Layton, Zulimar Lopez-Fernandez, sopranos; Patrick Layton, tenor; John-Andrew Fernandez, baritone; Michael Presser, narrator; Donald Yonker, writer. Daniel Pantano, artistic director. January 30, 2011 at Helen Corning Warden Theater, Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St. (215) 389-0648 or www.concertoperetta.com.
When Sigmund stood his groundTOM PURDOM
Operetta presents an imaginary world in which people fall in love and form lifelong romantic relationships. Its never-never land is obviously a delusion, a sentimental daydream created to make money for theater producers. But what if you were enchanted by such a world when you were young? What if you and the person you eventually married believed such relationships were possible? And did everything you could to make it happen? Wouldn’t we all be better off?
For those of us who became hopelessly addicted to songs like “Wanting You” and “Stout Hearted Men” when we were too young to know better, Concert Operetta’s recent Sigmund Romberg program provided an enjoyable afternoon, with two caveats.
Both halves of the program began with talks delivered by the New York theater activist Michael Presser, and both talks ran too long. Presser’s audience, after all, primarily wanted to hear tenors, baritones and sopranos sing about romantic love, glorious battles and the charms of student life in Heidelberg.
On the other hand, his talks were packed with interesting information. I didn’t know that Romberg (1887-1951) spent most of his career as a house composer for the Shubert theater chain. He broke away eventually and composed some of his best work after he went independent. But he composed his masterpiece, The Student Prince, just before the break.
Romberg and his librettist, Dorothy Donnelly, created The Student Prince despite the Shuberts. That operetta is based on a play, and the Shuberts wanted to change the original bittersweet ending and give it a happy boy-gets-girl finish.
Romberg and his collaborator stood their ground, thank heavens, and the Shuberts wound up with a commercial success. The Student Prince ran for 608 performances on Broadway and kept 14 touring companies on the road.
This was the first time I’ve had trouble understanding the words at a Concert Operetta production. That’s a common problem at most vocal performances, but it’s a particularly critical aspect of operetta.
In operas and oratorios, the music is so varied and interesting that you can often listen to it the way you listen to instrumental music, without trying to follow it word for word. Operetta composers work within a more limited, less varied range. Their creations lose some of their impact if you can’t follow the words.
You could understand just about every word sung by baritone John-Andrew Fernandez, who did an effective job with “The Desert Song” and the aforementioned “Stout Hearted Men,” as well as his backup work in ensemble pieces like the drinking song from The Student Prince.
Soprano Zulimar-Lopez Hernandez had the least success in the articulation department, but she possesses such a beautiful voice that I could relax and let myself enjoy the sounds she was making.
Michael Layton handled the all-important tenor numbers with distinction, and soprano Catherine Layton provided fetching renditions of “Lover Come Back to Me” and “You Will Remember Vienna.” Their voices blended well when they sang duets— a good thing, since they’re apparently married, judging by their common last name and some of their onstage actions.♦
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