Friday, January 28, 2011

Sunday Classics flashback/preview, part 3: Traveling with Valerie Masterson from 1994 to 1967


At the 5th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton (England) in 1998, Valerie Masterson (left), lead soprano of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company from 1964 to 1969, offered a morning of reminiscences about her career in opera as well as operetta, then posed for pictures with one of her most distinguished D'Oyly Carte predecessors, Jean Hindmarsh.

by Ken

Valerie Masterson -- whom we've been "flashback/preview"-ing for two Fridays now (first here, then here) -- was 61 when the above photo was taken. As I've mentioned, it was only four earlier, at age 57, that she recorded the role of Anna (with Christopher Lee as the King) in the Jay label's first-ever recording of the complete score of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I. We're going to hear a couple of excerpts from that recording, but first, just to register the life-distance traveled, we jump back more than 20 years, to 1972, when her career with the D'Oyly Carte company was already several years behind her, to hear one of her "calling card" numbers, Mabel's showpiece aria "Poor wandering one" from The Pirates of Penzance.

We're going to hear a fuller version of the sequence in the click-through, from Masterson's complete 1967 Pirates with the D'Oyly Carte company, but here we pick up as the beautiful young ex-pirate apprentice Frederic, encountering the bevy of beautiful daughters of Major-General Stanley on an outing to this rocky Cornwall beach, has asked whether for an outcast like himself there isn't, first, "one maiden breast which does not feel the moral beauty of making worldly interest subordinate to sense of duty" (answer: alas, no) and, second, whether there's "not one maiden here whose homely face and bad complexion have caused all hope to disappear of ever winning man's affection," which is the point at which we come in.

It turns out, to the astonishment, horror, and I dare say gnawing envy of her sisters, that there is one: the late-arriving Mabel, who gives her unfeeling sisters what-for for being "deaf to pity's name" (rhymes with "for shame!"). Note the interesting and strikingly contemporary-sounding point raised by the reproached sisters:
The question is, had he not been
a thing of beauty,
would she be swayed by quite as keen
a sense of duty?

GILBERT AND SULLIVAN: The Pirates of Penzance: Act I, General Stanley's daughters, "Alas, there's not one maiden here" . . . Mabel, "O sisters deaf to pity's name" . . . "Poor wandering one"

Thomas Round (t), Frederic; Valerie Masterson (s), Mabel; Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Chorus and Orchestra, Peter Murray, arr. and cond. Pye/Everest, recorded 1972

Even in 1994 we can hear flickers of the perky young Valerie in the Schoolroom Scene of The King and I, as the widowed Englishwoman Anna Leonowens, newly arrived in Bangkok in 1862 to provide a proper Western education for the many children of the King of Siam, takes up her new duties. (For the record, where Major-General Stanley's daughters are all adopted, the King's offspring are all his, by his consortium of wives.)

RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN: The King and I: Act I, Schoolroom Scene, Chorus of Royal Children, "We work and work from week to week" . . . Anna, "Getting to know you"

Valerie Masterson (s), Anna; children's chorus, National Symphony Orchestra, John Owen Edwards, cond. Jay, recorded July 1994

was a relatively late addition to The King and I. The story goes that between the New Haven and Boston tryout runs, the creative team, having made huge cuts to the show, was looking for a way to lighten Anna's character, and star Gertrude Lawrence had suggested a song for her and the children. Mary Martin, the star of Rodgers and Hammerstein's previous show, South Pacific, had come up to see the show and reminded R&H of the song "Suddenly Lucky," which had finally been cut at a late stage, with reluctance, from South Pacific. She thought it might do the trick. With new lyrics and further tinkering, it did the trick very nicely.

But the number from The King and I that I really want you to hear is . . . well, you'll find out in the click-through.



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