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Moross: The Golden Apple

CD Button Lassiter, Estes, Brown; Deaton, Williams; Lyric Stage Orchestra, Dias. Text. PS Classics, PS-1528 (2)

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Critics Choice Button 1015 HOW WELCOME this recording is—and how long overdue! Theater buffs consider The Golden Apple to be one of the great American musicals, yet it has languished in semiobscurity. Its score glistens like a jewel, but composer Jerome Moross and lyricist John Latouche never enjoyed the fame or following of Berlin, Porter, or Rodgers and Hammerstein. A critical and commercial hit when it had its premiere off-Broadway in 1954, it soon moved to Broadway, where it lasted only three and a half months. Nonetheless, it received that year’s New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical. A cast album was made, but it was inadequate, containing less than half of the work’s 135-minute sung-through score. This was, in most respects, the first true Broadway opera, with every word set to music. 

There have been no Broadway revivals of The Golden Apple since its premiere; even the estimable Encores! musical-comedy repertory series at New York’s City Center hasn’t touched it. Regional revivals are infrequent, though a single concert performance was given in 2005 in upstate New York, at Bard College’s Summerscape festival. It took the Lyric Stage company in Irving, Texas, to present a full-scale revival in its 2014–15 season, and to give the work back to us in its original form—uncut, fully staged, with a cast of forty-three and an orchestra of thirty-six. Fortunately it was preserved by PS Classics on this magnificent two-CD set.

Moross and Latouche used as inspiration The Iliad and The Odyssey, setting them in America at the turn of the century. In the small town of Angel’s Roost, at the foot of Mount Olympus in Washington State, Ulysses is a returning Spanish–American War hero, Helen is a farmer’s daughter with a wandering eye, and Paris is a traveling salesman who makes his arrival by balloon. When Helen seduces Paris and allows him to carry her off, Ulysses and the Angel’s Roost menfolk take off after them. Moross and Latouche hit on musical-theater alchemy here; the music is rip-roaring, bursting-at-the-seams Americana, and Latouche’s witty, exquisitely crafted lyrics fit it like perfectly set gems. Marches, waltzes, hymns, vaudeville parodies—all are seamlessly integrated, evoking early-twentieth-century popular-music forms with an overlay of Broadway flair. The effect is irresistible. 

Fortunately, Lyric Stage had a generally excellent cast to carry this off. If this is strictly local talent, it is of a remarkably high level. Best is Christopher J. Deaton as Ulysses, who wields his handsome light baritone and clear diction with masculine elegance. As his Penelope, Kristen Lassiter offers a sense of stoic nobility and an appropriately furious tirade when Ulysses finally makes his long-overdue return to her. Danielle Estes as Helen doesn’t go in for the voluptuously rich tone of Kaye Ballard’s 1954 original, but she draws a marvelously comic, often hoydenish characterization of the libidinous farmer’s daughter. As the local seeress Mother Hare, Deborah Brown is brash and funny, making the most of every line yet never pushing too much. Only James Williams as Hector lets the team down; he does not have the vocal resources to put over this brassy, galvanizing huckster, here a small-town mayor leading Ulysses and his men down the path of dissolution.

The exuberant original orchestrations by Moross and Hershy Kay are rousingly conducted by Jay Dias. And a full libretto is enclosed, including plenty of photos as well as informative essays by Jon Burlingame, Deniz Cordell and Robert Edridge-Waks. Regional opera companies should take note: if they choose to produce this neglected work, and if they do it as well as Lyric Stage, they may have a hit on their hands. Eric Myers 

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