> Opera and Oratorio
Ballenger, Callinan, Flanagan, Best, Lally; Allen, Liebert, Kelleher-Flight;
Light Opera of New York, Haile.
Albany Records TROY 1535
By the early 1920s, the era of vocally grand-scale operettas on Broadway was beginning to fade. Dublin-born Victor Herbert (1860–1924), composer of more than fifty Broadway shows in the course of his New York career, responded with Orange Blossoms, which offered a notably breezier, jazzier style than most of his earlier works. For Light Opera of New York’s 2014 production, director Michael Phillips edited the original libretto by Fred de Gressac from three acts to two. Phillips and Cynthia Edwards revised the original lyrics by B. G. de Sylva in an attempt to connect them more smoothly to what Phillips describes in the CD booklet as “the fun-loving Broadway aesthetic of the ’20s.”
Orange Blossoms begins in Paris, then moves for the second half to the Riviera. The show’s male lead is Baron Roger Belmont, who will inherit his aunt’s fortune if he marries within a year of her death. The will states, however, that the bride can’t be the divorced wife of a Brazilian subject. The woman he loves, Mme. Helen de Vasquez, is exactly that. Roger’s resourceful lawyer, Tillie Jones, arranges to have her own goddaughter, Kitty Savary, marry Roger in name only, the aim being a divorce after Roger collects the money. As it happens, Roger is the very man who once kissed Kitty in such a heavenly manner that she’s never forgotten it. Kitty agrees to the marriage, and of course, Roger eventually discovers his true feelings for her.
The score is consistently tuneful — how could it be otherwise in a Herbert show? — and it abounds with both high spirits and romance. Still, except for Kitty’s ravishing “A Kiss in the Dark,” one individual number after another passes by merely pleasantly, rather than remaining in one’s aural memory. Phillips’s adaptation retains a fair amount of cutesy period language, and the performers aren’t always convincing in their spoken dialogue — although admittedly few actors these days can sound natural declaring, “Gadzooks!” or “By golly, you look peachy.”
Everyone is suitably chosen vocally, with the admirably clear-voiced Natalie Ballenger (Kitty) exhibiting the essential appeal that every Herbert heroine possesses. In contrast, Sarah Callinan has more than enough affectation for Helen. She also throws in a securely sustained and entirely appropriate high E-flat: this is the one character who requires flamboyantly “operatic” vocalism. As Belmont, Glenn Seven Allen boasts precisely the right airy tenor timbre for this music, although he’s handicapped by an odd, semi-British accent. As Tillie, Lisa Flanigan takes charge in all her scenes with an aptly brisk, no-nonsense delivery. Most of the lighter moments are provided by Tillie’s love interest, detective, J. J. Flynn, played by Ben Liebert. It’s not Liebert’s fault that the character eventually becomes way too much of a good thing.
The performance proceeds at a delightfully buoyant pace under Evans Haile’s baton. His sixteen-member orchestra (including himself at the piano) does well with the up-tempo numbers, but one can’t help wishing for greater lushness of sound when things turn romantic.
Albany Records has included a brief program note and a full libretto. No doubt this is the only Orange Blossoms we’re going to get on CD in the foreseeable future. Operetta buffs need not hesitate.
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