HERBERT: The Only Girl
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HERBERT: The Only Girl

CD Button Mendezona, Ballenger, Best, Mossman; Erdos-Knapp, McEuen, Cannedy, Smith; Orchestra of the Light Opera of New York, Steichen. Libretto. Albany TROY 1590     

Recordings Only Girl Cover 316
Critics Choice Button 1015 

THE ONLY GIRL (1914) is less well-known than many of the prolific Victor Herbert’s stage works, but its score is fresh, jaunty and delightful. Its hit song, the haunting waltz “When You’re Away,” remains a familiar favorite, but the rest of the score is loaded with peppy, entertaining numbers. On Albany Records’s very welcome new CD, The Only Girl reveals itself to be closer to the Jerome Kern–P. G. Wodehouse musicals of the same era than to the operettas for which Herbert is best known. 

Recorded at the time of a special staged revival by Light Opera of New York, last year at Symphony Space, this includes brief dialogue scenes. Frank Mandel boiled down Henry Blossom’s unwieldy book for this production (Blossom’s engaging lyrics needed no tweaking) and adapted the spoken dialogue extensively. The result is essentially a new book, one oddly devoid of any kind of plot or conflict, but which serves as a suitable framework on which to hang the appealing score. The story, such as it is, deals with a lyricist of hit Broadway shows who tries working with a female composer for the first time. Inevitably, they fall in love, to the delight of their friends. That’s basically it—no bickering, no misunderstandings, no separation. 

A cast of talented New York performers puts the songs and the gags over with panache. As Ruth, the composer, Antoni Mendezona unfurls her soprano beautifully in “When You’re Away” and its reprises. Kyle Erdos–Knapp sings the lyricist, Kimbrough, with a pleasantly unforced tenor. As a stage diva, Sarah Best comically exploits her register extremes to excellent effect in her one solo. Natalie Ballenger brays with an amusing Edith Bunker voice in songs and dialogue to score comic points, and Sarah Mossman reveals a lovely soprano timbre that braids sweet and dark. The three other men in the cast—Ian McEuen, Adam Cannedy and Cameron Smith—blend nicely with Erdos–Knapp on several barbershop-quartet-style close-harmony numbers. 

Gerald Steichen conducts the 17-piece pit band with the perfect idiomatic period touch. —Eric Myers 

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