PINZA, Ezio: Some Enchanted Evening (1949-1954) (Naxos: 8.120643)
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'Some Enchanted Evening' Original 1949-1954 Recordings
Today, the concept of a \crossover artist"whosings classical as well as pop may almost be acliche.
But 55 years ago, when former MetropolitanOpera star Ezio Pinza was cast in the lead ofRodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, itmade front-page headlines across America.
Pinza's decision to "go legit" occurredshortly after his retirement from the Met, apartnership which had lasted for 22 years, 51roles and 850 performances.
At that point, he was 57 years old andalthough his voice was past its peak operaticglory (New York Times music critic HowardTaubman described his final Don Giovanni as"saddening") it was still far superior to many ofthe instruments heard on Broadway.
Consequently, in the last decade of his life,Pinza was to achieve greater fame than he hadearned at the peak of his classical career.
He was born in Rome as Fortunato Pinza in1892, the seventh child of a poverty-strickenfamily. After serving in World War I, he pursuedfame as a professional cyclist and worked hisway up to championship status.
It was his father who urged him to pursuehis vocal studies and at the age of thirty, hemade his debut at La Scala in 1922. By 1926, hehad arrived at the Metropolitan Opera, where heremained until 1948.
Edwin Lester of the Los Angeles Civic Operatook a two-year exclusive contract on hisservices and brought him to the attention ofRodgers and Hammerstein, who were lookingfor someone with continental charm and apersuasive voice to play the mature Frenchplanter, Emile De Becque, opposite MaryMartin's perky southern gamine, Nellie Forbush,in their upcoming musical South Pacific.
Although director Joshua Logan struggledwith Pinza's almost incomprensible Englishdiction, the final performance galvanizedaudiences and was a major factor in the show'ssmash hit status.
The canny, self-promoting Pinza parlayed hissuccess as De Becque into a multi-taskingempire as a recording and film artist. He evenventured into television, with a 1951 varietyseries ("The Ezio Pinza Show") as well as ashort-lived live 1953 sitcom called "Bonino".
where he played a widowed opera singer withfive children. (One of them was a ten-year-oldnamed Van Dyke Parks, who later went on to asuccessful music career.)But the failure of Pinza's various film andtelevision projects, as well as changing publictastes, caused interest in his work to declineafter that.
He made one more successful appearanceon Broadway, in the 1954 musical Fanny, butthen his health began to fail. A series ofcoronary problems presaged a stroke on 1 May1957. Six days later, he died quietly in his sleepof a heart attack.
The selections on this recording are all fromthe period 1949 through 1954, when Pinza'snewfound pop stardom was at its peak.
The first two are songs from South Pacific(Some Enchanted Evening and This NearlyWas Mine), presented in a mini-version of themusical that Pinza and co-star Mary Martinpresented on the popular series,The BellTelephone Hour, which was heard on NBCRadio from 1940 to 1958 before transferring toTV from 1959 to 1968.
Worth noting are the additional lyrics forThis Nearly Was Mine not heard on theoriginal cast recording.
Also from South Pacific, although not sungby Pinza in the show, is Bali Ha'i heard here ina studio version made six months after theshow's opening.
Pinza was known as a great romancer,onstage and off. Martin would often cut shorthis onstage embraces, prompting him tocomplain "When I kees, I kees!". Consequently,the following two selections, from a January1950 recording, play to that image.
Just A Kiss Apart is from GentlemenPrefer Blondes, and Te Ame ("I Loved You") is abilingual heart-throbber where it's often difficultto tell if Pinza is singing in Spanish or English.
Pinza's short-lived movie career began withthe 1951 film,Mr. Imperium. A piece of MGMhokum about a playboy prince and a Hollywoodstar, it matched Pinza up with Lana Turner.
From that film,we hear a number thatHarold Arlen and Dorothy Fields composed forPinza, Let Me Look At You as well as moreSpanish sentiment, this one by Augustin Lara andRay Gilbert, called You Belong To My Heart.
Pinza's second feature film was far superior,the Preston Sturges romp, Strictly Dishonorable.
In this one, Pinza got to play a womanizingopera star (no comment!), which gave himlicence to sing an eclectic assortment ofmaterial, including the two numbers featuredhere, I'll See You In My Dreams (Isham Jones-Gus Kahn) and Everything I Have Is Yours(Burton Lane-Harold Adamson).
Many of the other selections heard here areromantic standards from Broadway andHollywood, showing Pinza's fondness for thelush melodies of Jerome Kern:Yesterdays, AllThe Things You Are, The Way You LookTonight.
He also does handsomely by Alan Jay Lernerand Frederick Loewe's I Still See Eliza fromPaint Your Wagon and Cole Porter's So In Lovefrom Kiss Me, Kate.
His version of the haunting SeptemberSong by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson,however, is marred by a "big ending" thatconductor Johnny Green allowed Pinza to puton to show off his voice.
The popular "cowboy"songs of the periodare reflected in a pair of numbers Pinzarecorded with the Sons Of The Pioneers in1951: The Little Ol' State Of Texas and TheWind Is A Woman. In one photo of theperiod, you can even find Pinza sporting ahighly inappropriate ten-gallon hat.
The final two selections are from HaroldRome's beautiful score for Fanny, based on thetrilogy of films by Marcel Pagnol about life andlove in Marseilles.
This 1954 musical was highly successful atthe time, but has never been successfullyrevived and the 1961 film version (with CharlesBoyer in Pinza's role) eliminated all of themusic.
It's comforting, then, to end this collectionwith two touching songs from Pinza's finalstage appearance.The first is the haunting LoveIs A Very Light Thing, which talks about thenature of parental devotion.
And the conclusion is Welcome Home, aheartfelt ode to finding the location where youtruly belong.
When Pinza speaks the lines "This isn't aplace to go away from, it's a place to come backto", you feel he's talking about the stage - be itopera or musical theatre - where he couldconnect directly with his audience.
It's only right that at the very end of a longand distinguished career, Ezio Pinza waswelcomed home.
- Richard Ouzounian"