TIBBETT, Lawrence: De Glory Road

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Ballads and Songs from Films and Operettas, Vo l.2

Original Recordings1931-1936

Lawrence Tibbett wasa singing actor par excellence, albeit not a \singing actor" in the sense wherehistrionics mask vocal deficiencies. On the contrary, endowed as he was with aninstrument of dramatic proportions and an uncommonly incisive projection, helacked nothing vocally and indeed had few peers in his generation. Aninternational star of opera, recitals and radio for nearly forty years, hisplace in the vocal Hall of Fame is unique, yet had opera not remained hisoverriding passion he might easily have made a big a name for himself in thetheatre or in the movies.

'All-American boy'Lawrence Mervil Tibbet (sic) was born on 16th November, 1896, in Bakersfield,California, into the close-knit, pre-oil boom farming community in which hisfather, William, a descendant of 1849 gold prospectors and a devout Methodist,was the local sheriff. His mother, Frances, an amateur church soloist gave themusically precocious Larry his first piano lessons and encouraged hisinclination for singing. Following his father's death in a shoot-out withcattle rustlers, the Tibbets moved first to Long Beach then to Los Angeles,where they kept a boarding house. Larry attended the local high school and bythe time he graduated in 1915 was already an accomplished actor fired withambition to become an opera singer. That same year he entered the San FranciscoWorld Fair Eisteddfod, took his first singing lessons, sang with the LosAngeles Orpheus Glee Club and toured with a Shakespearean stock-companydirected by Tyrone Power Snr.

During 1916, Larryappeared in Gilbert and Sullivan and in operettas by Herbert and Friml andundertook more thorough vocal tuition with sometime Metropolitan Opera bassoBasil Ruysdael. The next year he sang in concerts before enlisting in the USNavy following the American entry into World War I. By 1920 demobbed with awife and twins to support, he struggled at first to make ends meet as aprofessional singer, alternating masonics with repertory acting in both classicand modern dramas for the Los Angeles Civic Theatre Company. In 1921, however,he secured a loan for advanced vocal study in New York with Frank La Forge(1879-1953) the Illinois-born pianist and songwriter who was accompanist tomany great singers (notably the contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink) and throughhim met McCormack's concert manager Charles Wagner through whom, in turn, hefirst found an opening at the Metropolitan Opera.

At the time he failedhis first Met audition (April, 1923) Tibbett was appearing on Broadway as Edgarin King Lear. Praised by some critics and encouraged at the prospect offuture successes, he might easily at this point have forsaken opera for rep.

Determined against all odds to tread the boards of New York's greatest operahouse, however, he finally secured a $60-per-week supporting artist's contractand duly made his Met debut as Lovitsky in Boris Godunov (Chaliapinstarred) on 24th November. His progress towards opera stardom seemed aprotracted affair until, after a variety of secondary roles, he wasunexpectedly "discovered", as Ford in Falstaff, on 2nd January, 1925.

Subsequently, during his 27-year residency at the Met, he sang over 600performances of 48 roles, including premieres of dramatic new pieces by nativeAmerican composers and operas in English (of which he was an outspokenchampion).

At the close of the1928-1929 Met season, Tibbett made a successful screen test for Mack Sennett,who offered him $3500 to play an opera star in a sentimental one-reeler. Heturned this down, however, and signed instead with MGM for The Rogue Song,directed by Lionel Barrymore. The critics enthused, three numbers from itsLehar & Stothart score entered the US popular charts and Larry got an Oscarnomination for his performance. Without ever saying goodbye to opera, his firstlove, he made three more musicals over the next two years for MGM (The NewMoon and The Southerner, both significant successes, were followed in1931 by Cuban Love Song), but nearly four years elapsed before his nextscreen appearance (his penultimate), in Metropolitan, produced by DarylF. Zanuck for 20th Century Fox. Billed as a popular but underestimated Americanopera singer in this "earnest and well-made melodrama with song" co-starringVirginia Bruce and Cesar Romero which proved a box-office flop, Larry woncritical plaudits and featured, among operatic excerpts, Jacques Wolfe'sexpressly written "De Glory Road" and "The Road To Mandalay", the 1907concert showpiece setting of famous Kipling verses by the Ohio-bornbaritone-songwriter Oley Speaks (1874-1948). "Last Night When We Were Young", afine number specially commissioned from Harold Arlen, was cut from thefilmscore.

For many years apopular radio broadcaster (notably on The Firestone Hour), Tibbett'srepertoire both in recital and on records was wide and eclectic and includedboth favourite old ballads and songs from the latest shows. In 1932, herecorded probably the first versions of "The Song Is You" and "And LoveWas Born" (new arrivals from the Jerome Kern Broadway Music In The Air)and in 1935 was selected for the first recording of extracts of Porgy AndBess, under the supervision of the composer, George Gershwin. And while hisversion of "Myself When Young" (a highlight of In A Persian Garden,the 1897 setting by Liza Lehmann (1862-1918) of the Fitzgerald translation ofpassages from Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyyat) is rated among the finest, thehair-raising sonority to bear on "Edward" (still the best-remembered ofthe 'Scottish Ballads' by Carl Loewe, 1796-1869) haunts the memory. Equallymemorable, too, in their respective ways, are several songs by Americancomposers (Langston Hughes and John Alden Carpenter's "Shake Your Brown Feet,Honey" and "Goin' Home", a setting by William Arms Fisher of the Largo fromDvorak's 'New World' Symphony, are prime examples).

Peter Dempsey,2002

1. THE SONG IS YOU(Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II, from Music In The Air)

with Orchestraconducted by Nat Shilkret

(Victor BS 74653-2)Recorded 8th December, l932, New York 3:09

2. AND LOVE WAS BORN(Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II, from Music In The Air)

with Orchestraconducted by Nat Shilkret

(Victor BS 74656-2)Recorded 8th December, l932, New York 3:30

3. SHAKE YOUR BROWNFEET, HONEY (Langston Hughes-John Alden Carpenter)

with Stewart Wille,piano

(Victor BVE 45187-2,unissued) Recorded 29th May, 1928, New York 2:57

4. A KINGDOM BY THESEA (Arthur Somervell-Edgar Allen Poe)

with Stewart Wille,piano

(Victor CS 74704,unissued) Recorded 16th December, l932, New York 4:40

5. OL' MAN RIVER(Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II, from Show Boat)

with Stewart Wille,piano

(Victor CS 74705,unissued) Recorded 16th December, l932, New York 3:32

6. MYSELF WHEN YOUNG(Liza Lehmann-Edward Fitzgerald, after Khayyam, from In A Persian Garden)

with Orchestraconducted by Nat Shilkret

(Victor BS 82332-1A)Recorded 20th April, l934, New York 3:21

7. NONE BUT THELONELY HEART, Op.6, No.6 (Tchaikovsky-Goethe, trans. Mey)

with Orchestraconducted by Nat Shilkret
Disc: 1
I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'
1 The Song Is You
2 And Love Was Born
3 Shake Your Brown Feet, Honey
4 A Kingdom By The Sea
5 Ol' Man River
6 Myself When Young
7 None But The Lonely Heart
8 Edward
9 Last Night, When We Were Young
10 On The Road To Mandalay
11 De Glory Road
12 Goin' Home
13 It Ain't Necessarily So
14 The Buzzard Song
15 a. Summertime And Crap Game / b. A Woman Is A Some
16 Bess, You Is My Woman Now
17 Where Is My Bess?
18 I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'
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