The phenomenon of opera and classical singers ‘crossing over’ to the other side to musical comedy, theatre and jazz, has been with us ever since 1960 when Eileen Farrell recorded an LP entitled I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues. Other singers also had voices adaptable to any genre, such as (to quote Derek Greten-Harrison’s excellent and exhaustive booklet note) Dorothy Kirsten, Patrice Munsel, Risë Stevens, Helen Traubel, Ezio Pinza and Robert Weede. More recent examples include Lesley Garrett, Teresa Stratos, Monserrat Caballé, Andrea Bocelli and The Three Tenors. But, perhaps it all goes back to Mario Lanza and his popular albeit short-lived career as an opera singer in Hollywood films of the 1950s including the biopic The Great Caruso.
Some have tried successfully and some have failed... In the case of Simon Keenlyside, the crossover is an amazing success and he would be more than welcome to take to the music-theatre stage and bring his resonant baritone voice to Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, or some Sondheim.
For this Chandos recording Keenlyside has chosen standards from My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Fiddler on the Roof, Oklahoma!, and other shows. He is remarkably good in the Rodgers & Hammerstein numbers, of which there are five. On one of them, ‘If I loved you’ (from Carousel) he is joined by Scarlett Strallen, no stranger to the straight theatre and musical comedy, having appeared in Candide, A Chorus Line, Singin’ in the Rain, and the title role of Mary Poppins.
Of the songs chosen, the Rodgers & Hammerstein numbers are perhaps the most emotional. The two singers give a delightful duet in ‘People will say we’re in love’ from Oklahoma! The voices are enhanced by the original film orchestration by Robert Russell Bennett, typically to recreate the sounds of Broadway and Hollywood. This was a difficult task if the scores were never commercially published and had been discarded. Strallen’s haunting solo of ‘It might as well be spring’ is accompanied by the introduction arranged by Alfred Newman for the 1945 film State Fair.
The Carousel duet provides a moving evocation of the two lovers Julie and Billy, Strallen’s voice soaring to the stratosphere, followed by Keenlyside’s playful response to his girl’s romantic expression. The ‘Soliloquy’ from the same musical is given a thoroughly gutsy interpretation by Keenlyside that recalls the heyday of Gordon Macrae in the film and is presented in Don Walker’s Broadway scoring. Finally, the opening of Oklahoma! is easily evoked in Keenlyside’s version of ‘Oh, what a beautiful mornin’’, a nicely rounded account of a song that simply states the feelings of a single man, Curly.
Part of a rich panoply of classics from a golden age, Keenlyside also sings a resounding version of ‘On the street where you live’ from Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady and heartfelt renderings of Cole Porter’s ‘So in love’ and ‘Night and day’. In ‘All the things you are’ by Kern & Hammerstein, he relishes the words with great sympathy in a moderated tone that builds to a passionate finale. Johnny Mercer’s ‘Something’s gotta give’, the album’s title, recalls the art of Fred Astaire in Daddy Long Legs with utter finesse, while Styne & Cahn’s ‘It’s magic’, an early hit for Doris Day in the film Romance on the High Seas (1948), is here adapted for baritone by Jason Carr using Ray Heindorf’s orchestration for the Warner Bros movie. Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane wrote ‘The boy next door’ for the 1944 film Meet Me in St Louis, then rewrote it slightly for the 1954 film Athena for Vic Damone to sing as ‘The girl next door’. Keenlyside does it full justice.
‘Stranger in Paradise’ was a hit for Tony Bennett and in countless other versions too. The music by Borodin was used for the Wright & Forrest show Kismet (1953). Here Keenlyside and Strallen give it full emotional treatment. She gets to sing a relative rarity in ‘When did I fall in love?’ from the 1959 Pulitzer Prize-winning show Fiorello! About the celebrated New York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. Keenlyside gets into character for another Bock and Harnick show, Fiddler on the Roof, singing ‘If I were a rich man’ and for ‘Reviewing the situation’ from Lionel Bart’s Oliver!
This recording is released under the auspices of the Peter Moores Foundation, with whom Keenlyside has connections going right back to his days as a PMF scholar at the Royal Northern College of Music. This release is obviously a labour of love for all concerned, including the brilliance of the BBC Concert Orchestra under David Charles Abell who, along with Greten-Harrison and Seann Alderking, was responsible for seeking out those magical and brilliantly evocative orchestrations for this wholly excellent collection.