American Record Guide,Sept 1999 v62 i5 p201
by Emerson Buckley
n my review of the Newport recording of Central City Opera’s 1996 production of
Douglas Moore’s opera (May/June 1997) I wrote that it was beginning to take on a
certain period character and there was more than a whiff of Broadway about it. On
this reissue of the original 1959 MGM recording by the NYCO, the period character and
whiff of Broadway come through like an invigorating blast of fresh air. What a great
era that was for American operas and musicals, before the curse of amplification,
when singers onstage were expected to know how to SING.
This recording (reported to have been made in one take) has the raw energy of a
stage performance; the orchestral sound is bright and clear, and all the singers
- chorus as well as principals - project every word of the text.
Sills, Bible, and Cassel sing American English unaffectedly while remaining always
in character - no assumed regional accents and no operatic vocalizing, either. Sills,
her voice lovely and fresh and steady despite its fast vibrato, manages to make
every word of her Willow Song understandable, even in the stratospheric reaches.
(She goes up to high D.) Bible, a superb singing-actress, explores every facet of
Augusta’s personality, and in her great aria ‘How can you turn away?’ she emerges
as the truly heroic, tragic character of the story. Cassel’s rich, manly baritone is a joy
to hear and he is a great actor. Horace Tabor was not an honorable man, but Cassel
makes us understand his stubborn ambition and his true love for Baby Doe.
I don’t think I need say any more about this historic, near-legendary Baby Doe.
Those of you who have been waiting for it on CD (it was held up in a legal tangle)
are probably already lined up outside your local record store.