Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mercoledi Musicale

Last week I spoke about how classical artists have often "crossed-over" into the popular field and tenors seem to lead the field or at least in the 20th century. Enrico Caruso, John McCormack, Richard Tauber were famous tenors who in the first half of the last century acknowledged that popular tunes could be as profitable - if not more so - as operatic arias.  In fact McCormack pretty much deserted the operatic stage for the recording and radio studios.  And Tauber was a great favourite in Great Britain during the war and had his own radio broadcast as well as appearances in operetta and film.

One of my favourite - amongst so many - Jerome Kern songs is from his last show Very Warm for May.  The show flopped after a run of 59 performances and that despite one of the most engaging scores that Oscar Hammerstein and Kern had created over their 15 year collaboration.  For some reason Hammerstein would not allow the show to be revived but this song took on a life of its own and was sung by jazz singers, crooners, pop singers, cabaret performers and here by the wonderful Richard Tauber.

Tauber was an Austrian who had great success in both opera and operetta in Vienna and was famous for his Mozart roles at the Vienna State Opera.  However because of his Jewish ancestry he was forced to leave when Austria was annexed in 1938.  He left everything behind and with his wife sought refuge in Great Britain.  Despite tempting offers from the U.S. he was to become a British citizen and remained there until he death in 1947.

One of his greatest successes, both in Austria and the UK, was Lehar's The Land of Smiles but it also proved his financial downfall.  A New York production of the operetta in 1946 was a flop and he lost most of his money to the backers.  However after his death his widow as able to pay off the considerable debts with the royalties from his many British recordings.  One of his most popular recordings was the hit song from Lehar's story of the unhappy love between a Chinese Prince and a Viennese Countess.  Tauber was to record it both in German as Dein ist mein ganzes Hertz and many times in English as You Are My Heart's Desire.  He also included it in almost every concert he gave and this version is from a broadcast he did just before that unsuccessful American tour.

As bittersweet as tale told in Land of Smiles was Tauber's last appearance before his beloved English public.  In April 1947 he had returned from the disastrous trip to New York complaining of a persistent cough and was shortly thereafter diagnosed with lung cancer.  In September the Vienna State Opera visited London for a short season and invited him to sing Don Ottavio in a performance of Don Giovanni.  Reportedly on the evening of September 27 he sang with all the polish of yore and with an undiminished sweetness of tone that belie his failing health.  A week later he was to enter hospital but surgery was unsuccessful and he died in January of 1948. 

23 May - 1829: The patent for the Accordion is granted to Cyrill Demian in Vienna.

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