“The Merry Widow” 1962 Studio Cast Recording
Review by Zander Opper
Sepia Records has just released a simply gorgeous CD reissue of a 1962 studio cast recording of Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow.” This operetta is always a favorite and this recording, starring Lisa Della Casa in the title role, ranks very high among the best recordings of this work. As brightly conducted by Franz Allers, this “Merry Widow” has such vitality and freshness that one could swear that this was a cast recording of a production rather than a studio recording. Lisa Della Casa is just divine and she is handsomely matched by John Reardon, one of Broadway’s finest performers. Between the two of them, as well as a terrific supporting cast, this lavishly perfumed “The Merry Widow” is such a pleasure that it simply glows from beginning to end. Sepia Records deserves a lot of credit for releasing this 1962 studio cast recording of “The Merry Widow” and it should make a fine addition to anyone’s music collection.
Reading from the astute and detailed liner notes by Dominic McHugh, one can get a sense of the plot of “The Merry Widow,” as well as a great deal of information about all of the singers on the recording. This background only enhances the experience of listening to this CD. Of course, any recording of “The Merry Widow” will rise or fall on the casting of the title character. Such illustrious singers as June Bronhill, Dorothy Kirsten, Kitty Carlisle, and Patrice Munsel have recorded this role and Lisa Della Casa stands proudly in their company. She is simply exquisite throughout, with high points being her standout song “Vilja,” as well as her character’s entrance song. Della Casa has a luscious operatic voice that suits Franz Lehar’s music perfectly. This is a very stellar vocal performance and characterization that demands to be heard.
Most happily, Lisa Della Casa has John Reardon as her costar. Reardon had one of the greatest male voices of Broadway’s Golden Age, and his presence on just about any recording is a definite asset. The role of Count Danilo is just perfect for this performer and he especially shines in his character’s signature song, “Maxim’s,” as well as adding vocal precision to his section on the lengthiest track on the CD, the Finale of Act II. And when Reardon raises his voice with Della Casa in the comical duet “Soldier Boy” or the luxurious “Merry Widow Waltz” at the end of the operetta, it is like a little bit of heaven for the listener. Between these two stars, this “Merry Widow” is in very good hands.
It must also be stated that the entire supporting cast on the recording is superb, with especially fine work by second leads Laurel Hurley and Charles K. L. Davis. With every “Merry Widow” recording, it is always interesting to hear which English translation of the operetta is being used. For this 1962 recording, the translation is by Merl Puffer and Deena Cavilieri and it manages to be both literate and nicely playful. As stated, Franz Allers is the conductor at hand, and he brings the same vibrancy to this “Merry Widow” as he did to the classic original cast albums of “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot.” Just about everything comes together ideally on this recording and it is quite a glorious treat.
As a special bonus, Sepia Records has added two different 1958 performances that Lisa Della Casa recorded of “Ave Maria” and they add even more loveliness to this CD. Sepia Records should be thanked for beautifully remastering this “Merry Widow” and the sound is crystal clear and sparkling throughout. Taking this 1962 studio cast recording of “The Merry Widow” out of obscurity and offering it to new listeners, this CD is a must for any fan of this operetta. And, even for show collectors who might shy away from operettas, the inclusion of Broadway’s John Reardon is a definite plus and the sheer gorgeousness of Franz Lehar’s music should draw just about any listener in. This “Merry Widow” is quite a treasure and it is most highly recommended.