Merry Widow 101
Commentary by John Kenrick
There have been countless recordings of the Widow over the past hundred years, and new ones continue to appear. This list stresses the recordings that are currently on CD, while listing a few historic LP versions that have not yet been digitalized.
There are a number of German language analog recordings of this score. Those listed here have been released on CD. Although stars of the original Viennese cast lived well into the age of recorded sound, they sadly did not preserve any of their performances for posterity.
- Elizabeth Schwarzkopf (Angel/EMI) - This 1953 mono recording set standard for all that followed. Great cast includes young Nicolai Gedda as Camille, and Schwarzkopf sounds ravishing. The CD release has beautifully remastered sound.
- Elizabeth Schwarzkopf (Angel/EMI) - A 1963 attempt to recreate the earlier recording using stereo techniques. Schwarzkopf and Gedda are still delightful, but overall this is not necessarily superior to the original.
- Mirjana Irosch - The Vienna Volksopera recorded this complete live performance in Japan, of all places. Widow fans will find this two CD set alternatively delightful and confusing -- would you believe the grisettes dance a multiple-encore version of Offenbach's Orpheus "Can-Can." Even so, its a good cast, and overall a gemutlich treat!
- Edda Moser (Angel/EMI) - Moser is only okay, but this 1980 recording is stolen by Hermann Prey's delicious Danilo.
- Lucia Popp (London) - This live concert performance is adequately sung in German, but its Dirk Bogarde's witty English narration (written by Tom Stoppard) that will keep you listening.
- Jeanette MacDonald - A pirate LP of her MGM film version (co-starring Maurice Chevalier) was released, but has not appeared on CD. Although MacDonald sang well and Larry Hart's lyrics are delightful, the score was painfully abbreviated.
- Kitty Carlisle - Released on 78's in 1944, starring the future Mrs. Moss Hart, along with Wilbur Evans (Danilo) and Felix Knight (Camille). Interesting but less than exciting, there has been more than one CD release.
- Dorothy Kirsten (Sony/Columbia) - This fine 1952 recording is one of the few that uses the Adrian Ross translation. Kirsten is in good form, as is tenor Robert Rounseville playing Danilo, but the overall result is only okay.
- Lana Turner - A soundtrack LP for this MGM remake was released, but Turner doesn't sing a note (thank heaven). Fernando Lamas displays a fine voice as Danilo, and it sounds as if MGM standby Betty Wand dubbed Lana Turner's few bits. The new lyrics are witless. Unless you had a relative in the cast, this version is not worth your time or effort.
- Patrice Munsel (RCA) - This 1964 Lincoln Center production has sadly not made it to CD. Munsel shines, but gifted baritone Bob Wright is inexplicably forced to speak many of his lyrics. An interesting translation by Forman Brown, and Mischa Auer is on hand as Popoff.
- Anna Moffo (Reader's Digest) - A ten LP set of abbreviated operettas (still prized by many fans of the genre) included this charming performance, with Moffo at the top of her form.
- Lisa Della Casa (Columbia) - Not yet on CD, this widow suffers from a strong Italian accent and a mediocre new translation, but John Riordan is a virile-sounding Danilo.
- June Bronhill (Classics for Pleasure) - This gifted Australian diva sparkles here, assisted by a good supporting cast (Jeremy Brett is a fine Danilo) and Christopher Hassard's solid translation. One of the best English versions on record. Recorded in 1968, the 2005 CD release includes selections from The Belle of New York and The Lilac Domino. (Bronhill also appeared on a 1958 recording that is not currently available in the US.)
- Beverly Sills (Angel/EMI) - Sheldon Harnick's superb translation shows off Sills and co-star Alan Titus to excellent advantage. Based on the acclaimed 1978 production. The best American Widow by far -- what a pity this is only a highlights recording!
- Joan Sutherland (London) - "Richard Bonynge's performing version" features an uninspired translation. Sutherland's English is often unintelligible (enunciation was never this Australian diva's strong point), and most of the supporting cast is barely adequate. But Regina Resnik is a riot as the head grisette, and Australian composer Douglas Gamley's new overture is sensational -- no wonder it has since been used by many other productions.
The Widow has been recorded in many languages. Of those on the partial list below, only the French recording has received an American CD release.
- Italian - Lena Origoni
- French (Pathe) - Janette Vivalda
- French (EMI) - Michele Dens heads a vocally unimpressive cast -- good sound quality, but this one is strictly for devout Francophiles.
- Russian (Melodiya)
- Swedish (London) - Sonja Sternquist
- Spanish (Montilla) - Lily Berchmann stars in this charming (but very hard to find) recording.