Entertainment » Music

The Desert Song - Studio Cast Recording

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Monday Sep 24, 2012
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Masterworks Broadway has released its 1958 recording of the Sigmond Romberg / Otto Harbach / Oscar Hammerstein II operetta, "The Desert Song" to take listeners back to an era of music frequently forgotten.

A huge hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1926, "The Desert Song" had all the elements that audiences craved: a cross-culture love affair, mysterious aliases, and international intrigue. After three film adaptations and at least one other cast recording, this RCA recording features American-born bass-baritone Giorgio Tozzi (the singing voice for Rossano Brazzi in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "South Pacific") as Pierre Birabeau, a French officer who moonlights as the Red Shadow, a Robin Hood-type alter ego, who no one suspects is the leader of a rogue outfit calling itself "The Riffs." Tozzi delivers strong performances, especially on his duet (with Peter Palmer, Broadway’s original "Li’l Abner") "The Riff Song," and with his leading lady Kathy Barr on "Then You Will Know" and "The Sabre Song."

Barr is a surprise pleasure on this classic recording. Her glorious soprano soars through the speakers on her solo "Romance," and the trio (with Tozzi and Warren Galjour) of "I Want a Kiss." Barr had been discovered by the famous Mario Lanza, and was under contract to RCA at the time. She proved an talented presence to the score, yet only went on to record some pop albums for RCA before fading into musical obscurity.

The score provides a unique addition to an era dominated primarily by the sounds of jazz. Romberg’s compositions contain many of the elements that began with Gilbert and Sullivan in the mid-1800’s, and it is highly complemented by the lyrics of Harbach and Hammerstein, who was only one year from firmly establishing himself as a lyricist with the creation of 1927’s "Showboat" (with composer Jerome Kern). Even in a musical world where it seemed out of place, this score made sense. In the late 1950’s, RCA Victor provided an opportunity to revisit this phased out oldie, and now you can check it out as well.

"The Desert Song"
Giorgio Tozzi, Kathy Barr, Peter Palmer / 1958 Cast Recording
CD and Digital formats
Sony Masterworks / RCA Victor

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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