Simanaitis Says

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WE ARE CELEBRATING the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein. After a triumphant conducting debut in 1943, at age 25, Bernstein composed the ballet Fancy Free in 1944. That same year, it was transformed into On the Town by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the first of their 19 Broadway musicals. Jerome Robbins choreographed it as well as Bernstein’s West Side Story, 1957.

There’s a three-CD collection that includes several of my Bernstein favorites: On the Town, Three Dance Episodes from “On the Town,” Overture to “Candide,” Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” Symphonic Suite from the film “On the Waterfront,” Fancy Free, Trouble in Tahiti—an Opera in Seven Scenes, and Facsimile—Choreographic Essay for Orchestra.

Bernstein: A Portrait: The Theatre Works, Vol. 1, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Columbia Wind Ensemble, Leonard Bernstein, conductor, Sony Classical, 1991.

Trouble in Tahiti, 1951, is a one-act opera of idyllic middle-class life of a suburban couple. Or is it a satire of happy consumerism and spiritual emptiness?

Yes, both. Bernstein dedicated it to his friend Marc Blitzstein, of The Cradle Will Rock fame and the person who encouraged Bernstein into musical theater.

Candide followed in 1956, with revised productions in 1973 and 1989. I’ve enjoyed this musical satire in person as recently as this past February.

Leonard Bernstein: Candide, New York City Opera and Chorus, John Mauceri, conductor, 1992.

I’d recommend the New York City Opera version because it includes the positively off-the-wall What a day!/What a day/For an auto-de-fe! Here’s another particular timely performance of “Auto-de-fe.”

Leonard Bernstein composed music and lyrics for Peter Pan in 1950. It was intended as a full-blown musical, but was initially staged with only five of its original 30 pieces. (Boris Karloff had dual roles of the Darling father and Captain Hook.)

In 2000, conductor Alexander Frey restored the omitted material. The world premiere of Bernstein’s complete Peter Pan was released on CD in 2005.

Bernstein: Peter Pan, Linda Eder, Daniel Narducci, Amber Chamber Orchestra, Alexander Frey, conductor, Koch International Classics, 2005. Here’s an excerpt with Linda Eder singing Wendy Darling’s “Dream With Me.”

Bernstein’s Peter Pan is a charming piece, yet relatively unknown. Wendy Darling’s wistful song “Who Am I?” is melodic with that classic Bernstein tonal edginess: Who am I?/Was it all planned in advance/Or was I just born by chance/in July?/Who am I?

Even Captain Hook gets a sympathetic soliloquy as he senses that, in achieving what he wanted, one important thing has eluded him: love.

Happy Birthday, Leonard Bernstein. You are loved. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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