Deep River took place in New Orleans (and the nearby Place Congo) during the time of the annual spring quadroon ball. The wealthy Brusard (Luis Alberni) has discovered his quadroon mistress has been unfaithful, and thus he’s in the market for a new one. When he meets the beautiful quadroon Mugette (Lottice Howell) it seems his wish has been granted, but fate steps in when three men from Kentucky arrive in New Orleans, and one of them (Hazzard Streatfield, sung by Roberto Ardelli) captures the heart of Mugette, who later at tends a voodoo ritual in the Place Congo and asks for a charm that will guarantee his love, and this against the advice of her mother (played by Louisa Ronstadt), who fails to convince Mugette that a charm to entice Brusard is what she should request. The voodoo worshippers are outraged that Mugette should ask God to grant her wish, and they curse her. In the meantime, Brusard and one of the “Kentuckianes” have quarreled, and Brusard kills the man.
The voodoo curse upon Mugette comes to pass on the night of the quadroon ball when Brusard and Streat field come to blows over Mugette and kill one another in a duel. Mugette is alone, shunned by her own race and by white society, and now is truly in no-man’s-land. But the gaiety and romance of the quadroon ball goes on, and the partygoers are focused on the carefree pleasures of the occasion.
The critical consensus was that any inherent drama in the thin story was mitigated by the long second act in the Place Congo, which while attractive in itself wasn’t always dramatically compelling and was only briefly connected to the main story.
J. Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times said the “pretentious” opera was “colorful” but “little more than an incident in its dramatic value” and seemed more in the nature of an “animated panorama than a drama.” However, the “distinguished” score (which according to Variety was played by more than forty mu sicians in the pit) included the “prancing rhythms of jazz” as well as many “lyrical and pensive solos.” The plot might have been “too slender,” but the evening was “never more stirring” than in the “pungent” voodoo sequence, and Deep River pointed “the way to a rich mine of American dramatic material.”
Time found most of the score “of the light opera type, pretty, trite, [and] unsuitable to snorting drama,” but the second act’s voodoo scene was “savagely, hauntingly, throbbingly, [and] masterfully done.” Burns Mantle in the Chicago Tribune praised the “handsome” production and its “good voices,” and he noted the second act was “splendidly vocal but over-long.” R.A.S. (Robert A. Simon) in the New Yorker said the story was “contrived,” but Harling’s score was “well made with several sweepings over the strings for tender episodes and massive sonority for the voodoo high jinks.” But the voodoo sequence was “a long intermezzo which damages the continuity of the tale,” and dramatically it was a mistake for all the deaths in the opera to take place offstage.
Arthur Pollock in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle said the “slight” dramatic story was permeated with music “designed primarily for the orchestra” and the evening could be categorized as “a symphony accompanied by singing and acting.” The opera was most impressive in its music and was “an interesting and valuable experi ment,” and Pollock decided the ending seemed “pale and spurious” with a certain “banality,” and it didn’t help that the offstage deaths were “announced” instead of dramatized.
Alexander Woollcott in the Indianapolis Star indicated that the “hybrid” evening was sometimes “clumsy” and “maddeningly static” but nonetheless “laden with an unforgettable beauty” with a “rueful” first act that was “one of the loveliest hours I have ever spent in the theatre.” Frederick F. Schrader in the Cin cinnati Enquirer decided that despite an “abundance of incident,” the opera was “slender” and “sluggish” and left one “untouched by the drama.” Musically, the first and third acts were “distant relations” to the second act with its “superb,” “weird,” and “brilliant” score, which was “tremendous in scope” and offered an oc casional “undercurrent of jazz.” Variety said the opera cost a “fortune” with its costumes and three “heavy” and “massive” sets, and it was unlikely the production would ever recoup its costs. But Harling’s score was “filled with suitable music” that was free of the “obvious” (that is, spirituals), and the evening was almost as “memorable” as Stallings’ drama What Price Glory? (1924), which Stallings cowrote with Maxwell Anderson.
Note that with Richard A. Whiting and Leo Robin, Harling wrote the evergreen “Beyond the Blue Hori zon,” which was sung by Jeanette MacDonald, Jack Buchanan, and chorus in the 1930 film musical Monte Carlo, and that same year Harling composed the music for the film Honey, from which emerged the classic “Sing, You Sinners” introduced by Lillian Roth (lyric by Sam Coslow). With its new score by Harling and Coslow, Honey was based on the 1916 play Come Out of the Kitchen by A. E. Thomas, which in turn had been based on Alice Duer Miller’s 1916 novel of the same name. The material was later adapted into the 1924 musical The Magnolia Lady, with book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell and music by Harold Levey. Harling won the Academy Award for Best Music Scoring for the 1939 western classic Stagecoach.
With music by Frank Harling (aka W. Franke Harling) and a libretto by playwright Laurence Stallings, the opera Deep River was an ambitious work that looked at Creole society in the Old South during 1835. It received respectful reviews, but perhaps its subject matter and its tag line (“A Native Opera”) turned off potential ticket-buyers. The O-word is probably a sure-fire way to discourage ticket sales because traditional theatergoers are most likely to be scared off and assume a Broadway opera is too serious and full of difficult music, and opera goers perhaps think such an evening will be too “Broadway” and not serious enough. As a result, the show didn’t attract the rank-and-file Broadway audience, didn’t interest the opera crowd, and was gone in four weeks. Eight days after it closed, George Gershwin’s Oh, Kay! moved into the Imperial Theatre and enjoyed a run of over seven months. Like Harling, Gershwin would compose a native American opera, and although Porgy and Bess (1935) managed a run of 124 performances on Broadway, it lost money. Eventu ally it found its place both on Broadway and in the opera house, and as of this writing has played for almost 1,400 showings in New York.
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Deep River (1926-10-Imperial Theatre-Broadway)Type de série: Original
Théâtre: Imperial Theatre (Broadway - Etats-Unis) Durée : 3 semaines Nombre : 32 représentationsPremière Preview : lundi 04 octobre 1926Première : lundi 04 octobre 1926Dernière : samedi 30 octobre 1926Mise en scène : Arthur Hopkins • Chorégraphie : Producteur : Avec : Luis Alberni (M. Brusard), Bessie Allison (Sara), Roberto Ardelli (Hazzard Streatfield), Wallace Banfield (Ensemble), Ada BaryMaria Bary (Ensemble), Lucia Bianco (Ensemble), Julius Bledsoe (Tizan), Lee Borough (Ensemble), Mignon Brezen (Ensemble), George Brown (Ensemble), Frederick Burton (Colonel Streatfield), Arthur Campbell (Hutchins), Nadine Corona (Ensemble), Sidney Coryell (Ensemble), William Culloo (Ensemble), Gordon Davis (Ensemble), Rollo Dix (Henri), Helen Dmitrieff (Ensemble), George Dorrence (Ensemble), Alberta Dougal (Waiting Woman), Nadine Dubinsky (Ensemble), Vladimir Dubinsky (Ensemble), Robert L. Duenweg (Ensemble), Andre Dumont (Paul), Helen Eastman (Ensemble), Anne Elliott (Ensemble), Galina Estravich (Ensemble), Merion Fritz (Ensemble), James Garrett (Ensemble), Cora Gary (Waiting Woman), Lynn Gearhart (Ensemble), Carrie Giles (Waiting Woman), Helen Godsin (Ensemble), George Gordon (Ensemble), Lonna Lea Hamlin (Ensemble), Muriel Harmon (Ensemble), Betty Harms (Ensemble), Frank Harrison (The Announcer), Danny B. Hayden (Ensemble), Helen Heed (Ensemble), Ann Honeycutt (Ensemble), Anton Hooft (Ensemble), Lottice Howell (Mugette), Martha Jobson (Ensemble), Annette Kates (Ensemble), Lionel Koslin (Ensemble), Marta Kurletski (Ensemble), Effim Liversky (Ensemble), Rose Malowista (Ensemble), Aylward Martin (Ensemble), A. Marvin (Ensemble), Charles V. Maynard (Ensemble), Rose McClendon (Octavie), Frederick McGurk (Garcon), Francis G. Miller (Ensemble), Erna Miro (Ensemble), William Montgomery (Ensemble), Gladys Morgan (Ensemble), Grace Morgan (Ensemble), Charlotte Murray (The Voodoo Queen), Walter Owens (Ensemble), Walter Palm (Ensemble), Katherine Parker (Waiting Woman), Anna Prinz (Ensemble), Basil Prokopenia (Ensemble), Norma Quinlan (Ensemble), Eva Rodriguez (Ensemble), Louisa Ronstadt (Mother of Mugette), David Sager (Jules), Antonio Salerno (Hercule), Earle Sanborn (Ensemble), Leonard Saxon (Ensemble), Elizabeth Schaefer (Ensemble), Rosco Snyder (Ensemble), Mignon Spence (Ensemble), Maurice Staw (Ensemble), Ida Von Lindon (Ensemble), Gladys White (Julie), Marion Lou Williams (Ensemble), Ruth Witmer (Ensemble)
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