Royal College Alumnus Benjamin Britten’s Opera Albert Herring at the Royal College of Music, 2015

Haven’t heard the whole thing yet, but plan to. I understand the story is about a young man who gets crowned Queen of the May, with humorous results. Paging Jeremy Paxman

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Alondra de la Parra Conducts The Orchestra of Paris in Darius Milhaud’s “Le Bœuf Sur le Toit,” Philharmonie de Paris, 2015

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Have you ever seen a conductor so much in the heart of the music as 38 year-old, New York-born Mexican-American Alondra de la Parra? Bernstein yes, definitely. Carlos Kleiber was also known to joyfully respond to a joyful chord. And this girl, like those fine blokes, has got it all—joy, knowledge and consummate control. On the road to being one of the greats, she is.

The title “Le Bœuf Sur le Toit” is that of an old Brazilian tango, one of close to 30 Brazilian tunes, or choros, quoted in the composition. The piece was originally to have been the score of a silent Charlie Chaplin film. Its transformation into a ballet was the making of the piece, with a scenario by Jean Cocteau, stage designs by Raoul Dufy, and costumes by Guy-Pierre Fauconnet. There is no real story to speak of, but is a sequence of scenes based on music inspired by Brazil, a country in which Milhaud spent two years during World War I.

The ballet’s premiere was given in February 1920 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and in turn gave its name to a celebrated Parisian cabaret-bar, Le Bœuf sur le toit, which opened in 1921 and became a meeting-place for Jean Cocteau and his cronies.

Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth’s Deep-Tongue Kiss at the Tonys, 2010

You all remember the flap behind this. But that kiss at the Tonys (starts at :40) was awfully convincing. Hey, my hormones percolated…

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…But to get on with this posting. One of the nominees at the 64th Tony Awards was the revival of Promises, Promises with a score by Burt Bachrach, including some of his interpolated standards (like “A House is Not a Home” and “I Say a Little Prayer“, neither of which were in the original production), so I’m thinking that this bootleg vidcomp from an actual performance would be a good introduction to the work of this (as my beloved John Wilson, Conductor might deem him) “top-drawer American tunesmith”. The connection to my posting on Milhaud above? Bachrach was a student of Darius Milhaud, and you can hear what he retained from the modernist master in his distinctive, almost Latin, rhythms—think of “Always Something There to Remind Me” or “Twenty-four Hours from Tulsa“.

Here’s Sean Hayes singing the title song at 23:18, and a surprisingly good job he does too. No Jerry Ohrbach, but the kid’s got pipes.

The Nat King Cole Trio Does “Blame It On My Youth” by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman (1934)

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Oscar Moore, guitar and Joe Comfort, double bass. The creamy Nat Cole at the piano.

If I cried a little bit
When first I learned the truth
Don’t blame it on my heart
Blame it on my youth

You wouldn’t look at him to think that Levant, the eternal loafer/boy genius, was a fine tunesmith as well, would you? But here’s his plaintive standard sung by one of the most identifiable singers in American music.

“Ask Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse If Their Mailbox is All Right”

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“Red Blues,” choreographed by Balanchine-trained Eugene Loring (who also choreographed the ballet Billy the Kid, with music by Aaron Copland) from the 1957 MGM musical Silk Stockings, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, 1957. Mamoulian hadn’t directed a picture since 1946; after the Cleopatra debacle in the early 1960s, Silk Stockings turned out to be his last completed work in Hollywood.

In winter 1979, Charisse and her husband, singer Tony Martin (“Temptation“) lived in a house up the hill from The Old Man on Schuyler Road in tranquil retirement. However, at the top of the hill also lived the Shah of Iran’s 86 year-old mother, and came the revolution Iranian students from all over the Southland marched up Schuyler Road to demonstrate outside her house, indulging in a little vandalism on the way. Mamoulian was, of course, furious, and his lovely wife Zayde, who never left her bedroom, buzzed me on the intercom to fume over the “criminals” (her word) who toppled their sovereign letter receptacle. The Old Man’s second concern—after his own mailbox, of course—was the mailbox of his good friend and former leading lady, and I was dispatched to phone them at once. Happily, the protesters had missed theirs.