American Operettas | Letters | Chicago Reader

American Operettas 

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To the editors:

Did I detect somewhat of a veiled, patronizing sneer from Critic Ted Shen (Reader, 12/21 Section 2 Pg 8) at Sigmund Romberg in his comments on The New Moon? Romberg was one of America's three greatest operetta composers, along with Victor Herbert and Rudolf Friml. His fame rests on five of his 50 operettas: Maytime, The New Moon, The Desert Song, The Student Prince and Blossom Time. His gorgeous melodies are much beloved in America and are more than just "hummable" as Mr. Shen states.

In recent years there has been a small revival of American Operettas, notably in New York City and Chicago. Until recent stage revivals, Romberg's operettas were known mainly from motion-picture adaptations, few of which bore any strong resemblance to the original stage works. How would a critic know if he were only an "average orchestrator"? The works in their complete, original form have not been performed in toto for 60-70 years. For all we know, the original orchestrations may have been lost by now and are unobtainable. Thirty five years ago, Mario Lanza and Nelson Eddy recorded the complete musical score of The Desert Song, revealing many beautiful melodies not heard since the original stage performances. Although the LP and CD era brought many complete recordings of almost the entire opera repertoire, there has never been a single complete recording of any American operetta, including dialogue. Only the Smithsonian's recording of Naughty Marietta came the closest. What a pity, inasmuch as there are such great melodies in some of these forgotten operettas. Not only have great operetta composers fallen out of favor, but a rich treasure-trove of recordings by American opera singers of this music has also suffered the same fate and lies in sealed vaults.

I hope Mr. Shen will be in the audience for one of the performances of The New Moon as I will be, inasmuch as I have waited a half-century to see it. Except for WNIB-FM, no radio station will play this music, and that is why younger generations are not familiar with this music. Some years ago in England, EMI Records had a Retrospect Series of recordings of Romberg and Friml, taken from the original presentations with the original stage singers of the 20's and 30's. They will always be there for future generations to enjoy.

Seymour S. Miller

N. Hoyne

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