Music / Double Play: Go Western, young man: Stephen Johnson and Edward Seckerson on Puccini and Julie

Puccini - La Fanciulla del West: Marton, O'Neill, Fondary, Munich Radio Orchestra / Leonard Slatkin (BMG/RCA 09026 60597-2 - two CDs)

'MORE than just a musical Western,' says the booklet note. Perhaps that is the problem: Puccini's adaptation is too ambitious - or simply too good for this Hollywood B-picture story, with its gun-toting, virginal heroine and her pasteboard penitent thief. Still, the music can be insidiously moving, and this performance brings it all to life effectively. No, not quite all of it: Eva Marton's magisterial, big-boned Minnie worried me at first - but given that the role is impossible, she settles into it rather well.

Admittedly, neither Dennis O'Neill's Johnson or Alain Fondary's Jack Rance are sensational characterisations, but musically there is plenty to admire in both, and the fact that this so obviously is not a star vehicle adds to the appeal for me. Smaller parts are satisfactory too. If anyone is to be singled out for special praise, it has to be Leonard Slatkin, who shapes and shades this often strikingly original score with authority and plenty of feeling, and the recording serves him well. SJ

THE original 'Spaghetti Western' - and about as American as Sergio Leone. I never could work out if 'Doo-dah-doo-dah-day' was intended to suggest local colour. And isn't 'Hip, Hip, Hooray]' an English custom? And aren't those 'oriental' harmonies I hear: Turandot in Texas? No matter, the story of Minnie and Dick is terrific hokum and pretty decent Puccini. Leonard Slatkin conducts it wide-screen. The ensembles go with a swing, the cake-walk rhythms strut and swagger, and as for the poker-game showdown in Act Two, Slatkin triumphantly joins the mile-high club for melodramatic excess as Minnie flings down her winning hand.

Eva Marton pulls out all her stops here, and how; but it's no use pretending that she is a natural for the role. She has worked hard on her Italian style, lightening her sound. But the timbre isn't right. Dennis O'Neill, more than creditable in his first big international recording, gets much closer. There are inelegancies, but equally as much that is felicitous. His quiet singing in particular brings great awareness of style and colour.

Slatkin is unique in having reinstated the coda of the love duet with high B flats and a top C, and there is an extra scene with the 'Indian', Billy Jackrabbit. Reason enough to be heading out to the trading post to turn in my Neblett / Domingo / Mehta recording? I think not. ES

Rodgers & Hammerstein - The King and I: Julie Andrews, Ben Kingsley, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra / John Mauceri (Philips 438 007-2)

HERE are a text and a score in perfect harmony. The final triumph of liberal Western values might not seem quite so rosily inevitable in an age of recession and resurgent fundamentalism, but the human drama still emerges well, even with the story boiled down into a 65-minute musical suite. No doubt who deserves the credit (apart from the authors, of course). John Mauceri is a natural stylist. He doesn't force his own ideas on the score, or attempt to inflate its pretensions, and there is tenderness as well as gloss. As for Julie Andrews - well, hard as it might be to imagine a really dangerous erotic frisson between her and Ben Kingsley's King, could anyone else deflate a Far-Eastern patriarch with such dignified purity? The show is hers - a strong counterbalance to the Brynner-dominated spectacle of the later Broadway years.

The other parts may be shadowy - and Martin Sheen and Roger Moore's tiny contributions hardly seem to justify their 'special guest' bookings - but the charm factor remains high. SJ

AS they say in the trade, dream casting. Julie Andrews is Anna Leonowens - and not before time. Songs like 'I Whistle a Happy Tune' and 'Getting to Know You' had her name on them from the beginning. And when she casts her mind back to old England, to memories of her late husband Tom ('Hello Young Lovers'), the scent of nostalgia is in every crisply enunciated word. It's that quaint, open delivery of hers: pristine, eager tone, dreamy portamento. Perfect.

Then there is Ben Kingsley's King, preening and proclaiming, 'etcetera, etcetera, and so forth . . .': no mere figure of fun, he, but a real character fleshed from a handful of songs and a few lines of dialogue. Yul Brynner was never so funny in 'Shall We Dance'. And how well both he and Andrews play here upon the sexual undercurrent: the world's least romantic dance (the polka) turned mating ritual. I doubt that any of Broadway's great classics could have been re-cast this successfully. Only Peabo Bryson's Lun Tha jars with his latter-day 'soul' sound. Marilyn Horne (an inspired idea) sings 'Something Wonderful' with the kind of majestic over-ripeness only she can now muster. John Mauceri has done us proud with Alfred Newman's sumptuous movie orchestrations, dripping with schmaltz and gamelan in equal measure. Spoil yourself. ES

Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee