Saturday, October 27, 2001

Ricardo Prado column

Darn! I'm going to have to learn to read Portuguese!

This article from columnist Ricardo Prado : Villa-Lobos na Broadway, discusses an important period in VL's life, when he was invited by producers Edwin Lester and Homer Curran to go to New York to write a Broadway musical.

From what I've been able to piece together from the often mangled Altavista Babel Fish machine translation (hey, I'm not complaining - it's a fabulous service!), Prado has some great stories to tell. Lester and Curran were known world-wide for their production of The Song of Norway, based on the life of Edvard Grieg. In 1959 they brought the team of Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, successful scriptwriters of a million MGM films and Broadway musicals, to New York to work with the world-famous Brazilian composer. Wright and Forrest came up with a pretty good story for a "musical adventure in two acts" - it was called Magdalena.

Language was also a problem for the Magdalena collaborators. VL's English stretched to the two things he liked best about North America: "vanilla ice cream" and "cowboy movies". The others had no Portuguese, so they all made do with gestures and bits of French. There seem to have been the kind of conflicts between the American commercial point of view and VL's more artistic sensibilities that became more rancorous in the 1950's when the composer went to Hollywood to write the music for Green Mansions at MGM. At one point VL had to remind everyone that, while Grieg was dead, he himself was still alive!

The production at the Ziegfeld Theater was a big success - the critics gave it raves, including one that said it represented "a new path for the musical theater." Richard Rogers said that it was 25 years ahead of its time, and saw its influence, eight years later, in Leonard Bernstein's score for West Side Story. Unfortunately, VL couldn't build upon his New York success for two reasons. James C. Petrillo's American Music Federation strike had shut down the bulk of recordings of new music, and VL was diagnosed with the liver cancer that would kill him late in the following decade.

Though Magdalena has recently been revived around the world (in Germany and in Los Angeles in 1999), we still need a good modern CD to bring this music to the attention of the large new Villa-Lobos fan base that's grown up in the last ten years. Prado himself worked on a major production of the piece in 1997, with the support of Turíbio Santos, director of the Museu Villa-Lobos, and money from a major Brazilian bank. Again events conspired against wider acceptance for the piece, when the bank was taken over by a foreign company. We can only hope for an important new production in Brazil or New York, followed by an excellent live recording.

Hey - enough blogging for one day! I think I'll scoop out some vanilla ice cream and watch a cowboy video on TV!

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