Monday, December 21, 2009

Bronislau KAPER: GREEN MANSIONS

  

GREEN MANSIONS: Composers: Bronislau Kaper, Special Music Created by Heitor Villa-Lobos Orchestrations: Robert Franklyn, Sidney Cutner, Leo Arnaud– Film Score Monthly vol 8, no 3, TT: 79.53, 21 tracks (stereo)

Producer: Lukas Kendall Performed: MGM Studio Orchestra Conductor: Charles Wolcott


Verdict: Lush symphonic fantasy.

by Ross Care

Green Mansions is a 1959 MGM CinemaScope film based on the 1904 novel by British writer, W. H. Hudson. The classic fantasy concerns Rima (Audrey Hepburn), a mysterious “bird-girl” living in the unexplored depths of the Amazon forest (the “green mansions” of the title), and her ill-fated romance with Abel (Tony Perkins), a South American political refugee. These two leads are certainly photogenic, and the film has its moments, but some elusive literary properties just do not translate to a visual medium. Though director Mel Ferrer removed most of its overtly fantastic elements, Green Mansions remained one of them and was a commercial and artistic disappointment at the time of its release.

Today the film is best remembered for a lavish symphonic score with a controversial compositional  history. Brazilian classical composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, was originally signed to do the music but, due to a series of circumstances well documented in the liner notes, MGM’s Bronislau Kaper, himself a classically trained musician well-versed in concert techniques, was also brought in. Kaper both adapted and augmented the Villa-Lobos music and created a title song that is judiciously used in the underscoring.

Villa-Lobos rearranged his music as Forest of the Amazon; his last great concert work for orchestra with soprano and chorus, and recorded it for United Artists Records. (It was recently redone with Renee Fleming as soloist). 

This, however, is the first recording of the original film soundtrack. A 5.24 “Main Title/Chase/River Boat” sets the tone and modus operandi of the entire score. An exotically mysterious Villa-Lobos opening (including dramatic statements of his “Rima” motif) is intercut with a brief phrase of Kaper’s title song that will also serve as the film’s love theme. Kaper’s wild “Chase” seems influenced by the “Dance of the Earth” from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as do other minor bits of his work.

The restrained title song is more in the mode of a folk song than Kaper’s other great pop standards (“Invitation,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “Hi Lili, Hi Lo”). Tony Perkins, who had a moderately successful (but today mostly forgotten) secondary career as a singer and recording artist in the ‘50s, performs it in a substantial sequence in the film, but his version is not included here. Orchestrally the song’s refrain (“Tell me, Rima, where are the meadows of June?”) is heard at various points in the score, notably the opening, of “It’s Gold” and “Is It You?” 

Villa-Lobos created the ethereal Rima theme, magically orchestrated in “At the Pool/First Visit” (the latter, however, submerged under real birdcalls in the film). The 79.53 score is allowed much time to develop, and builds to a series of profoundly moving final cues in which poignant new Villa-Lobos themes underscore revelations of Rima’s past and her tragic demise.

Green Mansions is (aside from its tumultuous, somewhat schizoid “End Title”) no conventional Hollywood offering of the period. It’s a sumptuous, expansively symphonic score that captures the magic and menace of an otherworldly, ultimately lost Eden with a power and mystery sorely missing from the often unpleasantly literal film itself. 

The sound is remixed in stereo from original 3-track recordings and beautifully showcases the impressionistic, opulently Ravel-ian orchestrations. 

Charles Wolcott, a Disney studio veteran who became a part of the MGM musical staff, conducts, and also had the delicate executive job of liaison between. Villa-Lobos and Kaper while the score was being finalized.

Bill Whitaker and Jeff Bond’s notes discuss the film’s history and the score’s involved Kaper/Villa-Lobos issues, as well as providing a cue-by-cue description of the mostly seamless meshing of the two composers’ contributions. Kudos to FSM for making this magnificent score finally available in such a complete and definitive version.

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