Wednesday, June 16, 2010

DEEP IN MY HEART: MGM's ROMBERG Story




Composer: SIGMUND ROMBERG (Songs), Various Lyricists

Rhino MGM Download; TT: 24 tracks (stereo) 

Performed: MGM Soloists, Studio Orchestra & Chorus , Conductor/Music Supervisor: Adolph Deutsch Arrangers: Alexander Courage, Hugo Friedhofer, Robert Tucker (vocals).


Deep In My Heart (1954) is one of the last big all-star musicals from MGM, and also the last of their (in)famous musical biographies, in this case one freely adapted from the life of Sigmund Romberg (and a biography of the same title).

Like its predecessors (Words And Music/Rodgers and Hart, Till the Clouds Roll By/Jerome Kern, etc.) it also showcases a broad cross section of the composer’s hits and rarities performed by most of the stars still lingering in the MGM heavens.

The real Romberg was born in Europe and became one of the most successful American operetta composers of the early 20th century. He moved uneasily into musical comedy in the ‘30s and ‘40s, though many of his operetta favorites (such as “Lover, Come Back to Me”) had a contemporary edge which allowed them to remain popular standards into the Big Band era. Like many film composer émigrés, Romberg was able to fuse Old World lyricism and schmaltz with American popular appeal. He also had a long-standing connection with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Several of his operettas (The New Moon, Maytime) provided hit vehicles for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in the ‘30s, and in the ‘50s MGM remade his most famous work, The Student Prince, in CinemaScope.

Also like many film composers, Romberg had a secondary career as a recording artist. Thus RCA Victor released their own “Deep In My Heart” album with Romberg’s own recordings at the time of the MGM release.

Deep In My Heart, produced by MGM’s renaissance music man, Rodger Edens, stars Jose Ferrer (who looks nothing like the portly composer) as Romberg, and ex-Wagnerian soprano, Helen Traubel, as his platonic but supportative lady friend, Anna Mueller. There is also the obligatory transfusion of romantic interest, but anything resembling a plot is subsidiary to the on-going musical numbers that provide the substance of both film and this new “download only” Rhino soundtrack.

MGM Records originally released Deep In My Heart as a deluxe boxed LP (MGM E3153), a packaging format later followed by their Ben Hur and Mutiny on the Bounty releases. But like most of the MGM musical STs of the era, numbers were cut and edited to fit the track timing demands of the period. This new Rhino edition provides all the musical numbers in complete versions, plus a few incidental cues and out takes, and all in true stereo.

The angular Ferrer comes off as just rather odd as Romberg, especially in a virtuoso, if bizarre number in which he performs a one-man version of one of his shows (“Jazzadadadoo Medley”) to impress (?) his society sweetheart (Doe Avedon).

However, the still golden-voiced Traubel is appealing and versatile, able to turn “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”  - is there any other kind? – into a moving art song at one moment, then launch into an obscure bit of ersatz ragtime called “Leg of Mutton” with equal conviction.

But all this still leaves lots of room for a roll call of Romberg show excerpts performed by the likes of Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Ann Miller, Vic Damone, Rosemary Clooney, William Olvis, and Tony Martin, right down to Gene Kelly and his brother, Fred.

Miller has one of her best production numbers with the frantic “It,” a lesser-known Romberg excursion into the Jazz Age. (Note the costumes recycled from Singing in the Rain).


Dancers Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell perform a sensual “One Alone” from the popular Desert Song. While Charisse is voice-doubled by Carole Richards (who dubs Newman’s “Resurrection Song” in The Robe), no vocals are necessary to get the erotic charge emphatically across in this opulently staged and lushly arranged/orchestrated production number.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ydq8Ko5xeIE/SELf9o9_R3I/AAAAAAAABVI/76mNDc4ywEk/s400/Image+2.jpg

 Cyd Charisee in The Desert Song sequence.

But then a spacious stereo mix and composer Adolph Deutsch’s conducting beautifully enhance all the lush orchestrations by Alexander Courage and Hugo Friedhofer. While I miss the detailed, informative liner notes that came with the Rhino CD releases, downloading seems like a convenient and effective process and I hope more new MGM releases will be forthcoming.

And who knows, perhaps the entire catalog of MGM musicals (including such less familiar titles as Deep In My Heart) may eventually be available in this format as well.

Into the future and perhaps bring on Jupiter's Darling!

Ross Care