|About this Recording
8.120595 - TIBBETT, Lawrence: De Glory Road (1931-1936)
Ballads and Songs from Films and Operettas, Vo l.2
Lawrence Tibbett was a singing actor par excellence, albeit not a “singing actor” in the sense where histrionics mask vocal deficiencies. On the contrary, endowed as he was with an instrument of dramatic proportions and an uncommonly incisive projection, he lacked nothing vocally and indeed had few peers in his generation. An international star of opera, recitals and radio for nearly forty years, his place in the vocal Hall of Fame is unique, yet had opera not remained his overriding passion he might easily have made a big a name for himself in the theatre or in the movies.
‘All-American boy’ Lawrence Mervil Tibbet (sic) was born on 16th November, 1896, in Bakersfield, California, into the close-knit, pre-oil boom farming community in which his father, William, a descendant of 1849 gold prospectors and a devout Methodist, was the local sheriff. His mother, Frances, an amateur church soloist gave the musically precocious Larry his first piano lessons and encouraged his inclination for singing. Following his father’s death in a shoot-out with cattle rustlers, the Tibbets moved first to Long Beach then to Los Angeles, where they kept a boarding house. Larry attended the local high school and by the time he graduated in 1915 was already an accomplished actor fired with ambition to become an opera singer. That same year he entered the San Francisco World Fair Eisteddfod, took his first singing lessons, sang with the Los Angeles Orpheus Glee Club and toured with a Shakespearean stock-company directed by Tyrone Power Snr.
During 1916, Larry appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan and in operettas by Herbert and Friml and undertook more thorough vocal tuition with sometime Metropolitan Opera basso Basil Ruysdael. The next year he sang in concerts before enlisting in the US Navy following the American entry into World War I. By 1920 demobbed with a wife and twins to support, he struggled at first to make ends meet as a professional singer, alternating masonics with repertory acting in both classic and modern dramas for the Los Angeles Civic Theatre Company. In 1921, however, he secured a loan for advanced vocal study in New York with Frank La Forge (1879-1953) the Illinois-born pianist and songwriter who was accompanist to many great singers (notably the contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink) and through him met McCormack’s concert manager Charles Wagner through whom, in turn, he first found an opening at the Metropolitan Opera.
At the time he failed his first Met audition (April, 1923) Tibbett was appearing on Broadway as Edgar in King Lear. Praised by some critics and encouraged at the prospect of future successes, he might easily at this point have forsaken opera for rep. Determined against all odds to tread the boards of New York’s greatest opera house, however, he finally secured a $60-per-week supporting artist’s contract and duly made his Met debut as Lovitsky in Boris Godunov (Chaliapin starred) on 24th November. His progress towards opera stardom seemed a protracted affair until, after a variety of secondary roles, he was unexpectedly “discovered”, as Ford in Falstaff, on 2nd January, 1925. Subsequently, during his 27-year residency at the Met, he sang over 600 performances of 48 roles, including premieres of dramatic new pieces by native American composers and operas in English (of which he was an outspoken champion).
At the close of the 1928-1929 Met season, Tibbett made a successful screen test for Mack Sennett, who offered him $3500 to play an opera star in a sentimental one-reeler. He turned this down, however, and signed instead with MGM for The Rogue Song, directed by Lionel Barrymore. The critics enthused, three numbers from its Lehár & Stothart score entered the US popular charts and Larry got an Oscar nomination for his performance. Without ever saying goodbye to opera, his first love, he made three more musicals over the next two years for MGM (The New Moon and The Southerner, both significant successes, were followed in 1931 by Cuban Love Song), but nearly four years elapsed before his next screen appearance (his penultimate), in Metropolitan, produced by Daryl F. Zanuck for 20th Century Fox. Billed as a popular but underestimated American opera singer in this “earnest and well-made melodrama with song” co-starring Virginia Bruce and Cesar Romero which proved a box-office flop, Larry won critical plaudits and featured, among operatic excerpts, Jacques Wolfe’s expressly written “De Glory Road” and “The Road To Mandalay”, the 1907 concert showpiece setting of famous Kipling verses by the Ohio-born baritone-songwriter Oley Speaks (1874-1948). “Last Night When We Were Young”, a fine number specially commissioned from Harold Arlen, was cut from the filmscore.
For many years a popular radio broadcaster (notably on The Firestone Hour), Tibbett’s repertoire both in recital and on records was wide and eclectic and included both favourite old ballads and songs from the latest shows. In 1932, he recorded probably the first versions of “The Song Is You” and “And Love Was Born” (new arrivals from the Jerome Kern Broadway Music In The Air) and in 1935 was selected for the first recording of extracts of Porgy And Bess, under the supervision of the composer, George Gershwin. And while his version of “Myself When Young” (a highlight of In A Persian Garden, the 1897 setting by Liza Lehmann (1862-1918) of the Fitzgerald translation of passages from Omar Kháyyám’s Rubáiyyát) is rated among the finest, the hair-raising sonority to bear on “Edward” (still the best-remembered of the ‘Scottish Ballads’ by Carl Loewe, 1796-1869) haunts the memory. Equally memorable, too, in their respective ways, are several songs by American composers (Langston Hughes and John Alden Carpenter’s “Shake Your Brown Feet, Honey” and “Goin’ Home”, a setting by William Arms Fisher of the Largo from Dvorák’s ‘New World’ Symphony, are prime examples).
Peter Dempsey, 2002
1. THE SONG IS YOU
(Jerome Kern–Oscar Hammerstein II, from Music In The Air)
2. AND LOVE WAS BORN
(Jerome Kern–Oscar Hammerstein II, from Music In The Air)
3. SHAKE YOUR BROWN
FEET, HONEY (Langston Hughes–John Alden Carpenter)
4. A KINGDOM BY THE
SEA (Arthur Somervell–Edgar Allen Poe)
5. OL’ MAN RIVER
(Jerome Kern–Oscar Hammerstein II, from Show Boat)
6. MYSELF WHEN YOUNG
(Liza Lehmann–Edward Fitzgerald, after Kháyyám, from In A Persian Garden)
7. NONE BUT THE
LONELY HEART, Op.6, No.6 (Tchaikovsky–Goethe, trans. Mey)
8. EDWARD (Carl
Loewe, from Old Scots Ballads, Op.1, No.1, Herder)
9. LAST NIGHT, WHEN
WE WERE YOUNG (Harold Arlen–Ed ‘Yip’ Harburg, originally composed for Metropolitan)
10. ON THE ROAD TO
MANDALAY (Oley Speaks–Rudyard Kipling, from Metropolitan)
11. DE GLORY ROAD
(Jacques Wolfe–Wood, from Metropolitan)
12. GOIN’ HOME
(William Arms Fisher, after Antonín Dvorák)
13. IT AIN’T
14. THE BUZZARD SONG
15. a. SUMMERTIME AND
16. BESS, YOU IS MY
17. WHERE IS MY BESS?
18. I GOT PLENTY O’
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