About this Recording
8.120639 - CROOKS, Richard: Neapolitan Love Song (1924-1933)
English 

RICHARD CROOKS

Songs from Operetta, Musical Comedy and Films

Original Recordings 1924—1933

Probably the finest lyric tenor America ever produced — and in the 1930s on radio and in opera and concert certainly the most popular — Richard Crooks was born into a family of modest means, of Scottish and English ancestry, in Trenton, New Jersey on 26 June, 1900. His mother, Elizabeth Gore, herself a gifted amateur singer, gave Richard the boy-soprano his earliest musical education until 1910, when his first serious engagement, as soprano soloist in Mendelssohn’s Elijah in his native town, before a 10,000-strong audience, pro-vided the necessary spur to his talent. His stage-partner at that baptism of fire, Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861-1936), the German-American contralto star of the Metropolitan Opera, predicted great things for her ten-year-old colleague, all of which duly came to pass. Having reached puberty, Crooks began to re-train as a tenor. At fourteen he was already earning his own living, and financed his studies by manual occupations until 1917 when, with the US entry into World War I, he entered the US Armed Forces flying corps.

A year later Crooks was on active service with the US Airforce over France but, the war over, he returned to the USA and continued his vocal studies with vigour, principally (from 1920 onwards) with Schumann-Heink’s accompanist, the influential, New York-based pianist-composer and vocal coach Frank La Forge (1879-1953), whose illustrious pupils included Crooks’ fellow-Americans Marian Anderson and Lawrence Tibbett as well as the much-admired Spanish soprano import, Lucrezia Bori. Under La Forge’s tutelage Crooks first won fame in oratorio (the curriculum in which he would also end his career) and in 1922 the hopeful young tenor sang in nine concerts with the New York Symphony Orchestra under its prestigious conductor Walter Damrosch. The success of these led to a further series of engagements across the States and, indirectly, to his first Victor recording contract, in 1923. In an item from an early session, Red, Red Rose (from incidental music to Rudolph Valentino’s 1924 Paramount silent-screen vehicle Monsieur Beaucaire) Crooks simultaneously offers us a fine sample of his youthful voice and a prime early example of recorded film-music.

During 1925 Crooks made his first European concert tour. His venues included London, Belgium, Holland and Germany, where his lieder recitals won him particular acclaim. On his return to the States in 1926 the European reputation he had gained appears to have excited considerable further interest. His voice already had passion and thrust and a certain endearing lyrical quality which most — if not quite all — of his records seem to have preserved for posterity. At home, the public took him to their hearts and further concert successes followed, crowned by two performances of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony at Carnegie Hall, under Toscanini, in 1927. Later that same year he embarked on the first of several recital tours of Great Britain, Scandinavia, the Low Countries and Germany which would continue until 1932. Meanwhile, Crooks’ growing list of recordings, which hitherto at least comprised mostly popular ballads and items from operetta, distributed on both sides of the Atlantic, were already beginning to sell in such quantities that Victor saw in him an inexpensive replacement in their Red Seal catalogue for McCormack as well as a viable promoter of the latest in film-ballads. Although comprehensive in his art as a recitalist, on records he veered, predictably, towards the popular repertoire.

Richard Crooks made his opera début in Hamburg, in Puccini’s Tosca, in May 1927, and his subsequent accounts of the tenor leads in Faust, Carmen and La traviata, as well as in Wagner’s Meistersinger and Lohengrin, left a lasting impression on his German audiences. Back in New York, in 1928, he was chosen by Mengelberg for the New York première of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and in 1930, with the Philadelphia Company, made so resounding a US opera début that he was at once offered a contract by the New York Metropolitan Opera. Sensing himself unprepared for such a step, however, Crooks passed up the offer in favour of further European tours and weekly guest appearances on the coast-to-coast radio programme Firestone Hour, which was to be his intermittent Monday evening niche for several years to come. He first trod the boards of the Met as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon in February 1933 (at this début he reportedly took 37 curtain-calls) and thereafter appeared at intervals with the company, between concert tours to Australia, Canada and elsewhere, until his retirement in 1946.

The Crooks discography of the late 1920s and early 1930s reflects a rebirth of interest in operetta, on both stage and screen. In Overhead the moon is beaming, the Serenade from the long-running 1924 escapist best-seller The Student Prince by the Hungarian Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951) — later famously revived in a film starring Mario Lanza — Crooks is joined by the Rounders male chorus headed by sometime Reveler Lewis James. In this Crooks gives us a tantalising aftertaste of a Broadway show which he all but premiered, while in I bring a love song, a charming albeit now neglected item from the pioneering film-musical Viennese Nights — a 1930 collaboration by Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) — the tenor complements his soprano colleague to perfection. The Student Prince’s long-running "twin" rival on Broadway, the 1925 hit Vagabond King by the Czechoslovakian-American Rudolf Friml (1879-1972) also affords him a golden opportunity to show off his superbly-managed head voice in Only a rose.

Similar qualities are brought to bear by Crooks on gems from a wide range of other operetta landmarks, both contemporary and of older vintage. Especially fine are his selections from the shows of the Irish-American Victor Herbert (1859-1924), including Ah, sweet mystery of life and I’m falling in love with someone (from Naughty Marietta, 1910; filmed by MGM, 1935), When you’re away (a lingering waltz from The Only Girl, 1914) and Neapolitan Love Song (from The Princess Pat, 1915). He also displays an endearingly lyrical quality in Rio Rita (the title-song of a long-running Broadway musical of 1927 by Harry Tierney (1890-1965), filmed by RKO in 1929) and One alone (hit-song of Romberg’s mega-hit 1926 show The Desert Song — filmed by Warner Brothers in 1929, 1943 and 1953).

In selections recorded simultaneously with the 1932 Broadway revival of The Dubarry by the Austrian Karl Millöcker (1842-1899 — Crooks’ partner on disc Grace Moore appeared in this show, Crooks did not) he shows something of the imaginativeness of tone-colouring which made him famous, while his treatment of other generically ‘Viennese’ favourites place him stylistically on an easy par with Richard Tauber, including Just two hearts and a waltz refrain (a translation of the title waltz-song from the 1931 German film Zwei Herzen in Dreivierteltakt, by the Austrian Robert Stolz — 1880-1975), Yours is my heart alone (American translation of "Dein is mein ganzes Herz", hit-song from Das Land des Lächelns — Berlin, 1929; produced in London in 1931, as Land of Smiles — by the Hungarian Franz Lehár, 1870-1948), Castles in the air (from Frau Luna (1899) by the German Paul Lincke (1866-1946) and I walked in the blossoming garden (the famous Waltz Song from A Waltz Dream, in the 1908 London version by Felix Doerman and Leopold Jacobson, with lyrics by Adrian Ross and music by the Viennese Oskar Straus, 1870-1954). Crooks concludes the recital with Tell me tonight (in this title-song from the 1932 film-musical landmark (US title Be Mine Tonight) in which Polish tenor Jan Kiepura sang the music of the Russian-born pianist-composer and conductor Mischa Spoliansky (1898-1984), he is ably backed by a fine orchestral adaptation under the baton of HMV’s then house-conductor Ray Noble).

Richard Crooks died in Portola Valley, California, on 29 September, 1972.

Peter Dempsey, 2002

The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

Peter Dempsey

A tenor singer of wide range and performing experience, Peter Dempsey specialises in Victorian and Edwardian genre ballads and art-song, and has recorded various CDs, including Love’s Garden Of Roses for Moidart. Quite apart from his personal enthusiasm for music in the broadest sense, through his assiduous collecting and study of 78s over many years, Peter has acquired not only a wide knowledge of recorded musical performance but also a heartfelt awareness of the need to conserve so many "great masters" who — were it not for CD — might now be lost for future generations. A recognised authority on old recordings, Peter now regularly researches and produces CD albums from 78s.


Close the window