Magdalena is Villa-Lobos's Broadway Musical from 1948. Stay tuned for a fascinating story!
If you're not familiar with this music, you might want to open this window of Amazon.com's Music Samples from the recording of 1987 concert revival of the show. They give a real fast picture of the kind of music that's in the show.
1948: the Broadway Show
The show ran from September 20, 1948 to December 4, 1948 at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Here are the complete Production Credits from the Internet Broadway Database. Read about the strike that closed the show at The Villa-Lobos Magazine. Here is a PDF version of the original Playbill from the 1948 Broadway Show [large file: 12 MB].
The show was directed by Jules Dassin, who is better known today as a Hollywood director (and Hollywood Blacklist victim) than a Broadway director. My favourite films of Dassin are Rififi, Topkapi, and The Naked City. Dassin died recently, at the age of 96.
One of the songs from the show is "Bonsoir Paris", sung to the big tune from the piano piece "A Valsa Da Dor". You can listen to it here, in Amazon's pop-up, from Villa-Lobos: Views and Miniatures. This piece has one of Villa-Lobos's most gorgeous melodies, but the lyrics don't quite reach that high a level. Actually they crack me up: my favourite bit is the part that goes "...life will be... / sheer ennuie... / for me... / without you..." It sounds like a parody of a song from a Broadway musical (like "The Song That Goes Like This", from Spamalot).
Here is the Time review of the show, from Oct. 4, 1948: "The only thing more incomprehensible than the plot is the notion that any one could follow it."
Pictured below: sheet music for "My Bus and I", published by the Villa-Lobos Music Corporation / J.J. Robbins & Sons in 1948.
1987: the Revival Concert
Here is the New York Times review by Stephen Holden of the 1987 revival of the show in concert at Alice Tully Hall: "A Lush Musical by Villa-Lobos." According to Holden, Magdalena
"...occupies a singular niche in the annals of music-theater history. When the lavish folk operetta opened at the Ziegfeld Theater on Broadway on Sept. 20, 1948, after wildly successful engagements in Los Angeles and San Francisco, it was the most expensive show to have been produced on Broadway. When it disappeared 11 weeks later, there was not even a Broadway cast album to remember it by because of a musician's strike. "
Here is a second NYTimes review of the Alice Tully Hall concert by Theatre reviewer Donal Henehan. "On the whole," says Henehan, "a valiant effort, but it is likely that ''Magdalena'' can safely be returned to its shelf in the old curiosity shop."
New York was really paying attention to Magdalena in the Centennial Year of 1987. Here is a third NYTimes article, also by Henehan later that year, who speaks more generally about the value of revivals: "...profit and pleasure can be gained from less miraculous revelations, even from a footnote such as Magdalena."
1992: Wooster Revival
Here is a review of a revival of Magdalena in the summer of 1992, at the College of Wooster, in Ohio:
"Opera companies looking for ways to make adventurous repertory pay off at the box office might consult Ohio Light Opera, which has performed for the past fourteen summers on the campus of the College of Wooster. Director James Stuart spiced his seven offerings this past summer with three unusual works, and all sold well.
"The rarest of these was Magdalena, an exotic piece crafted for Broadway forty-four years ago by Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. Stuart's Wooster mounting was the piece's first since 1948. Magdalena, even in a small-scale production on the tiny Freedlander Theater stage, proved fascinating. Its tuneful combination of local color, zippy production numbers and an almost religious feeling (complex choral work) are wonderfully enhanced by Villa-Lobos' imaginative orchestration. Outstanding contributions were made by sopranos Kandy Kearley and Julie Wright and tenors Robert McDonald and John Muriello. Evan Whallon conducted expertly, and Elsie Sawchuk's sets suggested much with little."
Robert Finn, Opera News 57.n6 (Dec 5, 1992): p56.
"American Views of Brazilian Musical Culture: Villa-Lobos's Magdalena and Brazilian Popular Music," Garcia T.G.C., Journal of Popular Culture, Volume 37, Number 4, May 2004 , pp. 634-647(14)
Read this entertaining column by Ricardo Prado: "Villa-Lobos on Broadway."
Villa-Lobos, Heitor. 1948. Magdalena. New York: Villa-Lobos Music Corp.
1974: Andre Kostelanetz's Magdalena Suite on LP
This disc probably sold well in 1974 - it's from Columbia, MQ 3281, and showcased the brand-new Quadrophonic technology on LP.
I remember this disc from those days. I've never heard it in surround-sound mode. By the way, I got this disc from the Scott Campbell LPs store on eBay - http://stores.ebay.com/Scott-Campbell-LPs - an excellent source of older Villa-Lobos items.
Here are the illuminating notes on the disc (PDF format). The stories by Robert Wright and George Forrest are fascinating. I'm thinking that the only thing keeping this disc from being re-issued on CD would be the very short timings: 17 minutes for the suite, and 14 for side 2 (which contains Kostalanetz's orchestral version of BB#5 and the Modinha Preludio, along with Kostalanetz himself playing the first movement of BB#4. I wonder if the technical requirements of early Quadrophonic discs limited the amount of music on each disc, or if Columbia was just being stingy. At any rate, just over 30 minutes doesn't cut it in today's CD world.
The album cover is one of my favourite Villa-Lobos covers. The art is by Rosina Becker Do Valle, who was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1914, and who died in 2000. She's listed in the National Museum of Women Artists as a "Naïve Artist" and homemaker.
The picture at the left is one of a number featured on the TNT - escitorio de arte site. This is the description of the painting:
12 - ROSINA BECKER DO VALLE (1914 - 2000) Folia de Reis
Folclore Brasileiro - Óleo sobre tela - 62 x 50
ass. centro inferior 1972
Here's TNT's short bio of the artist, in Portuguese.
1989: the Revival concert recording
In the New York Times, Richard Traubner gives a positive review:
Judy Kaye, George Rose, Faith Esham, Kevin Gray, Jerry Hadley, vocalists; Connecticut Choral Artists; Orchestra New England conducted by Evans Haile. CBS MK 44945; CD and cassette.
Set in Colombia in 1912, this lush and ambitious folk operetta of 1948 lasted barely three months in an opulent stage production at the Ziegfeld Theater, but its haunting score is a perfect candidate for recorded posterity. The jungle richness is frequently overripe, as are the bizarre plot (mixing emeralds with religion) and some of the lyrics, but this is a work so utterly different from the usual 1940's musical that it cannot help but intrigue. Judy Kaye stands out in a well-chosen crossover cast of opera and Broadway names, and Evans Haile seems at home in this rain forest of steamy, tropical but often lovely orchestrations. The notes by Villa-Lobos's collaborators, Robert Wright and George Forrest, now represented on Broadway with ''Grand Hotel,'' are fascinating. - Richard Traubner
Songs from Magdalena are included in Trovas e Cantares, with soprano Carol McDavit and pianist Maria Teresa Madeira.
The HVL Concert Calendar shows more frequent performances (more than a dozen as of July 2011).