Magdalena

MagdalenaNew York Concert Cast, 1988 (CBS) 4 Stars (4 / 5) This is a musically adventurous, complex, and unruly Colombian stew by Heitor Villa-Lobos. The show was a flop on Broadway in 1948, but an admired one that was brought back decades later in a Lincoln Center concert version. The melodies, harmonies, and intricate rhythms of Magdalena sound like no other Broadway score, and the composer’s use of contrapuntal rhythms and strains — a player piano in the middle of a priest’s reverie, a pagan uprising during a state ceremony — is as sophisticated as in any opera. His orchestrations are dazzling, too, combining South American folk motifs with the sounds of late’40s Broadway. Unfortunately, the story that librettist Homer Curran and lyricists Robert Wright and George Forrest concocted is incomprehensible and annoyingly pious; the dull, religious heroine triumphs, but the fun-loving heathens have the best material. Some of the ballads and recitatives are faux-naif and bogus, but if you can endure those failings, you’ll be rewarded with a lavish, well-sung musical presentation based on the Lincoln Center concert. The witty “Food for Thought” lyrics, trilled to perfection by villainess Judy Kaye, and her later “Piece de Resistance”stand out. There’s also fine work from George Rose in one of his last roles, hamming it up lustily as a corrupt general. The romantic leads, Faith Esham and Kevin Gray, seem a little pallid by comparison, but they’re unfairly weighted down by all that shallow dialogue. Evans Haile conducts an enormous orchestra and chorus masterfully, and the flow of imaginative Villa-Lobos music is unending. A special nod to percussionist Patrick Smith, who is probably recuperating still. — Marc Miller