Stephen Sondheim was inspired to write the musical PASSION while watching Ettore Scola's Passione d'amore, a film adaptation of Iginio Ugo Tarchetti's 19th-century novel Fosca. The musical originally opened in Broadway's Plymouth Theatre on May 9, 1994 and closed on January 7, 1995. It ran for a brief 280 performances, making it shortest-running musical to ever win the Tony Award for Best Musical. In 2013, the East Village-based Classic Stage Company mounted its most recent New York run. This production, which has been pristinely preserved on the two-disc PASSION (2013 New York Cast Recording), also served as the company's first musical in its 46-year history.
PASSION and this expansive recording tell the story of Giorgio, a captain in the Italian military. He is infatuated with Clara, with whom he is having an affair.. He tells her that he is being transferred to a remote, provincial outpost. There he writes letters to Clara. While writing a letter he is interrupted by screaming, and is told not to worry about it. Fosca, an ill woman, is responsible for the screams. He volunteers to lend her books, and begins an unlikely friendship with the woman. In addition to her illness, Fosca is also physically unbecoming and made fun of by the other soldiers. Giorgio's kindness and handsome appearance makes her swoon for him. Soon, Fosca ensnares Giorgio in a disturbingly seductive game of mental cat and mouse. Jealousy, obsession, passion, and broken hearts intertwine in this captivating narrative.
Sondheim's lush and opulent score, with orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, is modestly reminiscent of a chamber opera. It is rife with melodic themes and repeated motifs. Additionally, many of the numbers bleed and blend into one another creating a seamless sound as the tracks advance on the discs. The music enthralls and engages as it moves from one gloriously chord to the next. The score is completed by Sondheim's signature weighty complexity, but remains accessible to audiences who enjoy intricate aural soundscapes. You may not find yourself humming this music after the show, but this recording is sure to impress and beguile any lover of musical theater.
James Lapine's lyrics for PASSION is set to the music, highlighting the cleverness of the musical themes and of the characters themselves. He creates characters that are tangible and relatable, but that also have lush vocabularies that effectively express their emotions.
Torn between the two women, Ryan Silverman's Giorgio is brought to substantial and impressive life with his splendid tenor. Silverman's displays of love, passion, and revulsion are poignant and transcendent, which makes numbers like "Happiness," "Is This What You Call Love?," and "No One Has Ever Loved Me" all the more enriching and powerful.
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Clara, sung in a spirited soprano by Rebecca Luker, is lusciously romantic. Each of her moments is sung with delicate precision. Her numbers such as "Happiness," "Sunrise Letter," "Forty Days," and "Milan" are sweet and affectionate. All of this builds so that the audience understands Clara's resigned devastation in "Farewell Letter."
The star of the musical is mezzo soprano Judy Kuhn who imbues her vllainous Fosca with exquisitely melodramatic darkness. Her pathological fixation with Giorgio awakens an unnerving current inside her character, and it continuously grows until Giorgio is completely entrapped in her fanatical love. Her insanity is brilliantly crafted in the score and lyrics, and made both unsettling and pitiful in numbers like "I Read" and "I Wish I Could Forget You." Even as Fosca grows more predatory, Kuhn moves the audience to feel sympathy for her.
Stephen Bogardus as Colonel Ricci, Jeffry Denman as Lieutenant Barri/Mother, Jason Michael Evans as Private Augenti/Mistress, Ken Krugman as Lieutenant Torasso/Father, Orville Mendoza as Sergeant Lombardi/Cook, Tom Nelis as Doctor Tambourri, and Will Reynolds as Major Rizzolli/Ludovic round out the album with richly acerbic tonality.
PASSION (2013 New York Cast Recording) was recorded on May 13 at Avatar Studios, New York, NY by Bart Migal, who also Mixed the album. It was released on July 2. Digital copies can be purchased at iTunes and Amazon. Physical copies can be purchased anywhere music is sold.