I had no idea what the chorus of male sailors were on about when they kept singing “There is nothin’ like a dame”—what did they have in mind?—but I still thought “Some Enchanted Evening” was fabulous. I had already memorized some of the lyrics before I left the theater, and subsequently I learned the rest from listening to the radio. On the radio, they were playing the song as sung in the original Broadway production by Ezio Pinza, he who had created the role of Emile de Becque. A favorite at the Metropolitan Opera, Pinza was a bass in the fine tradition of Chaliapin and Kipnis, the tone warm and the timbre profound. For someone my age whose voice had not yet broken, imitating Pinza was not easy, but I managed it by tucking my chin well into my chest. “Once you have found her, never let her go …” My bass notes shook the bathroom.
When the movie came out, Pinza wasn’t in it, his death having preempted the break that would have turned him from an artist into an icon. Because the studio bosses couldn’t cast Pinza, they decided not to cast Mary Martin either. (These details are not in Stempel’s book, for a reason we will get to.) Those in charge of the movie, who included Rodgers and Hammerstein, were unanimous in wanting Rossano Brazzi for the role. As European and distinguished as a Romanesque cathedral with only superficial bomb damage, Brazzi was perfect in every way but one. He was lying when he said he could sing. When Rodgers and Hammerstein found out that he couldn’t carry a tune any further than a few inches, they insisted that his voice be dubbed, even though Brazzi himself was adamant that he could do the job. Dense as well as proud, he never got over not being allowed to, and for much of the filming, as the recorded sound was played in so that he could make with the mouth, he behaved like a beast with its amour propre on the line. They could have got me for half the money.
Brazzi could afford to be petulant because his ass, or at any rate his throat, was being covered by Giorgio Tozzi, whose voice equaled Pinza’s in the professional accomplishment that is known on Broadway as “legit”—that is, trained. Broadway has always been able to use trained voices as long as they don’t sound trained. The underlying assumption is that the audience for a musical doesn’t want to hear what it can’t possibly do: it wants to hear what it might have done if life had worked out differently, and still might do after a few drinks.
Later—much later—I learned that Rodgers and Hammerstein, while the war was still on, had worked a revolution in the musical when they concocted Oklahoma!, the first show to be fully “integrated,” with every number growing organically out of the book and back into it, instead of just decorating a flimsy plot line as of old. Stempel gives a good account of the historic moment when Rodgers and Hart gave way to Rodgers and Hammerstein, although he might have said a little more about what was undoubtedly lost when the cleverness of the old numbers gave way to the organic relevance of the new ones. Even then, before I had started listening to Hart’s lyrics, I could tell that Hammerstein’s were straining to sound so relaxed. (And anyway, Hammerstein himself seemed oddly unready to quite give up the old tricksiness: has anybody ever asked what Nellie Forbush, theoretically a down-home girl in love with a wonderful guy, is up to when she sings a word like bromidic? Stempel doesn’t.)