Monday, June 2, 2014

Nelson Eddy the Operatic Whale

Walt Disney's 8th animated feature film was (by the company's own count) the 1946 collection "Make Mine Music." This hodgepodge of ten short musical films is sometimes referred to as "the poor man's 'Fantasia'" because it featured mostly popular music, rather than the Stokowski-led classical selections in the earlier feature, and did so most entertainingly with the likes of Dinah Shore, the Andrews Sisters, and (in two of the film's best sequences) Benny Goodman.  There were two exceptions to this: an abridged version of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" in which story elements were rearranged - a segment that would have nothing going for it if it weren't for the delightful narration of Sterling Holloway, better known as the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh, and this touching finale of the film, a vehicle for the multi-tracked talents of Nelson Eddy:

"The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met"
Nelson Eddy, with orchestra conducted by Robert Armbruster
Recorded c. 1946
Columbia Masterworks set MM-640, three 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC file, 47.77 MB)
Link (MP3 file, 31.30 MB)

This recording is taken directly from the soundtrack of the picture, with the exception of about two minutes' worth of introductory material in which Eddy demonstrates the "Willie-the-Whale Method" of multi-voiced singing by performing "Three Blind Mice" as a round.  The package is an object lesson in how material from films were marketed for home use in those days long before videocassettes or DVDs.  The inside front and back covers (included as JPG files with this download) are illustrated with line drawings of the story, so that the listener who hadn't seen the movie could get some idea of what was occurring.  I won't give the story away here, but will say that there is plenty of good music in the telling of it, from "Shortening Bread" to excerpts from Rossini, Donizetti and Wagner, with Eddy providing the narration and all the voices - even the soprano in a fragment of a duet from "Tristan und Isolde"!

There is a DVD available of "Make Mine Music" which is well worth owning (and quite reasonably priced, too), but it unfortunately omits the first segment of the film, "The Martins and the Coys," because it contains "graphic gunplay not suitable for children."

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