Dreaming Of The South Pacific

It’s entirely possible that the bitter Winter weather will cause many of us to dream of stealing away to paradise in the South Pacific. It’s also possible — maybe even probable — that those of us who have been around a while will form a mental image of a movie scene in which a tanned and debonair Rossano Brazzi sings “Some Enchanted Evening” to Mitzi Gaynor. But actually he didn’t.

In that 1958 film musical, South Pacific, veteran Italian actor Brazzi did a perfectly acceptable job playing Emile de Becque, the French plantation owner who sang to Ensign Nellie Forbush. But his singing was dubbed by a Chicago-born opera star, Giorgio Tozzi, whose bass voice boomed out in opera houses all over the world for many years.

A much-respected singer, Tozzi stayed in touch with his South Pacific roots by playing the part of de Becque himself in occasional later revivals. But to get to the true beginnings of the movie character and his classic song, we need to talk about another Italian opera star — one who had a long singing career in spite of the fact that he couldn’t read music.

Ezio Pinza was a native of Rome, and as he grew to adulthood his rich voice led him into a singing career. His vocal range was classified as basso cantantet, which meant that he could handle all but the lowest bass notes and also perform most baritone parts. His good looks didn’t hurt either, and he soon built a solid career in opera.

By the post World War II years, he’d become a long-time star of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and when director Joshua Logan began putting together a new Broadway show featuring the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, he was a natural fit. Appearing with Mary Martin and other members of the original cast, he helped create one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time.

Ezio Pinza – “Some Enchanted Evening”

 

2 thoughts on “Dreaming Of The South Pacific

  1. Once again, thanks for going back to the original well. I finally saw the movie of South Pacific in its entirety not even a year ago on TV. When the movie originally came out I was taken by the gorgeous choral arrangement of Bali Hai but even then was not all that anxious to see the whole thing. When I finally saw it, I thought it was OK, but thought some of the staging–Gaynor singing “Wondeful Guy” all alone on a beach, for example, was weird, and then there’s those color effects, infusing the entire screen with some shade the director thought was the “color” of the music. All in all an indiviualistic, not to say quirky, treatment of a masterpiece that can do just fine with its own bare bones.

    This post also reminds me that there are entire generations after me who think Ava Gardner **is** “Showboat.” Until you’ve seen the 1936 version with Irene Dunne, Helen Morgan, Allan Jones, Hattie McDaniel and Paul Robeson, you ain’t seen nothin’!

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  2. I think that TCM had the 1936 Showboat on a while back, but I passed on it. I’m not a fan of the later one either, but I have to confess that technicolor musicals usually have a better chance of drawing my attention — like a chimp attracted to bright colors, I guess.

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