There are two “The Making Of…” musical documentaries that you need to add to your bucket list, “A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night” copy right here and this 1985 studio recording of West Side Story, a documentary which, like the Schmilsson album, made me go right out and buy and pay for it with my own money, and in the case of West Side Story quite a lot of money too as it was only ever released on music cassette in a boxed set with book and all the gubbins.
The original West Side Story passed me by, I was one year old when it was premiered on Broadway in 1957, just five years old when it was released on film and until 1985 had always seemed dated, a bit too jazz for me, a bit avant garde theatre/ballet/jazz fusion, all a bit 1960s like those re-makes of the Tom and Jerry cartoons, dated as soon as they were released – and I had other music to listen to, music for my generation – for me the film West Side Story missed a trick, you can’t set gang warfare to orchestra and ballet, thats not how it worked in Harehills anyway.
And then 28 years later Leonard Bernstein was persuaded to record a slightly different version of his score, same orchestration but using professional opera singers and cast as Marie and Tony, Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras, two opera stars on the rise in what was possibly one of the first cross-over recordings, opera does pop, orchestra had done pop before then, but not opera.
The first clip (above) is fascinating in the way that Carreras, 39 years old and well established on the world opera circuit struggles to work with “Maestro” as he prefers to call Bernstein who in turn refers to Carreras as “Pepe”, he struggles with his timing and he struggles with his English and the phrasing of some complicated phases of “Somethings Coming”, they scrap the first sessions tapes and start again…
“Maria” was always one of the stand out ballads of West Side Story, one of the tracks that was instantly picked for radio play and seized on by balladeers and crooners through the late 50s and early 60s, that and “Somewhere” and initially Carreras has timing problems again and the end of the session is left in frustration and tantrums, they return the next day (four days were allocated to studio time and the hours strictly controlled because of union rates and budgets) and got the take straight away and you can tell by his body language at the end that he knows he’s nailed it.
Halfway through the stage production Maria and Tony take a vow, “One Hand One Heart” was their song, but it was never performed anywhere as well on stage or film as well as it was performed in the studio by Carreras and Kanawa on the final day of recording, just stunning right to the very last violin vibrato.