The Sondheim Review

Vol. 1, No. 1, Summer 1994


 

The Shows
Passion opens passionately
Merrily We Roll Along revived
Sunday in concert

National Report
Sunday tour, Assassins, D'Jamin Bartlett, A birthday party, A class at Cornell

International Report
Sweeney, Assassins, Gypsy

News and Notes
Into the Woods movie, 2 revivals

Looking Back
Evening Primrose revisited

The Essay
Pacific Overtures

Reviews
New books by Banfield, Gottfried, plus new recordings

Looking Ahead
Upcoming Sondheim shows in the U.S. and elsewhere

The Puzzle


SAMPLE ARTICLE

How Passion changed during those previews

by Eric Besner

For each "Every Day a Little Death," there is a "My Husband, the Pig"; for every "Last Midnight," a "Boom, Crunch." Stephen Sondheim's songs sometimes are lost in previews, and each is hopelessly bemoaned—until it resurfaces in the latest revue.

Because of the unconventional structure of Sondheim's score for Passion—one long rhapsody—diehards will not find entire songs resurrected in the future. Rather, the score, like the dialogue, was nipped, tucked and overhauled during the beleaguered preview period. The changes mainly altered the character of Fosca and made Giorgio's discovery of his love for her more believable.

Here, then, are the most notable changes in the score and the book between the first preview performance, March 24, 1994, and when it was frozen for opening night, May 9:

  • When describing Fosca to Clara by letter, Giorgio originally sang, "The ugliness, God, the ugliness, of that poor unhappy creature." He now sings, "The wretchedness, God, the wretchedness." This was one of several changes used to make Giorgio more sympathetic to Fosca earlier in the story.
     
  • At the opening of the letter scene, prior to quoting Giorgio's "God, you are so beautiful" motif, Fosca originally was greeted with laughter when she sang, "I'm so happy, I could die," a plaintive paraphrasing of Clara's opening lyric during the love scene. Fosca also got an embarrassing laugh with "When I die, I will leave you my braids." The lines have been cut. (So has Giorgio's beard, apparently to make him look more vulnerable.)
     
  • The three "I'll say" patter pieces for the soldiers were rhythmically more complex, less melodic and less humorous. The clever running gag of the "wager/major" rhyme was added later. So were the veal jokes. Fosca's fierce cries originally were likened to those of a cat in heat.
     
  • The Count Ludovic sequence has been drastically altered. Within it, Fosca originally referred to herself as "happy." But this lyric was changed to "never lonely." A section was removed that mixed lyrics and dialogue to show how Ludovic bilked Fosca's parents of all their money, and in which Fosca sang, "My love had become my religion." In the original, the colonel and Fosca asserted, "An unattractive man/ has many opportunities,/ Whereas an unattractive woman/ is easily deceived (very little wanted)." And "an unattractive woman/ wants only to be loved." This was changed to, "As long as you're a man,/ you're what the world will make of you/ Whereas if you're a woman/ you're only what it sees."
     
  • The most intriguing change in the Ludovic sequence is the cameo of the mistress, who now shrieks , "You fool!" at Fosca, instead of "Beware/ and take care." Originally, the mistress sang, "If I sound harsh and callous/ Believe me it is not from malice." Now, it's "He only wants to bleed you/ Until the day he doesn't need you."
     
  • "Sting" chords permeated the second half of the show, particularly at the opening of the train scene and prior to Clara's final letter to Giorgio. A train whistle replaced the first; the second was cut.
     
  • During the train scene, when Fosca says, "If I were soft and warm to your touch, you would feel otherwise," Giorgio, who now cries "No!" replies, "But you are not, so all the more reason to leave me alone."
     
  • One of the most important changes in the entire show was the addition of the "Train Song" for Fosca. Originally, she told Giorgio, "I need a goal for the rest of my life, and you are it." In the new song, Fosca comes across as more sympathetic, but also more self-aware and less out of control, when she sings, "Loving you/ Is not a choice,/ It's who I am."
     
  • The doctor originally answered Giorgio's "Why did you bring this woman into my life?" with "Perhaps to get her out of mine, even for just a short while." Now, it is "I thought it might help her."
     
  • When Fosca collapses in the storm scene, Giorgio originally stalked off, then returned. Now, he shows the torment he is going through before deciding to rescue her.
     
  • Another major change is Clara's final letter to Giorgio. As it was first envisioned, Clara terminated the affair because her husband found her love letters, and she wrote Giorgio, "The time has come for us to part. . . I belong at home as a wife/ I'm discovering my life/ As a wife and a mother." Now, rather than acknowledging "how selfish I have been," Clara does not retreat so completely: "Yes, I have obligations at home, but my heart is yours." In the first preview, Clara reprises the "happiness" theme alone near the end of the letter. "And that is why/ we must say goodbye/ you and I/ let it die/ You were everything/ you cannot be just anything,/ and so you must be nothing." In the later version, Giorgio shares a duet with Clara but sings the angry "Is this what you call love" theme, a stark counterpoint to their to their previous harmony. Clara now concludes the letter, "We could have everything,/ I want you more than anything,/ To wait is nothing," over which Giorgio sings, "How sad/ that what we had/ is nothing."
     
  • Giorgio now sings an intimate, fragile love song directly to Fosca ("No one has ever loved me as deeply as you") in their lovemaking scene. Originally he sang an uptempo belted version of this love song, and with the doctor, not to Fosca. This early version concluded, "And if I should die tomorrow/ or live and be forced to go/ no one has really loved her till me/ and I want her to know."
     
  • The closing was originally a reprise of the letter song begun by Giorgio, joined by Fosca, and then concluded by the entire cast. Now, Giorgio sings Fosca's dying letter to him, a modified version of the train song, in which she declares, "Now I want to live/ just from being loved."
     
  • The full cast, as before, joins the choral rendering of the letter song's conclusion. But the ending now is more of a logical conclusion rather than a reprise.

Eric Besner is a law student at the University of Pennsylvania and saw both performances.


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