« Some favorite interpretations of the 'South Pacific' hit parade | Main | 'Spamalot' makes quick, rousing visit to renovated Modell Center at the Lyric »

October 7, 2011

One more 'South Pacific' item: The absolute ultimate version of a great song

OK, I know I should stop with the 'South Pacific' stuff, but I just couldn't resist one more post.

As I said previously, the songs from this show have been stuck in my head since Tuesday night's opening performance of the production at the Hippodrome -- just as those songs were stuck for ages after I saw the original Broadway revival.

To tell the truth, my tastes were always a little more Rodgers and Hart than Rodgers and Hammerstein, but I have found, over the years, a greater and greater appreciation for the musical scores by the latter duo.

The song from "South Pacific" that really, really moves me is "This Nearly Was Mine." The melody, with its elegant harmony, is top-drawer; the words are exceptionally effective. The structure is terrific, too.

I have admired how this song was delivered by Paulo Szot in the 2008 New York staging; in Washington last year by David Pittsinger in the first national tour of the wonderful Bartlett Sher revival; and this week in Baltimore by Marcelo Guzzo in the second national tour. And, of course, I love the classic performances by Ezio Pinza and others who starred as Emil de Becque.

But there's a version of this song, removed from its theatrical context (and from the original bass/baritone realm), that's in a class by itself. The first time I heard ...

Barbara Cook sing this in concert some years ago, I got shamelessly teary-eyed. I had rarely been so unexpectedly touched by a singer and a song.

So, with thoughts, images and, above all, sounds, of "South Pacific" still swimming around in my head, I just had to relive the experience of this transcendent interpretation, and I hope you enjoy it, too. Here, then, Barbara Cook and "This Nearly Was Mine":



Posted by Tim Smith at 8:55 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens, Hippodrome


Nope. Doesn't do it for me.

Too mannered, too slow, and the pinao is distracting without adding the emotion that strings could.

I went to Lincoln Center mainly because I was so impressed with the perfromance of the tenor at the Tonys, but unfortunately saw a vedry good substitute, but not the same, and especially would not have been the same on this song.

The strength of this song is it is sung by a strong man who usually can grasp what he wants. This sounds more like a spinster fantasy.

Plus, it is a waltz, and the slow tempo totally loses the waltz lilt. Maybe that is what you like about it.

Try this version:

Thanks very much for reminding me of that absolutely fabulous performance. For an in-context interpretation, I'd call that pretty much unbeatable. And for an example of song-styling out of that context, I still find Barbara Cook's version sublime. TIM

The indelible performance of "This Nearly Was Mine" for me was the one sung by Brian Stokes-Mitchell in a semi-staged benefit concert of "South Pacific" several years ago in Carnegie Hall. I have played the DVD many times and am brought to tears each time. Great stuff!

This version of "This Nearly was Mine" is fine for a piano bar or a cocktail lounge. It is performed out of context.
Rodgers and Hammerstein composed this powerful song for a strong male basso who is love, yet tormented by his past and his future in a time of war.

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected