The song “Some Enchanted Evening” is a sublime moment in the post-war production South Pacific that continues to inspire. Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstine, Placido Domingo, The Temptations, Barbra Streisand, José Carreras, Bob Dylan, Jane Oliver and lots of other artists have recorded it.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein represented a turning point in musical theater. Amid often exuberant music and optimistic lyrics, their musicals touch upon (or hint at) troubling problems and real-life questions.
MUSIC: Ezio Pinza singing “Some Enchanted Evening” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 production, South Pacific
Meridee Duddleston: You’ve heard this song in the theater, at movies, and in a multitude of recordings. It’s from the musical South Pacific, a Rodgers and Hammerstein creation that debuted just a few years after the devastation of World War II.
David Fox: This song, especially, is a kind of idyllic moment in time that must have been especially resonant for an audience in 1949.
MD: David Fox teaches American musical theater at the University of Pennsylvania. The idyllic moment encapsulated in the love of an older French expatriate, for a young American nurse, is all the more poignant as South Pacific unfolds, and the effects of war, racial prejudice, and opportunism appear.
DF: Much of the show, I think, is quite dark. It explores a world at war.
MD: Fox says the original performance of “Some Enchanted Evening” by singer Ezio Pinza, who had retired from the Metropolitan Opera just a year earlier, became a benchmark for the hit.
DF: You know the song itself is written in a key that could be sung by a popular singer, and it’s not particularly difficult vocally. Its needs a long legato line and it has this difficult passage at the end, which goes up to a high note. The choice of Rogers and Hammerstein to have a bass baritone like Ezio Pinza do it, gives it a very particular vocal character.
MD: That full operatic tone set the stage for the allure that followed, inspiring so many other artists from Frank Sinatra to Harry Connick Jr. to Bob Dylan.