Opera Dives Deep: Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Sound of Music

By: Lyric Opera Staff

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Dr. Paul Laird, Professor of Musicology at The University of Kansas and celebrated author, joined Opera Dives Deep on Monday, October 30, 2023, to engage audiences with topics around The Sound of Music. His presentation, entitled Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Sound of Music, provided an overview of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s collaboration and placed The Sound of Music into the context of their work and the history of musical theater. The presentation in full is available on YouTube and highlights are below.

When one thinks of The Sound of Music, visions of Julie Andrews may pop immediately into your head. It was Mary Martin, however, who originated the role in the musical. Dr. Laird recalls seeing The Sound of Music film when he was seven years old. He loved it and immediately went home to listen to the LP. He recalls, “I went to play the LP, and, of course, the LP was from the stage show. Which, as probably many of you know, is substantially different. So I started wrestling with the problems of adaptation between genres when I was just a young child.”

Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the lyrics and book for Show Boat in 1927, working with composer Jerome Kern. Dr. Laird said that in addition to being the most famous musical of the 1920s, Show Boat is also the beginning of what we would consider a musical play as a genre, meaning the show tells a serious story, and the music goes a long way in helping to tell that story. It is the integration of music and plot that sets this genre apart and distinguishes it from musicals written prior.

Richard Rodgers is known for collaborating with two significant figures: Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. Rodgers wrote 30 shows with Hart, including A Connecticut Yankee, Pal Joey, and Babes in Arms. On Your Toes, written by Rodgers and Hart in 1936, marked Rodger’s first extensive ballet sequence. Ballet, of course, would become a hallmark of shows written by Rodgers and Hammerstein—notably Oklahoma! and Carousel.

Oklahoma!, Carousel, Allegro, South Pacific, The King and I, Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream, Cinderella, and Flower Drum Song are all are shows written by Rodgers and Hammerstein before The Sound of Music. Some titles are iconic, and others are less familiar. Dr. Laird gave us a high-level survey of these important works.

From the origins of The Sound of Music to the differences between the musical and the movie, to a recap of its musical numbers and concluding with proof of its lasting impact, Dr. Laird offers a comprehensive look at The Sound of Music.