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Bernstein's new recording of `West Side Story' has split personality

A new recording of the hit Broadway musical ``West Side Story'' conducted by the composer, Leonard Bernstein, and featuring some of the biggest names in opera today might suggest that Mr. Bernstein now thinks of this work as closer to opera than Broadway. In fact, the new set (Deutsche Grammophon, digital, 415 253 1 -- 2LPs; CD 415 253 2 -- 2 discs) finds Mr. Bernstein reveling in the hybrid nature of the score -- one that clearly belongs to Broadway, with music that invites a richer-textured, more opulent approach not inappropriately termed ``operatic.''

The leading roles are taken by soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, tenor Jos'e Carreras, and mezzo sopranos Tatiana Troyanos and Marilyn Horne. In spite of those names, the album belongs to Bernstein. As with so many of his newer recordings, he expands our views of the music at hand -- be it the rhapsodic love music, the hair-raising ``Rumble,'' or the fiery dance and biting sarcasm of ``America.'' Only in ``Officer Krupke,'' however, does the true potential of this set show itself: With David Livingston's Broadwa y-stage-wise way with the role of Action and a good chorus, the song captures just the right edge of mockery and wit.

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When Miss Te Kanawa and Mr. Carreras are front-microphone center, however, vocal timbre is all that counts, not words, mood, or drama. A British-accented Maria (who's Puerto Rican) and a Spanish-accented Tony (who's American) blur the dramatic crux of this updated ``Romeo and Juliet'' story. Miss Troyanos is far better as Anita, for she knows how to sing a line, give the words some inflection, and keep the diction clean. Her venomous reading of ``A Boy Like That'' vindicates Bernstein's vision for this album. Miss Horne, who sings ``Somewhere'' in long, seamless phrases, is lavish cameo casting at its best.

This ``West Side Story'' suffers from a split personality, but Bernstein's persuasive way with the score -- and the remarkable engineering -- make it an often exciting listening experience. On the CD version, there's the added bonus of the ``On the Waterfront'' suite led by Bernstein and the Israel Philharmonic as a filler. It is musically gripping and exceptionally well performed and recorded.

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