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Te Kanawa and Irons sing `My Fair Lady'

Is there no end to what Kiri Te Kanawa will record? The Queen of Crossover has a growing list of credits in this department - Gershwin, ``Blue Skies,'' ``South Pacific'' - none of which is very good. And now, ``My Fair Lady'' (London, digital CD, 421 200-2). Perhaps it is true that a new glamour-cast performance of this perennial favorite was long overdue. Why then, did the people at London Records not think about a contribution to performance history rather than short-term record sales? (Of course, this question can be asked of fully 75 percent of all recordings made today.)

The best thing on the album is John Gielgud's Pickering, and that's almost a cameo effort. The least effective contributions come from conductor John Mauceri, who lacks the needed Broadway background to bring the score to life. The London Symphony Orchestra is superfluous under these circumstances.

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Miss Te Kanawa has a very vague idea of Cockney accents; her attempts at post-transformation uppercrust British aren't convincing either. Since Te Kanawa has never been a convincing singing-actress, her Eliza is merely a cipher, and not all that well sung. The role of Henry Higgins was clearly written for a rich, developed stage voice - one that made music of a spoken text. Jeremy Irons lacks such an instrument, and his detached, bland, colorless way with the songs is not at all what is needed.

The young American tenor Jerry Hadley cannot manage a British accent, and he sings too insistently his one great tune ``On The Street Where You Live''; Warren Mitchell's artificial Doolittle lacks the requisite sense of devil-may-care brio.

I wish I could tell you to go out and buy the Columbia CD of the original London cast recording (Columbia, analog CD, CK 2015) of this musical, but it has its share of problems, too. Rex Harrison is probably the definitive Higgins, and Stanley Holloway makes a remarkable Doolittle. Unfortunately, Julie Andrews was in tired voice the day that set was recorded. And the CD transfer is one of the worst I have heard from CBS.

Perhaps one day they will reissue the New York cast album on a budget CD. It also features Andrews, Harrison, and Holloway in peak form; though recorded in mono, it has the theatrical presence and vitality the other two performances lack.

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