Belle is essentially the only ensemble number in the show that I really like; I don't like big production numbers in general, so songs like Gaston and Sei hier Gast annoy me really quickly. As I said, though, I do like Belle, and right away one likes Leah Delos Santos in the role, as well. I also like Susan Egan and Caroline Vasicek, but they both took some time to get used to. Delos Santos sounds much sweeter than the others, and is therefore more instantly likeable; probably a good quality to have in a Belle!
Marc G. Dalio's voice doesn't have quite the weight I'd wish for in a Gaston, perhaps, but his Ich has no major faults nonetheless--and I definitely like him more than Kevin Tarte on the Vienna. And while I've known people to complain that Susan Egan's Belle was too sarcastic, especially in this scene, the same comment can't be made about Delos Santos. Her reprise of Belle is charming as well, of course.
Zuhaus is one of my favourite songs from this show, and I've been lucky enough to like each of the three performers I've heard singing it. The only criticism I can find is a suspicion that Delos Santos has a bit of an accent; true, my German isn't that great either, but for one thing her "ch"s don't sound quite right to me, more like "sch" (or maybe even, a bit, the Russian "shch"?) instead or something. Once I'd noticed it in this song, I started hearing her do it throughout the album, and I now find it a bit distracting. Ah well.
As I mentioned earlier, I don't like production numbers, so I skip most or all of Gaston whenever I listen to this CD. Dalio and Werner Bauer (LeFou) are fine, but there's only so long I can listen to the song, no matter what the performances are like. The (much shorter!) Reprise is much better, for me.
And finally, the Beast makes an appearance. I've always thought it a bit strange that one of the title characters has so little to sing, but at least I like both of the songs he does have. I have to admit, when I first heard the casting for this role, I thought "no way!" Then I thought about it some more, and decided Uwe Kröger just might be able to do the role now after all, although he would have to be very different from most of the other Beasts. For one thing, he seems much younger than most. And while I can't say for certain since I haven't seen him in the role, I think...I'd enjoy his performance, while still not finding it very "Beastly". It sounds like his Beast consists more of the young, uncertain prince underneath than the frightening monster. Which is great for later in the show, but it leaves Wie lang noch soll das gehen? a bit...flat, emotionally. Maybe it's just me, but he just never seems to have the rage this song ought to have. And it sounds a bit like he has a cold; while it's possible he really did have one when they made the recording, since he doesn't sound like that after turning back into the Prince I suspect it may be a result of his trying to alter his sound to be more beastly...and not quite so young.
Even beyond my general dislike of production numbers, I really REALLY despise Sei hier Gast. It will be sheer torture for me to sit through all eight minutes of this song when I see the show.... That said, Viktor Gernot's Lumière is entertaining enough that, while listening to the CD in order to write this page, I was able to make it through nearly two whole minutes before skipping the rest of the song. :)
Ah, Wie kann ich sie lieben?....Either Kröger does this song better than Wie lang..., or I've just gotten used to it, since I listen to this one more. :) (Incidentally, both of these tracks contain some dialogue which isn't on the other recordings I have, which is kind of nice.) As mentioned earlier, he sounds younger than a lot of Beasts, and he doesn't brood as much as, say, Ethan Freeman. Still, I was quite pleasantly surprised by Kröger's version of the song; I probably wouldn't have realised this was him, at least not until I'd heard it several times, although I had thought I could recognise his voice in just about anything by now. Nice job on that final note, too.
Wer hätt's gedacht contains several cute moments. It's probably only coincidence that for me so many of them have to do with the library scene, and has nothing to do with my own lifelong love of books. :) Let's see...I love the tentative and diffident, yet excited, way Kröger's Beast presents her with, and then gives her, the library; her reaction at seeing all the books; the failed attempt at nonchalance when asked if he'd read her favourite, as if trying to imply "oh, that one, no I never got around to that"; his obvious discomfort when she offers to let him read it first; her gentle, non-judgemental reaction to learning that he's illiterate; the whole "I didn't know books could do that" portion.... This is the part of the recording where Kröger sounds most like the young, childish, socially unsure prince inside; compared to, say, Ethan Freeman on the Vienna cast album, he gets more excited while at the same time having a greater lack of self-confidence, a combination which I happen to find endearing (although I find Freeman's "sag ich doch" more fun). He doesn't get as moody and self-pitying as Freeman towards the end of the scene--both interpretations work for me, however, and I think that it's a very good thing Kröger didn't try to be more "beast-like", as I doubt he could have pulled it off. (I mean, really. Some actors, you can imagine being frightening, at least enough for suspension of disbelief, but Uwe Kröger just isn't one of them! Not in a raving, physical, "beast" sort of way, at least; a more subtle, intellectual, evil kind of frightening, on the other hand, I can imagine.) This way, the "don't judge by appearances" theme is emphasised, as well, since (based on what's included on the CD, anyway) nearly the only truly "beastly" or frightening aspect of the Beast is his physical appearance; therefore her initial fear and dislike of him has nearly as little rational basis as his treatment of the witch before the story began.
By this point it probably won't come as any surprise that I don't like Die Schöne und das Biest either. Okay, so it's not another big production number, but I've still never liked the song, although I also don't hate it to the same extent I do some of the others. Still, since it's the title song, I figure I ought to at least mention it....I can see no real problems with Cristina Grimandi's performance of the song, aside from the fact that she doesn't make me want to listen to it at all.
The Wie kann ich sie lieben? Reprise is, in my obviously biased opinion :), fabulous. As I said when discussing Totenklage from Elisabeth, I really like singers who aren't afraid to sound awful when the emotional context requires it. For me, acting is more important than beautiful singing (within limits, of course), so it's not surprising that this is my favourite of the three versions of this song that I have. Kröger's Beast sounds like he's crying, truly in pain from the idea of not being with Belle. Just lovely. *sigh*
I'm going to combine Zuhaus (Reprise) and Verwandlung/Finale Ultimo into one paragraph, as in my mind they're really the same scene....Great work from both Kröger and Delos Santos. From what I can remember, they manage to sound a bit less melodramatic during the death scene than, say, Freeman and Vasicek. The Prince sounds "like Kröger", unlike the Beast. I happen to like the fact that the character's voice alters along with the rest of his body; seems appropriate, but then, that may just be me. :)
In all, I think this album was very well done, and has a generally excellent cast. I know I ought to have said more about certain roles--particularly Lumière and Gaston--but it's a bit difficult since I almost always skip the songs which don't have Belle or the Beast, no matter which cast I'm listening to.