Sebastian Cabot

One of my favorite 20th-century choral compositions is the epic piece by Arthur Honegger, King David (Le Roi David) which I have performed on many occasions. It was a work which was not widely known in Logan, Utah when I was a professor at Utah State University. In 1972, I was delighted to have the opportunity to introduce it to the students as well as the audience which frequented our performances.

In addition to instrumentalists, chorus, and soloists, there are two speaking parts - one is the narrator (a male), and the other is the Witch of Endor (a female.) QUESTION: Are we to assume that all witches must be female?

I was fortunate to be friends with the acclaimed actor, Leora Thatcher, who was a native of Logan and a delightful woman who frequently invited me to her home. She had assisted me in directing musicals performed at USU and seemed to enjoy my visits. She appeared in over 20 movies, such as Inherit the Wind, Diary of a Bachelor, Joan of Arc, etc., but was probably best known for her roles on Broadway, especially the part of Ada Lester in Tobacco Road. Because of her extensive career, Leora (at the age of 78) would be the perfect actor to narrate the part of the Witch.

Our family had been avid viewers of the TV sitcom series, Family Affair, which starred the English film and television actor, Sebastian Cabot, a bearded and portly actor recognized by virtually every TV-watching child in the mid-to-late 1960s and early 1970s. He portrayed the character of Mr. French, "the gentleman's gentleman." He had a distinctive voice, probably as distinctive as today's James Earl Jones when he says, "This is CNN." Cabot was also known for his performances in Kismet, Checkmate, and for many roles in films and TV shows, including voice performances in multiple Disney movies such as The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, and his longest-standing role in the various Winnie the Pooh films. His distinctive voice made him the perfect choice as the narrator in King David.

Sebastian Cabot
Sebastian Cabot
Family Affair
Family Affair Cast
Leora Thatcher
Leora Thatcher

Mr. Cabot arrived the day prior to the performance and I drove him from the Salt Lake City airport to Logan, about a 1½-hour trip. Phyllis was preparing a wonderful dinner for him as the neighborhood children gathered outside our house for a glimpse of "Mr. French." Cabot had trained as a chef in his teenage years, which may explain his reaction to a dish Phyllis was preparing. There was a wonderful trout farm in the area which was owned by our neighbor across the street. We had selected the most wonderful fish from the farm and asked Cabot if that would be satisfactory. He said he would eat it only if it were prepared in a particular way. He came into our kitchen and instructed Phyllis exactly how he wanted the trout cooked.

After dinner, the instrumentals, soloists, and chorus gathered in the concert hall for the dress rehearsal. Because Mr. Cabot had never listened to the composition (and didn't know precisely when to begin his narration when accompanied by the music), I told him that I would "cue" him by smiling and nodding my head in his direction (my arms and hands were already intensively involved in conducting and cueing the multitude of instrumentalists and singers.) This arrangement of nodding worked perfectly during the rehearsal.

The next night, Leora's performance of the Witch was undoubtedly the best ever heard. She probably frightened every person in the audience with her intense interpretation. She didn't just play the Witch - this sweet woman became the Witch.

Click here to play Leora Thatcher's performance (Cabot at the end) - 2'30" excerpt

I'm not certain if Mr. Cabot forgot the agreement we had made of smiling and nodding, but when I smiled and nodded, he smiled and nodded back (as if he was returning my greeting.) I quickly smiled and nodded a second time, and Mr. Cabot repeated his smile and nod. This happened multiple times and I became frantic knowing that at the end of this portion of the narration, the orchestra and chorus would enter and his speaking would be obliterated by the enormous cacophony from the performers.

The last time I nodded, I must have appeared greatly agitated, because he jumped, and began speaking. I was certain that he could not possibly finish his narration before his voice would be totally overpowered by the music. He ended less than one second before the singers and instrumentalists entered with the loudest portion of the entire composition. I must admit the timing, to the audience, was probably very effective, but it was immensely alarming for this conductor!

At this time, I regret that I do not have the recording of Sebastian Cabot described above.

King David Program

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