Search - Arthur Sullivan, Harry Norris, Malcolm Sargent :: Gilbert & Sullivan: Iolanthe; The Gondoliers

Gilbert & Sullivan: Iolanthe; The Gondoliers
Arthur Sullivan, Harry Norris, Malcolm Sargent
Gilbert & Sullivan: Iolanthe; The Gondoliers
Genres: Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (22) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (13) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (21) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #4

4 CD box set


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CD Details


Album Details
4 CD box set

CD Reviews

Best versions ever!
Robert Ray | Sassafras, Victoria Australia | 01/04/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"These recordings from 1928 and 1930 are the definitive versions for these operas. They are possibly the best recordings ever of any G&S operas. They were made in the heyday of the D'Oyly Carte 1920's revival of the operas. Some of the performers had worked in their youth with Gilbert. Gosh it shows. Here is superb singing combined with wonderful charactisations. The way it should be done. Sargent's and Norris' tempi seem just right, and each opera sparkles. How lucky we are to have records from such a golden age of Gilbert and Sullivan. A must for any collector of music for the theatre."
Terrific re-issue at rock-bottom price
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 01/15/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Source: Studio recordings dating from 1927 for "The Gondoliers" and 1930 for "Iolanthe." I assume this CD re-issue was compiled from mint-condition 78s which have not been subjected to significant remastering. "The Gondoliers" was originally issued on 24 sides and "Iolanthe" would have been about the same.

Sound: Amazingly good mono, considering the great age of the performances, and in many ways comparable to first-generation LPs. There is a low but easy-to-ignore hiss that probably appeared in the original matrices. Voices of soloists are very well captured. The choruses sound fine, although a little distant and slightly compressed. If the orchestra seems just a bit compressed by digital era standards, nevertheless, the sound is good and full of detail. The CD tracks tend to follow the three-and-a-half minute takes of the original 78s. This is apparent to the eye--if not to the ear--in "Iolanthe" when the track changes during the grand entrance of the peers about thirty seconds before the end of the music. Reflecting the original sides, there is often, but not always, a brief roll-off into dead silence before the next number begins.

Text: No dialogue. The performing text and the order of pieces is that established by W. S. Gilbert and used on stage by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company throughout most of the 20th Century. Arthur Sullivan was a man was forever late in composing his music. Overtures were just about the last things composed. Fast approaching deadlines sometimes forced Sullivan to call on the assistance of Frank Cellier, the regular conductor for the comic operas. Sullivan would set out the order of pieces and the overall approach, leaving Cellier to do the orchestral arrangements. In both "The Gondoliers" and "Iolanthe," however, scoring for the overtures was done entirely by Sullivan.

Format: Four discs, with two discs per opera, one for each act.

Documentation: No libretto. Cast list. Single page summary of the plot of each act.

The 1927 "Gondoliers" was the second of the Savoy Operas to be recorded in the newly-developed electronic process. Its cast were second generation Savoyards. None of them appeared in leading roles during the original London runs, but Sir Henry Lytton--imagine, being knighted for doing G&S!--was understudy in the lead comic roles in London by 1886 and soon heading up D'Oyly Carte touring companies.

Although never a regular member of the D'Oyly Carte Company, George Baker recorded Giuseppe, one of the romantic leads in the "The Gondoliers" in 1927 and, because HMV engineers didn't much like the way Lytton's voice recorded, stepped up to recording the comic lead in "Iolanthe." His recording career involved more than 3,000 recordings (with nearly as many false names) and would stretch right into the 1960s, when he recorded leading comic parts in Sir Malcolm Sargent's stereo series of G&S recordings.

By 1930, the second generation of Savoyards was largely gone, leaving only Bertha Lewis, Leo Sheffield and a junior member, Derek Oldham. Darrel Fancourt and Leslie Rands, two stalwarts of the third generation, both well-remembered from post-World War II recordings, appear in "Iolanthe."

These recordings were made under the personal supervision of Rupert D'Oyly Carte, whose father, Richard, had founded the opera company and been a partner with Sullivan (happily) and Gilbert (stormily); whose step-mother, Helen, had succeeded to control of the company, and whose daughter, Bridget, would run it with a whim of iron well past the middle of the 20th Century. Rupert must have been a pretty odd duck, since P. G. Wodehouse, a schoolmate, insisted that he was the model for PGW's first great fictional character, the incomparable Psmith. Whatever the eccentricities of the D'Oyly Cartes, this early series of recordings must be regarded as definitive in setting out the English G&S performance tradition.

These performances of "The Gondoliers" and "Iolanthe" have the virtues of all D'Oyly Carte Company recordings: excellent, rigidly disciplined choruses and soloists with superb English diction. Alas, the soloists also suffer from the curse of English vocal training.

Among many dedicated G&S fanatics, Henry Lytton is regarded as a fine comic actor but terrible singer. In the short part of the Duke of Plaza-Toro in "The Gondoliers," he certainly acts very well indeed. He chooses to take great freedoms with written musical rhythms in order to achieve dramatic, or rather, comedic effect. If he was not as good a singer as Martyn Green, his great successor, he was a world better than the comedy man of the sixties and seventies, John Reed. In fact, the voices of Lytton and Reed sound remarkably, even eerily similar, but the older man was entirely free of the egregious quirks and would-be funny bits that often made Reed so annoying.

It is the given wisdom among the many hardcore G&S fans (see above) that Derek Oldham was the best tenor who ever recorded a Savoy opera. Don't believe them. Oldham was all right, but the finest actor ever to take the lead tenor parts was Oldham's successor, Leonard Osborn, while the finest singer was probably Richard Lewis, who recorded in Sargent's stereo series.

Leo Sheffield, who joined the D'Oyly Carte Company five years before the death of W. S. Gilbert and had been directed by the fierce old man, himself, was a wonderful performer, and one who did not suffer from excessive care for musical notes as written. He had a lighter, drier, more agile voice than those later associated with his parts. By 1930, the heavier, darker sounding Darrel Fancourt was firmly in place.

Bertha Lewis was a classic English hooting contralto. W. S. Gilbert was notorious for making unkind fun of middle-aged, hefty women--the parts she played. Arthur Sullivan was usually a man of gentler impulses and always a more suave individual than Gilbert, but he made his own kind of musical fun, allowing Lewis to be subtly hilarious from beginning to end.

All the other soloists are fine--and very, very British, even more so than their successors in later decades.

Harry Norris conducts "The Gondoliers" and Malcolm Sargent leads "Iolanthe." Both are rhythmically sensitive and do a good job keeping things moving. Sargent is blessedly free of the ponderousness that afflicts his later series. I found Norris to be the less precise, but more satisfying of the two. He leads the fastest peformance of "The Gondoliers" that I've ever heard.

This set presents two of the best of the G&S comic operas at a rock-bottom price, with surprisingly good sound and first-class performances. It is a must-have for a serious lover of G&S. For those of you who more concerned with performance than reproduced sound, this set is a steal!

For those of you who cringe before the thought of non-digital sound, walk away. This not for you. (Why have you wasted your time by reading this far?)

Five stars, no question about it."
Glitter, and inimitability
William F. Greig | Thurso Scotland | 12/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The glitter of the Gondoliers and the inimitability of Iolanthe come over in this recording.

The stars, give the taste of the era nad the original, one must ignore the fast tempo of these recordings: the need to fit evry item to the procrustean bed of a 10" 78 record necessitated that they be sung somewhat faster than in normal productions, and when you compare the play time of the '60s & 70's CD's, they are not all that faster.

To hear Lytton as the Duke in the Gondoliers is to be transported back to that very era. I for one want a tardis, to go back and induce them to use him throughout the series: it really depends what one wants of course If you want a note perfect rendition then you have to stick with Baker, if you want the flavour of the performance than it has to be Lytton. Only Peter Pratt approaches the acid attack that he gives (Why DID PP go so early and leave us to JR's milk & water early performances???)

The sound level of items transcribed from shellacs ( san I am old enough to have heard the shellacs!!) is the result of almost miraculous sound engineering.

Bertha Lewis gives the definitive rendition of the duchess's role never to be really approached untill the performances of Anne Drummond Grant in the 50's (another great savoyard for whom "Death called too soon")

Leo Sheffield's light baritone gives a completely different weight to the character than any of the later exponents, and agin this to me suggests a man with a light humerous touch, tongue in cheek, he is going to have it his way ( until Inez blows him off course in the closing moments ) "Do not give way.." is covering up the fact that the grief will soon be very real, and ( in the way of 18th C ( ??Methodism) setting )) fatal! but he will "Not have the innovation perpetrated...

Winifred Lawson's soaring topnotes take me back to the note in Gramophone from the '60s ( ace of club's heyday) " needs cutting2 I.E. DAMPING DOWN: but keep them! keep them!! they are again part of the era.
Altogether I will be completing the run at the rate of one a month till the last peter pratt & Donald Adams is safe on my rack!!"