"If you thought that the Sargent set of G&S opera recordings was gargantum enough, then this D'Oyly Carte cycle is even more gargantum. Although it is more expensive (because of the four extra operas that the Sargent cycle did not include), this complete 24-CD set is like a joy to behold. There is a debate as to whether this is better than the Sargent cycle, but I like to think that this is a delight from first disc to last, because of the idiomatic sense of polish that these recordings seem to have, and are given a life that makes them able to breathe well. This is all thanks to Isidore Godfrey and Royston Nash's conducting. I know that the performances may not be entirely consistent (this is evident when you compare the performance and recording quality of Mikado and Pirates with those of Gondoliers and Pinafore), but this is only a matter of personal preference. The 1960s performances were given more sumptuous and well-detailed recordings than the 1970s recordings, made when the performing style was not so fresh. But anyway, I still think that this is definitely a good buy for anyone who loves G&S. Even with the consistency of Sargent's cheaper EMI set, I would still say: do go ahead to invest in the set because of the liveliness and style in this complete G&S cycle that Sargent never (hardly ever) tackles. The only thing is: I would also like to suggest complementing it with the 1957 Decca D'Oyly Carte recordings of Mikado and Pirates, recently released by the Sounds on CD label, so that these recordings can do justice to the enormous spirit of these operas."
Don't underestimate those "unknown" Operettas!!
Paul A. Gerard | Australia | 07/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is, as far as I know - the only way of buying the "official" recordings of "The Grand Duke" and "Utopia" - which seem to be otherwise out of print!! Several of the others are not that easy to get either.
In any case - most people getting this set will already have the Mikado, and very probably Pirates and Pinafore for that matter, so you're really getting it for the others.
So just for the record - someone has to say this!
The Mikado is (of course) a wonderful piece, but it enjoys its long running status as the most successful of all the G&S operettas very largely for "extra-musical" reasons. It is visually so wonderful, with all those great authentic costumes, and the whole idea of satirising English institutions by pretending they are Japanese is of course brilliantly funny.
Again, Pirates and Pinafore enjoy a lot of their acclaim simply because we have heard them so often. And at least part of the initial success of these (admittedly very funny and entertaining) pieces was the vogue for "nautical drama" on the popular Victorian stage.
Iolanthe, Ruddigore, and Yoemen are all MUCH stronger musically than any of what another reviewer here keeps calling the "trilogy". Patience, Princess Ida, and the Gondoliers all excel either "nautical" operetta, at least musically, although not, perhaps, the Mikado. And I have had a lot of fun listening to my recording of the Sorcerer - although I think most at least of the other G&S operettas are even more interesting.
As for "Trial by Jury" it is really another thing altogether - but in its kind the most perfect thing either Gilbert or Sullivan had anything to do with!
This leaves Utopia and the Grand Duke.
Both of these were produced after the long running friendship between G&S had soured, and they have been sadly neglected ever since. Utopia is none the less both musically beautiful and very funny, and well worth taking an effort to come to grips with. The main point of the satire (which many commentators and reviewers seem to miss) is the way that the English language and British (especially English) institutions were being adopted, often rather uncritically, by countries around the world (most, but not all, of them members of the British Empire, of course). India is perhaps the country Gilbert had most in mind, but you could set it in any of a dozen other countries. The residual problems this has left in the post-colonial world ensure that this work is still far from dated. In some ways this operetta is about globalisation! What could possibly be LESS dated than that!
The Grand Duke, on the other hand, is a bit of an odd man out - I suppose you still have to say it is the weakest of all the G&S efforts. It's the ONLY one that didn't score a very respectable run on its first outing. Surprisingly, however, if an attempt is made to duplicate the musical and (especially) dialogue cuts that G&S would have done themselves if they had not by this time been at each other's throats all the time, a very entertaining piece can be made of it. I was very agreeably surprised by the Ohio Light Opera recording, which does just that - and I am coming round to the idea that the only thing really wrong with the Duke is that it is too long.
For all people (especially callow youth) who remain convinced that G&S only wrote three operettas worth listening to - all I can say is, buy this set, and give the lesser known ones a chance. Make sure you have a libretto in your hands as you listen, of course. It may even just need a single hearing in some cases, but otherwise, be patient. In the meantime, you really cannot have any conception of what you are missing."
A few details
Paul A. Gerard | 03/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 24-CD album consists of 12 plastic cases, each with a thin booklet giving background and plot summaries for the works on its 2 enclosed CD's. Most of the album consists of 15 operettas, 2 of which (Cox and Box, The Zoo) have texts not by Gilbert and 7 of which (The Sorcerer, Princess Ida, The Mikado, Ruddigore, Yeomen of the Guard, Utopia Limited, The Grand Duke) omit most of the spoken dialogue. Before listening to any of these operettas that you don't know well, you'll want to obtain a copy of its text so you can read along and not miss any of the words or the wit."
The Crowning Achievement of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company p
Aronne | 01/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This review details the performances more than the content of the operas. Another reviewer speaks more about the different operas themselves, and I agree with what he says for the most part, particularly concerning Iolanthe, Ruddigore, and Yeomen of the Guard. The Sorcerer is also very rewarding if given time. The duet "Welcome joy, adieu to sadness" and the quintet "I rejoice that it's decided" are singularly enjoyable.
Seeing that this is a 24CD Boxed Set, there wasn't really any way for me to say everything that needed saying in any short space. So, I've divided the review into a number of sections. They are as follows:
1. The top few recordings that generally win over competition 2. The particular weaknesses of the recordings 3. The particular strengths of the recordings 4. Fillers 5. Overall impression
1. The 1959 HMS Pinafore is probably the only Gilbert and Sullivan recording ever that is a hands-down winner over every other recording of the same work. The cast is just about perfect and the sound is better than any other recording I've heard from 1959. I would say Iolanthe should receive similar praise, though not everyone would agree.
Of all of the others, there are a few that manage to distinguish themselves above most all other issues. Cox and Box, Trial by Jury, Pirates of Penzance, Patience, Iolanthe, and The Gondoliers all manage to rise above competition and end up near the top. In every case, I think it is safe to say that the latter recordings will always come out as one of the top two. Part of this is because of the inclusion of dialogue in the last five of the recordings I mentioned. Some people don't want it, but dialogue is just as much a part of the opera as the music, and there are very few writers who could pen words with the same repetition value as W. S. Gilbert. He was a genius in his field.
2. Particular Weaknesses of the D'Oyly Carte recordings of the operas (listed chronologically):
- Cox and Box: The finale (a reprise) and one other number is omitted. A bit of the dialogue is cut down, but this ends up making the operetta more witty--a refined gem in a way.
- Trial by Jury: None
- The Zoo: None as far as performance goes. Sound isn't perfect, but it's the best we're probably going to get.
- The Sorcerer: No dialogue. David Palmer isn't the strongest tenor, though that is a matter of opinion. The male chorus sounds funny in one or two songs in Act 1, as though it were a male chorus with a tenor solo (who pronounces "Alexis" in a strange fashion), but is otherwise excellent.
- HMS Pinafore: None
- The Pirates of Penzance: None
- Patience: None
- Iolanthe: None
- Princess Ida: No dialogue. Sargent takes slow tempi in "Search throughout the panorama" and "The woman of the wisest wit," particularly the latter. Elizabeth Harwood doesn't always live up to the part she is given, but is still okay.
- The Mikado: No dialogue and a weak Nanki-Poo--though he does warm up after a while. Also Katisha seems rather uncomfortable with any note above E-flat, but is still good enough. The way her voice comes across has something to do with the sound, which is okay, but not as fine as the 1960's recordings. It lets the singers down here and there (the choral passage "A Japanese equivalent of hear, hear, hear" comes to mind).
- Ruddigore: No dialogue. This is the edited D'Oyly Carte score rather than the original, but that only means the omission of the original finale and the second verse of "Happily coupled are we" (there's a small choral number that the bridesmaids sing a capella that is omitted too).
- The Yeomen of the Guard: No dialogue. A somewhat controversial Elsie (Harwood again) who I think is fine enough, though one wishes that Valerie Masterson had recorded the role instead...
- The Gondoliers: A slightly squeaky Casilda (she doesn't do too well on notes above F-Sharp, but the Casilda on the later, digital D'Oyly Carte recording doesn't do much better). That said, Jennifer Toye's solo singing as Casilda is better than some of her singing during ensembles, and her duets with Jeffery Skitch (who plays Luiz) come off well.
- Utopia Limited: No dialogue. Well, that isn't entirely true. No dialogue is included on the first disk, but in Act 2, bits and pieces are heard here and there, particularly with Kenneth Sandford. Happily, all of the dialogue is included preceding the finale, summing up the plot quite nicely.
Also, the recording quality doesn't seem quite right when compared to other entries in the series. I haven't quite placed my finger on it yet. Perhaps it is not atmospheric enough.
- The Grand Duke: No dialogue; sound is similar to Utopia Limited.
3. Particular Strengths of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company recordings:
- Cox and Box: Donald Adams, Alan Styler, Joseph Riordan; you'll note this is the entire cast. All three know their parts exceedingly well, making this recording a joy to listen to.
- Trial by Jury: Thomas Round. He is a very convincing Defendant. Everyone else in the cast is similarly strong.
- The Zoo: Meston Reid is a pretty good tenor, and manages the part of Aesculapius Carboy well.
- The Sorcerer: Valerie Masterson. Aside from John Reed and Donald Adams, Masterson seems to have the best grip on her role. She sings with great charm; her waltz song in Act 1 comes of noticeably better than in the 1953 recording with Muriel Harding taking the role of Aline.
A word on John Reed: There is an almost laughable difference on how much more life John Reed has managed to inject into John Wellington Wells as opposed to Peter Pratt in the former 1953 recording. Pratt sounds unduly strained in his opening song and gives very little life to the incantation. Reed, on the other hand, must be heard to be believed. His scene with Lady Sangazure (Christine Palmer) is also very enjoyable.
- HMS Pinafore: All of the dialogue is delivered excellently, and the humor and excitement that should be present in any performance of Gilbert and Sullivan is more than present in this recording. As I said, this is (in essence) the only unassailable Gilbert and Sullivan recording ever.
- The Pirates of Penzance: Valerie Masterson (need I say more?)
- Patience: John Reed is particularly excellent as Bunthorne. His singing and dialogue come off in a way that leaves the listener with the impression that it could not be done any other way. That is the mark of a great performance.
- Iolanthe: Mary Sansom is one of my favorite G&S Sopranos. I know many don't share my opinion, but if that were not so, it would not be an opinion, would it? This is her best performance. She IS Phyllis.
Also what I said about Reed's Bunthorne applies to most of the cast in Iolanthe. They convince you that this is Iolanthe as it should be performed. This particularly true of Adams and Round, whose witty repartee in Act 2 is a joy to behold.
- Princess Ida: This opera is given arguably the best recording quality of the entire series. Hildebrand's song comes across excellently, with the chorus sounding almost magical at times (if you may forgive me for using such a cliched word). Philip Potter makes an excellent Hilarion, putting as much charm into his role as Derek Oldham did (if not more).
- The Mikado: Valerie Masterson. In the end, she is probably what makes this Mikado competitive, since everything else is pretty good, despite reservations.
- Ruddigore: Donald Adams, who gives what is easily the best "When the night wind howls" ever. Ruddigore contains some of the most magical moments in the entire cannon of operas. This performance accentuates that.
- The Yeomen of the Guard: In my estimation (such as it is) Phillip Potter saves this recording from any overly serious criticism. He was one of the best Tenors the company ever had and shows it here. Gillian Knight and Donald Adams give a fabulous account of the little "Rapture, rapture" duet, particularly the delightful way Adams pronounces "ghastly."
- The Gondoliers: John Reed makes a perfect Duke of Plaza Toro. This recording was made during the peak of the company's ability and his as well.
- Utopia Limited: Pamela Field is almost as good a soprano as Valerie Masterson (a high recommendation). She is a excellent Zara for sure.
- The Grand Duke: Nothing comes to mind...this isn't a bad recording, but I can't think off the bat of anything that really distinguishes it.
4. Although there are not as many fillers as in Sargent's set on EMI, the extras included here are perhaps better. Overture di Ballo is very convincing; Macbeth Overture is also interesting. But the best bonus in the set is Pineapple Pole, a 40-minute ballet arranged from the operas by Charles Mackerras, who conducts it here in a fabulous 1983 recording. It is pure delight from beginning to end. I'd say more, but it is more enjoyable being introduced to it fresh.
5. Overall impression: This is the only complete Gilbert & Sullivan issue in existence; that alone gives it an extra recommendation, but still this set manages to incorporate most all of the good features of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and is sure to please any Gilbert and Sullivan fan who wants the whole caboodle. I in no way regret buying this issue."
Original is Still the Best
H. Dennis Higdon | 12/23/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've enjoyed this set for many years, and it continues to be an unbounded joy. Sound quality, considering the limitations of analog recording over the period from 1959 to 1977 that these operettas were produced, is overall excellent, certainly not as quiet as digital recordings, but still a full-bodied analog sound with minimal background noise. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company has a long-standing tradition with G&S (most of these operettas were originally introduced by the first D'Oyly Carte ensemble in the 1880's). Their experience, professionalism and witty humor shines through in ways that no other recorded group can possibly match. The cast includes some of the finest interpreters of G&S such as Donald Adams and John Reed, performers who have honed their skills from hundreds of live performances, certainly among the greatest G&S casts ever assembled.
While other box sets such as the Sargent series might have superior orchestras or more professional opera singers, it is the humanity that wins one over to the D'Oyly series, the casts are clearly having the time of their lives, and so will you - and isn't this the heart of Gilbert's librettos, an all-encompassing satire that demolishes everything in its path and leaves you laughing with joy?
As other reviewers have commented, not all of the recordings include the dialog, most of the key ones do, and that is unfortunate since the words adds structure to the operattas by telling the story as you go, plus much of the dialog is as witty and fun as the songs. In spite of this, you won't have trouble following the stories, and the pleasures of this box set vastly overwhelm any minor limitations such as this one.
It's no wonder that Groucho Marx derived so much of his humor from W.S. Gilbert, nor that these Victorian relics remain as popular and timely today as they ever have - this is great art and great fun, delivered by the most seasoned group ever to record these classics. This is the most complete G&S box set, and while some of the lesser obscurities such as the Zoo or Cox and Box may never be listened more than once, every dedicated G&S fan must hear them at least once. It also includes some nice G&S related items such as the Pineapple Poll, a pastiche of familiar Sullivan melodies. If you are looking to explore this wonderful topsy-turvy world, and want the most complete and most fun series to enjoy, I don't see how you can go wrong with this set, a desert island choice if ever there was one!"