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The Grand Duke
Arthur Sullivan, Ohio Light Opera Orchestra, Aline Carnes
The Grand Duke
Genre: Classical


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Missed Opportunities
J Scott Morrison | 02/22/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"My copy of this new recording of GRAND DUKE arrived from the United States on Thursday morning and on Friday afternoon I was able to sit down and listen to it in full. I have to say that as a record of a live production of an operetta which (judging by the applause at the end of each of the acts) was enthusiastically received, this is an excellent recording. As a representation of Gilbert and Sullivan's GRAND DUKE it falls somewhat short. Such a pity as many of the criticisms I had of the same company's PRINCESS IDA have been addressed as indeed they were in UTOPIA LIMITED.To the British ear the most unpalatable aspect of any recording of a G & S Opera, or indeed any European work, made in America is the accent. In IDA this was a real problem, in UTOPIA it was almost conquered, here in GRAND DUKE it is almost non-existent although the word 'can't' still defeats the performers.The real gripe with this recording is the amount of totally unnecessary musical (and some of the dialogue) cuts, and the disc break - why oh why does the break come in the middle of the act one finale during the "Oh horror" sequence? With disc one timed at 63:27 and the second half of the finale timed at just 8:19, left on disc one this would have made a disc length of just 71:46. With some discs lasting for 80 or more these days
this disc break is totally unacceptable. Even with a multi deck player, the playout of disc one and the playin of disc two time at 0:10 making it impossible to hear the finale without a break.Ohio bill the opera as a "Romantic comic opera" and play it very much as they play Kalman or Strauss. Why? This is Gilbert and Sullivan. It may not be their best work (I don't know anyone who would claim that it is), but a well played and paced GRAND DUKE can, and does, sparkle like champagne. Here we have a very good white wine but there is not a bubble in sight.The cuts that are made are of the nature of 'all or nothing' and in some cases are unintelligent. We loose the second verse of "Strange the views", very sad as the first verse is excellently sung, not to mention the fact that having given the reason why duelling is unacceptable we are not given the
Pfennig-Halbpfennigian solution.The second verse of "As o'er our penny role" is cut. This seems to be a tradition, but as the preceding dialogue has already been cut quite considerably, this reduces Rudolph's, and even more so the Baronesses roles to a minimum.The act one finale begins very strangely with the "Tall snobs" verse of the Ludwig/Rudolph duet. It is quite common to cut this down by a verse but I have never heard the first ditched in preference to the second. And whilst on the subject of this finale, it was here that Ted Christopher's (Ludwig) habit of lapsing into speaking his lines very much in the vein of Rex
Harrison in MY FAIR LADY became annoyingly apparent. It was also with the "Jolly Jinks" sequence that the overall lack of pace in some of the numbers (but not all) became apparent.Ludwig's Greek pronunciation in "At the outset" is dubious to say the least, Julia misses the lines "I have a rival. Frenzy thrilled I find you both together" at the beginning of her mad scene which actually makes a nonsense of the whole scene as I don't suppose that anyone would realise that she is 'acting' a mad scene, "Come bumpers aye ever so many", "The Prince of Monte-Carlo" and "We're rigged out in magnificent array" are all shorn of their second verses.When one considers that the two discs of UTOPIA run for 75:35 and 71:16 respectively with hardly a cut in sight, one has to wonder why so many musical cuts have been made with the two GRAND DUKE discs running for just 63:27 and 62:43, a full 20:41 short of the UTOPIA recording - more than enough time to include all the cut music and some of the dialogue as well.All this said however, this is a pleasant recording, which, although it claims to be the "First Complete Recording", cannot perhaps be so considered by those who own the British label 'Sounds on CD' excellent reissue of the UMGASS 1973
recording which is overall more complete. Even the D'Oyly Carte recording is musically more complete than this. But the atmosphere of a live theatre recording does pervade the new issue and whilst I for one would not ditch either of the other two recordings, I will certainly listen to this again on occasion."
Virtually Unknown Gilbert & Sullivan - and It's GOOD!
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 02/04/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"'The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel' was the last collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan. In fact, they'd broken up earlier but were implored by their long-time producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, to work togehter one last time after a successful revival of their earlier 'Mikado.' So, 'The Grand Duke' was presented in March 1896 to less than ecstatic reviews, and it had, for them, a fairly short run, only 123 performances. What's more, it wasn't revived professionally again until 1975, and then only in a concert version with most of Gilbert's dialog missing. There is a recording by the company but I've never encountered it before. On the basis of this recording, it's a mystery to me why 'The Grand Duke' has languished. It has most of the trappings of G&S's classics--humorous lyrics, patter songs, a complicated and ultimately nonsensical plot lampooning both the legal profession [as in 'Trial by Jury' and 'Iolanthe'] and the egoism in theatrical troupes [antedating by twenty-plus years the same sort of thing in the Prolog of Richard Strauss's 'Ariadne auf Naxos']. It has not one but two patter roles and even a Katisha-like battle-axe in the Baroness von Krakenfeldt. It has some of Sullivan's most infectious tunes and features some rather advanced, for him, orchestral effects. Its only drawback, as far as I can see, is that it is a bit long at 2+ hours, but in a recording that's not a drawback. This 2-CD production comes from the Ohio Light Opera, resident at the College of Wooster and with a long tradition of presenting operettas of all stripes, including many earlier productions of G&S's canon. According to the booklet notes the lengthy dialog has been lightly pruned; about fifteen minutes were excised. In a plot as complicated as this the absent dialog is probably not missed. The individual and group performances are all one could ask. Particularly outstanding are Oliver Henderson as the Grand Duke Rudolph; Ted Christopher as Ludwig, an actor; Nicholas Wuehrmann as the Notary; Grant Knox as the impresario, Ernest Dummkopf; Julie Wright as the Hungarian actress pretending to be English, Julia; and Sandra Ross as Lisa. Jami Rhodes is hilarious as the Baroness von Krakenfeldt (and has a terrific contralto to boot). Musical direction of the excellent orchestra (which from the picture in the booklet looks to be made up of students) is J. Lynn Thompson, the long-time maestro of the company. I won't try to synopsize the plot beyond this: A troupe of actors takes over the government of the fictional country of Pfennig-Halbpfennig via a strange and ancient law that allows a person (in this case, the REAL Grand Duke) to be 'statutorily' dead and replaced by an actor for 24 hours after a card-drawing duel. (Don't ask!) Complications ensue, romantic partners are sundered, greedy interfering relatives and litigants emerge but finally all is resolved to everyone's relief when matters return to 'normal.' Meanwhile there are the usual pattern of choruses, arias and ensembles.Among the musical treasures are the opening chorus, Ludwig's (and the chorus's) 'By the mystic regulation of our dark Association,' the first act Quintet 'About a century since,' Grand Duke Rudolph's hilarious hypochondriacal song, 'When you find you're a broken down critter' (which has some extraordinary orchestration depicting Ludwig's wooziness, nausea and confusion), the Act One finale, Lisa's 'So ends my dream,' the Prince's 'Take my advice.' There are, to be sure, some awkward lyrics--rhyming 'lowest' with 'gho-est,' and 'quiver' with 'diskiver' ('discover'). And there are reminiscences of earlier opera plots twists--death as a legal technicality as in 'The Mikado,' even that of a theatre troupe taking over the government as in 'Thespis.' Still, I enjoyed every minute of it.So, for you Savoyards out there who have never made the acquaintance of this poor straggling youngest offspring of comic opera's most famous couple, I'd strongly encourage you to make the Grand Duke's acquaintance. Heartily recommended.Scott Morrison"
An underrated part of the G&S canon
J Scott Morrison | 02/25/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"All I can say is it's about time The Grand Duke starts to get some recognition. I have the D'Oyly Carte version (available only in the box set of remastered CD's I think)that doesn't contain any of the dialogue. This recording does supply some (but not all)of the dialogue and makes it far easier to follow the plot. I personally think the operetta gets a bad rap as the "one that failed." To cut the long story short, this was Gilbert and Sullivan's last collaboration and the animosity between the two was so great by this time that neither wanted to make any cuts or revisions to the work to improve the opera's shortcomings. I think if Gilbert would have trimmed down some of the dialogue, and the two polished up some of the songs, the show would have had a greater success than only running for 123 performances. I don't know why audiences never took to the show as it's very funny and the music is outstanding. For all of his reluctance to admit it, Sullivan had found his niche in musical history by writing these comic operas/operettas/whatever you wish to call them. I prefer to think of them as "proto-musicals." In fact, the Grand Duke has many more attributes in common with our modern stage musical than the other G&S operas. Granted, the first act is entirely too long, but I've seen the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production in which they split the first act into two smaller acts without losing any of the original dialogue or music. Some say the Victorian audiences were appalled that the leading female role, whose character is an English actress visiting the German town where the opera set, was played by a Hungarian singer, Ilka von Palmay, with a thick European accent. This has set up a tradition where the Julia Jellicoe character speaks with a German accent, and all of the German characters have an English accent. I say the main problem is the plot: a statutory duel played with cards and not guns. Perhaps the romantic ideal of challenging others to a real duel was more palatable than the relatively benign and obviously non-violent duel involving who draws the higher card in the deck. But if you approach the play as a farce, it becomes funnier and the plot works. As many others have said, it's a shame the opera was never professionally revived, and only a few sporadic amateur productions have been performed in the hundred and eight years since its debut. Instantly hummable songs (such as the Prince of Monte Carlo's "Roulette Song") and some dialogue revisions make this a must-have for the G&S afficionado. I bet with the right director and producer, it would be a "Best Revival" on Broadway. Wait...I don't think it's ever been produced on Broadway. Would a new Broadway production qualify for Best NEW MUSICAL??? Wonder what the Tony Awards rules are...Concerning this recording, my only peeve is the quality of the recording. Perhaps its my copy but the mix is way too soft. I had to turn up the volume to hear it on my stereo and my Walkman. I thought the orchestra was top-notch and the singers in good form. Again the only drawback is the sound. I'm looking forward to the Ohio Light Opera's next production and recording."