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Sullivan: The Rose of Persia
Arthur Sullivan, Tom Higgins, Hanover Band
Sullivan: The Rose of Persia
Genre: Classical
 

      
   
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Period Band Shines in Sullivan Rarity
Nicholas A. Deutsch | New York, NY USA | 09/01/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is a welcome double first: the premiere professional recording of Sir Arthur Sullivan's last completed comic opera 'The Rose of Persia'(1899), with a libretto by Basil Hood, and the first recording of any of Sullivan's theater scores on 'period' instruments.
'The Rose of Persia' was the most successful of the operettas that Sullivan composed after ending his final, immortal collaboration with W.S. Gilbert. Hood's structure and style hew pretty close to the Gilbertian model, deliberately giving a wink to an audience that knew 'The Mikado' by making a Lord High Executioner a crucial figure. Hood's lyrics are sometimes quite clever, but too often overly so - it's hard to follow much of the wordplay when listening, and there's a dated vein of Victorian cuteness that surfaces now and then. (One appreciates once more how Gilbert stood head and shoulders above his rivals, both in his wordcraft and in his bracingly cynical view of human motivations!) Sullivan's score makes pleasant listening, although Hood's predictible lyric structures yield predictable rhythmic results; harmonically, this is of course 'late' Sullivan, closer at points (especially sentimental ones) to his 'serious' scores than most of the Savoy canon. On the whole, the score of 'The Rose of Persia' is far less disappointing than the last 2, sad G & S collaborations, 'Utopia, Limited' and 'The Grand Duke', in part because our expectations aren't set too high and in part because Sullivan seems to have enjoyed composing it. And there are occasional flashes of real inspiration, a few solos and choruses that stand out for melodic distinction. Too, the orchestration, as always with Sullivan, is a delight. Overall, it definitely feels like the end of an era (as it was of the century) but an honorable and tolerably pleasant one.
And the ace in this set's hand is The Hanover Band, which produces a splendid sound, generally more mellow than modern orchestras, ideal for this rather lyric score. They really come into their own in 6 Sullivan overtures, with 4 from Savoy operas - only one of which, 'The Yeomen of the Guard,' was actually composed completely by Sullivan - and most of all in the 'Overture di Ballo' and 'Macbeth,' which show what the composer could do when not restricted to the modest resources of a theater orchestra pit. (But what, pray tell, has happened to 'Iolanthe,' which apparently was a part of this set when originally released in the UK by the BBC Music Magazine? Odd to have jettisoned a genuine - and beautiful - Sullivan overture and retained Hamilton Clarke's notoriously poorly scored 'Mikado' potpourri.)
Conductor Tom Higgins must take his share of the credit, especially in the overtures; in 'The Rose of Persia' one would ideally like a slightly more assertive rhythmic attack in the 'up tempo' numbers. The singers make an excellent showing in the numerous ensembles, a less uniformly positive one in solos, although to be fair there are some fine voices, notably Richard Morrison as the Sultan, and Richard Suart (miscorrected to 'Stuart' throughout the accompanying material) brings his extensive patter experience to bear on the central male role of Hassan. One might hope for a lead soprano with a more pleasant top register, a lead tenor whose sound instincts were carried out with sweeter tone and more imaginative phrasing, and a contralto who could find more verbal point (and more humor) in her songs. But the overall feel of the recording is just fine, and should prove 'a source of innocent merriment' (who said that?) to many."
A Welcome Addition to the Sullivan Canon
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 09/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I bow in awe at the knowledge conveyed in the previous review by Nicholas Deutsch who clearly is a G&S expert as I am not. I'd suggest you read it first. Still, I must add my praise for this release if only because I, in my ignorance, did not even know of a Gilbertless comic opera 'The Rose of Persia' by Arthur Sullivan; I found it completely delightful. I completely agree with Mr Deutsch in his assessment of the contribution of librettist Basil Hood: it is in the Gilbertian mode but strains for effect all too often. Still there are some delightful bits, as when the company assembled try to come up with possible stories to tell the Sultan in the Act II Septet and sing of a Miss Muffet:

She spied a she-spider beside her!
The spider beside her espied her!
Beside herself she
Would undoubtedly be
Having spied a big spider beside her!

The musical direction by Tom Higgins, of whom I'd never heard, is pointed, lively, rhythmically alert and supportive of the singers in the manner of someone who has a great deal of operatic experience. The orchestra seems to breathe with the soloists and chorus.

The spoken dialog between the musical numbers is not recorded, but cpo provides an url of a German website that supplies not only the sung text but also the dialog: www.sullivan-forschung.de - scroll far down the page to the libretto in its original language (English).

The lagniappe on CD2 is six Sullivan overtures, all played with grace and style by The Hanover Band who sound better than ever.

If you like G&S, you'll love this issue.

Scott Morrison"
What Might have Been!
Aronne | 07/25/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This is definitely a "modified rapture" product. As I own only a highlights disc (which includes over half of The Rose of Persia), I will discuss that part of the performance only.

My biggest problem with the recording is the selection of Sally Harrison as Rose-in-Bloom. In her song, "Neath my lattice," she sings the original Ellen Beach Yaw cadenza, but sings it a minor third lower than Yaw did (A-flat rather than B). This would be fine if that enabled her to sing it. Her E-flat's near the end of the piece are truly painful. She is practically screaming her notes out. I don't know how it got issued. (Happily, there is a remedy to this dilemma. A fine singer posted her live recording of the work in it's original B major version on the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive.)

Aside from that, a number of the rest of the cast is only so-so, unhappily. This opera contains fine music, but needs to be recorded again. The tenor who sings Yussuf, Ivan Sharpe, sounds very inflexible at times, often expending great effort to get to his high notes (I am Tenor, hear me roar). Still, he does reach whenever he needs to. Marcia Bellamy's Dancing Sunbeam doesn't exactly sound like a contralto, but she sings well enough regardless.

Overall, soloists generally sound very strained on high notes. One oddity is that the lady's chorus has a bizarre flute-like timbre on higher notes. I don't know how to explain it. It sounds almost like they were being accompanied by an electric keyboard choir (which we know is not the case).

Despite all these negative comments, I still believe this to be a decent reading of Hood and Sullivan's work. It is the best we shall have for the foreseeable future. Others have mentioned Tom Higgins lively conducting, and on the whole, I agree: the orchestral contribution is fine."