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ClassicsOnline Home » GILBERT AND SULLIVAN (The Best of)
Whilst William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were both respected in their own right and during their own time, Gilbert as a playwright and Sullivan as a composer, their collaboration under the management of D’Oyly Carte proved an inspired combination in the late Victorian period. Gilbert’s fantastical plots together with Sullivan’s inventive settings have come to epitomise much of what we consider to be British culture in the 19th century. Indeed, so great was this institution that The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company is still performing the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan today, and so are many other companies, both amateur and professional. These excerpts, from 1948–1954, are recorded as they were originally intended, in the great tradition of The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company.
William Schwenk Gilbert (1836–1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900)
The Best of Gilbert and Sullivan
The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
The very first collaboration between William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan was in 1871 with Thespis (now lost), written for the Gaiety Theatre as part of their Christmas programme. At one of the 62 performances received by this work, Richard D'Oyly Carte spotted the pair's combined potential and in 1875, in his position as the manager of the Royalty Theatre, he commissioned them both to write a one act opera, to be performed alongside Offenbach 's La Périchole. This was to become Trial by Jury.
On the strength of this work he was able to attract several investors and formed 'The Comedy Opera Company', opening at the Opera Comique Theatre in November 1877 with The Sorcerer. With the success of this work and, the later, H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) 'The Comedy Opera Company' flourished. In July 1879, upon the expiry of the investors' contracts, the ownership passed entirely to Carte and, thus, the name was changed to 'Mr R. D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company'. By 1881, after the success of The Pirates of Penzance (1880), the enterprise had become so lucrative, Carte was able to build his own theatre, The Savoy, to where Patience (1881) was re-located half way through its run.
The next ten years brought continued success to 'The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company' with the Savoy Operas Iolanthe (1882), Princess Ida (1884), The Mikado (1885), Ruddigore (1887), The Yeomen of the Guard (1888) and The Gondoliers (1889). Unfortunately the close and constant collaboration between composer and librettist finally took its toll in 1891 with an argument sparked by a carpet, but encompassing the full extent of the differences between Gilbert and Sullivan. This marked the beginning of the end and they only produced two more works, Utopia Limited (1893) and The Grand Duke (1896), neither of which ever became firm favourites nor was particularly successful.
Upon the death of Richard D'Oyly Carte in 1901 'The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company' passed to Richard's second wife, Helen, who ran the company until her death in 1913. From here ownership fell to Richard's son, Rupert, who managed the company through both world wars, staging tours and revivals before his death in 1948. At this point the company was passed to the family's sole surviving member, Bridget, who oversaw the recordings featured on this disc, and helped the company through the difficult transition, and temporary collapse in 1982, following expiration of the copyright in 1961, fifty years after Gilbert's death. It was Bridget's legacy that allowed the restoration of 'The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company' in 1988.
This collection is compiled from the series of recordings made by 'The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company' between 1948 and 1954, under the baton of Isidore Godfrey, musical director for the company from 1929 to 1968. All but the last two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas commissioned by Carte can be found in this series, available in their entirety on Naxos Historical.
H.M.S. Pinafore (1878)
H.M.S. Pinafore was a great success when it opened in May 1878, receiving 571 performances. This was no small feat, particularly as it parodied one of nineteenth-century Britain 's favourite institutions: the Royal Navy. This is epitomised in Sir Joseph's witty number "When I was a lad", where he imparts the advice 'stick close to your desks, and never go to sea, and someday you'll be ruler of the Queen's Navy'.
In a similar vein to The Sorcerer, H.M.S. Pinafore also deals with the issue of love across class boundaries. At the very beginning we are introduced to Little Buttercup, a bumboat woman who boards the Pinafore to sell her rather haphazard collection of stock. During her time onboard both the Captain and Sir Joseph fall for her; she reciprocates only the Captain, who unfortunately cannot follow his heart because of his station.
Concurrently, Ralph, a lowly able seaman, has fallen for Josephine, the Captain's daughter. They resolve this by attempting to elope, but their plan is undone when Dick Deadeye informs the Captain. Little Buttercup then reveals she fostered both the Captain and Ralph and accidentally exchanged them at birth. This solves everything as the former Captain is free to marry Little Buttercup and Ralph, who is now the Captain, may marry Josephine.
Performed by: D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and the New Promenade Orchestra
Dick Deadeye - Darrell Fancourt (bass-baritone)
Hebe - Joan Gillingham (mezzo-soprano)
Sir Joseph Porter - Martyn Green (baritone)
Little Buttercup - Ella Halman (mezzo-soprano)
Josephine - Muriel Harding (soprano)
Ralph Rackstraw - Leonard Osborn (tenor)
Captain Corcoran - Leslie Rands (baritone)
Recorded London, 1948
Patience was written as a satire of the popular Aesthetic Movement which swept London in the 1870s and 1880s. When it was written in 1881 Gilbert feared the theme would be quickly outlived, but its appeal, as one of the great Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, has never waned.
The story tells of two poets, one 'fleshy' (Bunthorne) and one 'idyllic' (Grosvenor), who both compete for the affections of Patience. Patience is under the strong belief that true love comes from selflessness and so, even though she loves Grosvenor she agrees to marry Bunthorne as she finds him revolting.
The other maidens, originally attached to the Colonel and his dragoons, then all fall for Grosvenor and pursue him relentlessly much to Bunthorne's distaste, borne out of jealousy. Determined to beat Grosvenor at his own game, Bunthorne resolves to cajole him into dressing down to look like an everyday man, and thus redirect the maiden's interests. Grosvenor is thoroughly sick of being followed everywhere by this obsessive throng and agrees immediately.
Bunthorne, believing he has won, is now ecstatic, and therefore no longer requires Patience's selfless love. She is now free to break off the agreement and is content to marry Grosvenor, as he is now an everyday man. The maidens return to the dragoons and all but Bunthorne are happily married.
Performed by: D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Lady Angela - Yvonne Dean (soprano)
Lady Saphir - Ann Drummond-Grant (contralto)
Colonel Calvery - Darrell Fancourt (bass-baritone)
Reginald Bunthorne - Martyn Green (baritone)
Patience - Margaret Mitchell (soprano)
Lt. Duke of Dunstable - Neville Griffiths (tenor)
Lady Jane - Ella Halman (mezzo-soprano)
Major Murgatroyd - Peter Pratt (baritone)
Archibald Grosvenor - Alan Styler (bass)
Recorded London, 1951
The Sorcerer (1877)
The first operetta to be produced within the new organisation founded by D'Oyly Carte, The Sorcerer received its first performance in November 1877.
A sorcerer, who introduces himself in the patter-song, "My name is John Wellington Wells", is contracted by Alexis, a member of the upper class, to create a love philtre; Alexis wishes to see love cross the class barrier. He serves this to the villagers and it is such a great success that he and his fiancée, Aline, drink the philtre to ensure their future together. This unfortunately goes awry when Aline spots the local vicar first and falls for him instead. Mr. Wells reveals that the only way to undo these effects is to sacrifice himself or Alexis, at which point the issue is put to the popular vote, which Mr. Wells loses, whereupon he promptly disappears into the ground.
Performed by: D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and the New Symphony Orchestra
John Wellington Wells - Peter Pratt (baritone)
Recorded London, July 1953
Ruddigore utilised theatrical melodrama to ridicule the contemporary obsession with etiquette and the supernatural.
The Baronets of Ruddigore are cursed to commit one crime each day, or else suffer an inconceivably horrid death. Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, rightful heir to the position of baronet, has avoided his birthright by pretending he is dead and taking on the alias Robin Oakapple. Instead Sir Despard Murgatroyd, his younger brother, has been obligated to accept this singular honour, even though he is really a good person. As Robin, Sir Ruthven has fallen in love with the prettiest maid in the village, Rose Maybud; unfortunately, he is far too shy to make an advance.
It is revealed that Robin is in fact Sir Ruthven and he is obliged to take up his position as Baronet of Ruddigore. He is, however, unable to fulfil his crime quota and his ancestors come to life through the paintings in the manor and make their objections clear. Sir Ruthven uses the logic that avoiding committing a crime in his position is tantamount to suicide and this, being a crime in itself, means the curse cannot fail to be fulfilled, and, therefore, all his ancestors died in vain; thus Rose returns to marry Sir Ruthven.
Mad Margaret - Ann Drummond-Grant (contralto)
Sir Roderic Murgatroyd - Darrell Fancourt (bass-baritone)
Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd / Robin Oakapple - Martyn Green (baritone)
Dame Hannah - Ella Halman (mezzo-soprano)
Rose Maybud - Margaret Mitchell (soprano)
Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddigore - Richard Watson (bass)
Recorded London, July and August 1950
Princess Ida (1884)
Princess Ida opened at the beginning of 1884 during the period when Gilbert and Sullivan were at their most affluent. It is generally accepted as a brilliant work, both lyrically and musically, but was somewhat dwarfed by both its forerunners and successors each in its time. The operetta was designed to mock contemporary concern with women's education.
Princess Ida, daughter of King Gama (a disagreeable old man), is betrothed to Prince Hilarion. However, she is studying at the entirely female establishment in Castle Adamant and refuses to marry. On discovering this, Hilarion's father, King Hildebrand, imprisons King Gama, together with his sons, and sends Hilarion to infiltrate the institution and convince the Princess otherwise.
Their infiltration is successful and the Princess eventually relents when King Hildebrand arrives and threatens to destroy the castle and hang Ida's father and brothers. After all, she has fallen in love with Hilarion anyway.
King Gama - Peter Pratt (baritone)
Recorded London, late 1954
The Gondoliers (1889)
This was the last great achievement by Gilbert and Sullivan before their relationship was irrevocably altered by the famous 'carpet quarrel' in 1891. Unfortunately the pair would, never again, reach the same lofty heights.
The gondoliers and brothers Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri, both married at the beginning of the operetta to Gianetta and Tessa respectively, are informed by the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro that one of them is heir to the Kingdom of Barataria. The heir was placed in Venice by the Grand Inquisitor, Don Alhambra, to protect him from a coup while he was very young. Unfortunately, no one can tell which brother is the heir except his foster mother, Inez, also mother to Luiz, the attendant to the Duke of Plaza-Toro; Luiz is sent to fetch her.
In the meantime, both gondoliers leave for Barataria to rule together until further notice. At this point it is revealed to them and their wives that one is now, unwittingly, a bigamist, as the heir was married to the Duke of Plaza-Toro's daughter, Casilda, before he was hidden. Gianetta and Tessa are naturally upset by all this, not to mention Casilda who really loves Luiz. All is put right, however, upon the arrival of Inez who reveals that she switched the heir, her foster child, with her own son to protect him and thus, Luiz is not her son, but the heir to Barataria and the husband of Casilda. All parties agree this is a very satisfactory outcome.
Tessa - Yvonne Dean (soprano)
Gianetta - Muriel Harding (soprano)
Casilda - Margaret Mitchell (soprano)
Marco Palmieri - Leonard Osborn (tenor)
Giuseppe Palmieri - Alan Styler (bass)
Recorded London, March 1950
Iolanthe was written to lampoon the House of Lords. The half-fairy, Strephon, loves Phyllis, but requires the blessing of Phyllis's guardian, the Lord Chancellor, in order to marry her. The entire House of Lords, including the Lord Chancellor, is enamoured with Phyllis and so, naturally, the union is not granted.
Iolanthe is Strephon's mother and, as she is a fairy, does not look a day over seventeen. 25 years before the setting of the operetta, Iolanthe committed the capital offence of marrying a mortal (hence Strephon) and was only reprieved when she gave up her husband. Phyllis, however, is unaware of this, and assumes Iolanthe and Strephon are involved when she sees them together. Believing Strephon has betrayed her, Phyllis agrees to marry one of the peers.
In revenge, Iolanthe casts a spell forcing the Lords to pass any law Strephon chooses. In doing this each fairy meets and falls in love with a peer; each condemning herself. However, the Lord Chancellor suggests the fairies avoid their fate by inserting the word 'don't' into the fairy law, thus commuting the death sentence and forcing the Queen of the Fairies to marry a mortal herself! The fairies are then able to marry the peers and it is revealed that the Lord Chancellor is in fact Iolanthe's husband; they are reunited and Phyllis is free to marry Strephon. The mortals are transformed into fairies and all fly away leaving the House of Lords to be filled not by birth, but by intelligence.
The Lord Chancellor - Martyn Green (baritone)
Private Willis - Fisher Morgan (bass-baritone)
Earl Tolloller - Leonard Osborn (tenor)
Earl of Mountararat - Eric Thornton (baritone)
Trial by Jury (1875)
This forty-minute one-act operetta was the first work written by Gilbert and Sullivan for Richard D'Oyly Carte (following their success with Thespis ). It opened in March 1875 and has been a long running favourite ever since.
The story tells of a breech of promise of marriage case between Angelina and Edwin. The Jury is clearly very biased towards Angelina from the outset, and the Judge presiding is a hypocrite, having only risen to his position by marrying an attorney's 'elderly ugly daughter'. Angelina bemoans her love for Edwin, in an attempt to gain the greatest damages attainable and the entire matter is resolved by the Judge offering to marry Angelina.
Clearly a parody of the judicial system, Trial by Jury has its origins in Gilbert's brief practice of law, which he discarded for his writing.
The Learned Judge - Richard Watson (bass)
Recorded London, July 1949
The Pirates of Penzance (1880)
After the great success of H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance opened first in New York December 1879, followed shortly by London in April 1880.
Frederic, a man of noble birth, who was intended to be a pilot, not a pirate, has just completed his pirate apprenticeship (a misunderstanding on the part of his nanny, Ruth, who is now also a member of the crew). Being a man of his word he has waited for his release from the apprenticeship to break the news that he intends to use this new freedom to destroy his comrades in arms. The pirates are most understanding, being genial and accommodating chaps with a great empathy for orphans, having no parents themselves. During this time the Major General's daughters have crept up on the gang, and Frederic, having never seen another woman besides his nanny, makes advances towards all, only to be accepted by one, Mabel. The Major General arrives to find each one of his daughters attached to a different pirate and promptly forbids all potential unions, winning the pirates' empathy and subsequent cooperation by lying that he too is an orphan.
Frederic assembles a squad of policemen to take on the pirates, but is dissuaded by Ruth and the Pirate King who remind him that he is only really five years old, having been born on 29 February, and is therefore still an apprentice to the pirates. Being a man of duty he rejoins the gang whilst Mabel vows to wait (until 1940 when he will be of age). Now, once again a pirate, Frederic feels obliged to reveal that the Major General is not an orphan and the pirates resolve to attack and win back his daughters. This, however, is thwarted by the police squad. The pirates are eventually saved by Ruth who reveals that each pirate is really a nobleman gone wrong; they marry the General's daughters and join the House of Lords.
Edith - Joan Gillingham (mezzo-soprano)
Major-General Stanley - Martyn Green (baritone)
Mabel - Muriel Harding (soprano)
Samuel - Donald Harris (bass)
Frederic - Leonard Osborn (tenor)
Sergeant of Police - Richard Watson (bass)
Kate - Joyce Wright (mezzo-soprano)
Recorded London, July and August 1949
The Yeomen of the Guard (1888)
The Yeomen of the Guard is a satire of Queen Victoria 's own personal guard. The work is unusual when compared to other Gilbertian plot lines as there is no dramatic twist of topsy-turvy logic which facilitates the happiness of all parties.
The operetta is set during the Shakespearean period. Colonel Fairfax is sentenced to death for sorcery and is held in The Tower awaiting his execution. He has been accused of this false crime by his cousin, Sir Clarence Plotwhistle, who stands to inherit Fairfax 's entire estate upon his death. To avoid the estate falling to his accuser, Fairfax asks a guard to find him a wife – as he will be dead within the hour and has a huge fortune this is not a difficult task; Elsie Maynard, fiancée of the jester Jack Point, rises to the occasion and the ceremony takes place with the bride blindfolded.
Unfortunately for Point, Fairfax escapes with the help of two loyal admirers, Sergeant Meryll of the Yeomen of the Guard and his daughter, Phoebe. Posing as Leonard, Meryll's son, Fairfax woos his new wife, Elsie, to test her fidelity; having never seen her husband she is completely unaware of Leonard's real identity. Meanwhile, Point inveigles the Head Gaoler, Wilfred, to stage the death of Fairfax, who cannot be found, thus releasing Elsie from the marriage contract. By this point, however, Elsie has fallen for Leonard Meryll, who, fortunately for her, is also her husband, Fairfax. A pardon for Fairfax arrives leaving one happily married couple with the other central characters rather perturbed by their own matches and Point without a wife at all.
Phoebe Meryll - Ann Drummond-Grant (contralto)
Jack Point - Martyn Green (baritone)
Elsie Maynard - Muriel Harding (soprano)
Colonel Fairfax - Leonard Osborn (tenor)
Recorded London, July 1950
The Mikado (1885)
The Mikado 's initial run lasted 672 performances, a worldrecord at the time and one that remained unbroken by Gilbert and Sullivan operettas until the revival of The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway in 1981. Capitalising on the international vogue for Japanese culture at the time, The Mikado is one of the pair's finest works.
The son of the Mikado of Japan disguises himself as a wandering minstrel by the name of Nanki-Poo and travels to the Town of Titipu to avoid marrying Katisha, to whom he is betrothed. His reasons are two-fold, Katisha is hideous, and he is in love with Yum-Yum. Since Nanki-Poo's original meeting with Yum-Yum, her fiancée, Ko-Ko, has been sentenced to death for flirting, thus Nanki-Poo has returned to pursue her.
Unfortunately Ko-Ko has avoided death by becoming Lord High Executioner, on the understanding that he find someone else to execute. When Nanki-Poo discovers he cannot marry Yum-Yum he decides to take his own life; Ko-Ko capitalises on this opportunity by offering to behead Nanki-Poo in his official capacity, reasoning that the final outcome will be the same in both cases. Nanki-Poo agrees on the condition that he marries Yum-Yum first and Ko-Ko reluctantly agrees. It is discovered, however, that when a man is executed, his wife is buried alive and in order to avoid this disaster, Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah pretend the deed has already taken place. On discovering that Ko-Ko has in fact executed his only son, the Mikado sentences Ko- Ko and his conspirators to death. He reneges, however, when Ko-Ko falls in love with, and marries, Katisha, allowing Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum to come out of hiding and reuniting the Mikado with his son.
The Mikado - Darrell Fancourt (bass-baritone)
Pitti-Sing - Joan Gillingham (mezzo-soprano)
Ko-Ko - Martyn Green (baritone)
Yum-Yum - Margaret Mitchell (soprano)
Nanki-Poo - Leonard Osborn (tenor)
Pooh-Bah - Richard Watson (bass)
Peep-Bo - Joyce Wright (mezzo-soprano)
Notes by Alexander Hargreaves
The libretto for all tracks is available online in PDF format at www.naxos.com/libretti/111311.htm
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GILBERT AND SULLIVAN (The Best of)