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Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900) and W. S. GILBERT (1836-1911)
The Gondoliers - comic opera with dialogue (1889)
The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company: The Duke of Plaza-Toro - John Reed (baritone); Luiz his attendant - Geoffrey Shovelton (tenor); Don Alhambra del Bolero - Kenneth Sandford (baritone); Marco Palmieri - Meston Reid (tenor); Giuseppe Palmieri - Michael Rayner (baritone); Antonio and Annibale - James Conroy-Ward (baritone); Francesco - Barry Clark (baritone); Giorgio - Michael Buchan (bass); The Duchess of Plaza-Toro - Lyndsie Holland (mezzo); Casilda - Julia Goss (soprano); Gianetta - Barbara Lilley (soprano); Tessa - Jane Metcalfe (mezzo); Fiametta - Glynis Prendergast (soprano); Vittoria - Caroline Baker (soprano); Giulia - Anne Eggleston (mezzo); Inez - Beti Lloyd-Jones (alto)
D'Oyly Carte Opera chorus/David Mackie
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Royston Nash
rec. Whitfield Street Studios, London, UK, 1977. DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 4820660 [125:23]

There are numerous re-releases of this popular Gilbert & Sullivan opera but this particular one, the last to be recorded by the original D'Oyly Carte Company, has never appeared on CD until now. All the soloists are singers who performed this opera nightly and the recording has many endearing qualities. This release, one notices, has been pressed by the Universal (Decca) company of Australia.

The cast includes veterans of the Company; John Reed, Kenneth Sandford, Beti Lloyd-Jones -all of whom are on good form. To me it is amazing that the company can be performing on weekday evenings and yet can go into a recording studio during daytime for three days sounding as fresh as they do. All singers are strong and Lyndsie Holland as the Duchess is, helpfully, more mezzo than contralto with a lovely timbre rarely heard in the part. When comparing John Reed and Kenneth Sandford with the earlier Decca recording of 1961 their strength of contribution here is as equally magnificent (and very similar) as the recording they made sixteen years earlier. There are nuances of character that come fresh to the ear. In this production Casilda is given a slight lisp for example sounding 'right' as 'wight'. Geoffrey Shovelton makes an excellent Luiz and in the duet "There was a time", both he and Casilda are superb. Gianetta at times has disappointing diction, especially noticeable in "Kind sir, you cannot have the heart".

The negative point about this recording is the quality of mixing by producer, Ray Horricks and engineer, Mike Ross-Trevor. Where is the famous 'Decca sound'? At times the soloists are a touch treble-heavy and the recording lacks bloom. It is hard to imagine that the full Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is actually playing because occasionally the sound is more reminiscent of a large pit orchestra. Occasionally, the top strings are unfairly recessed and in "With ducal pomp and ducal pride" there is a most intrusive kettle-drum that is harsh and probably not quite in tune. Apart from the orchestra, there has been an attempt to provide a 'sound stage' where characters deliver their speech as they would in a stage performance. Upstage speech however can be uncomfortably distant. This is particularly noticeable in one of Don Alhambra's Act I speeches. On the other hand the quartets are very nicely balanced and any latent problem doesn't affect the tracks where there is singing. There could have been something gained by remixing the master tapes for this CD release.

The D'Oyly Carte with its standing reputation of delivering with clear diction doesn't disappoint and the chorus, under David Mackie's direction, makes a strong contribution. Royston Nash thankfully takes the music at a good speed and follows Isidore Godfrey in this respect. His opening number to Act II, "Of happiness the very pith" is taken the briskest of all the recordings (1:50, compared with 1:57 (Godfrey) and a pedantic 2:12 (Sargent). The opening chorus and ensembles are full of energy as a result of the decent tempi. Nash introduces some sensitive emphasis on phrasing and only once or twice does he allow the wind sections to flood the strings - perhaps this is predictable for a conductor who used to be a military bandmaster before joining the company.

Raymond J Walker


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