This recording was undertaken in association with the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society. It is two medium priced CDs in a slim format case with an attractive booklet containing good notes by Alan Borthwick and a full libretto.
The light opera was written in 1892 when Sullivan was at the height of his powers, having recently written The Gondoliers and his romantic opera Ivanhoe. Sullivan was barely on speaking terms with Gilbert and had to collaborate with a different librettist Sydney Grundy (although the Gilbert & Sullivan combination was later to produce Utopia Ltd. And The Great [sic] Duke).
Grande’s plot is based on an actual historical incident, the elopement of Dorothy Vernon and her lover John Manners from Haddon Hall her ancestral home. The period had been changed by a century to involve Royalists and Puritans. The public reaction was mixed, the Sullivan music being highly praised but Grundy was not seen as a satisfactory replacement for Gilbert. It ran for 204 performances and was popular for several years but it was difficult to stage and is now seldom played.
The music is most impressive, full of good tunes and many unique touches to differentiate it form the G&S operas The Scottish numbers and orchestral bagpipe effects are hilarious; there is a storm scene which brings that of Rigoletto to mind; the brief appearance of the Marseillaise and Yankee Doodle Dandy are most unexpected. The use of the chorus is very effective with excellent choral writing. At times there is a slightly autumnal feel to the music which well reflects the romantic nature of the story, however a good selection of patter songs keeps the atmosphere light. The orchestration is perhaps fuller that many of the other Savoy operas with the brass more in evidence and there is the usual expressiveness of the woodwind.
The Prince Consort was formed in 1972 by a group of semi-professional musician as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. Later it was expanded and augmented in collaboration with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Edinburgh.
Th performance throughout is very professional. It is perhaps unfair to pick out particular singers, but I was especially impressed by the singing of Mary Timmons as Dorothy and by Ian Lawson as Rupert. The chorus is excellent and the orchestra plays well although the violins seem slightly undernourished in places. David Lyle conducts with style.
The recording is good, but it is important to play the music at a reasonably high volume as the sound has a rather distant feel when the discs are played softly.
It is a pleasure to see the recorded repertoire extended to such good effect and these discs can be recommended to all who like light opera.