Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Gilbert & Sullivan Clip for Halloween

I love G & S.  Ever since "when I was a lad" of 10 or so I have been addicted to Gilbert & Sullivan.  I devoured Martyn Greene's book and I memorized all of the shows - and I mean all of them.  When I was 12 I could sing all of the patter songs with all of the words from memory - especially "When I was Awake" from "Iolanthe" and "To Sit in Solemn Silence..." from "Mikado."  (I can still do the latter - and fast too!!!).  Over the years alas, my memory has dimmed and I can no longer call them up, unless I am listening to recordings.  I have always been partial to "Iolanthe" and "Yeoman of the Guard" and "Ruddigore" (in that order).  A few years ago I had the opportunity to conduct a G & S opera for the late Opera Illinois.  We talked about doing "Sorcerer" but the general feeling was that it might not attract an audience - I am sure that was probably right.  So we did "Pinafore" and I loved every moment.  We had a wonderful cast, a small but hard-working and determined chorus and a smaller but also hard-working orchestra and I thought we put on a great show!  It was an honor and one of those life experiences for which I am so thankful.

I am therefore always interested in catching G & S wherever I can, and there are not many places to do this.  I have purchased some DVD's.  They are mixed.  There is a series of 3 (Iolanthe, Mikado and Pirates) from Stratford in Canada which are pretty good.  The casts are good for the most part (the singer who plays the Mikado in Mikado is worth the price of the set - he is terrific).  Maureen Forrester (may she rest in peace) is a wonderful Fairy Queen in Iolanthe.  But there is way too much updating and in particular the popular practice or re-orchestrating Sullivan's music is particularly in evidence here.  Gosh I hate that - I cannot find the words without resorting to language that would be inappropriate to describe how I feel about all of these re-orchestration efforts - none of them work.  Why!  Because Sir Arthur was a brilliant orchestrator, that's why and there is no need.  We don't need harps or electric guitars or boogie woogie beats to make the music work - it works on its own!  I understand that sometimes there is no money for an orchestra and so I have heard performances with piano and a couple instruments.  That is not what I am talking about - and yes, I extend this criticism to the broadway Pirates.  As much as I liked it and thought Kevin Klein was the a great Pirate King, the re-orchestration did not work!  For the Opera Illinois "Pinafore" we rented a reduced orchestration which, when I received it made me sick - so I completely re-worked it so that Sullivan's orchestration was restored. (Hint - a trombone does not sound like a bassoon and it is not effective to use clarinets to cover every part that you feel you need to cut out of the score!)

Other media - well there is a series from England of all of the G & S.  This series is not worth the money.  Most of the performances are very poor.  The "Yeoman of the Guard" is particularly poor - why?  Joel Gray never seems engaged as Jack Point and they have cut half of the score.  Amazingly they even cut Fairfax's two arias, along with the trio with Leonard Merrill and the wonderful duet "Rapture, Rapture / Doleful, Doleful."  Each of these performances has some famous personality in one of the leads.  Vincent Price plays Sir Despard in Ruddigore, for example.  But most of them don't seem to get G & S and so it doesn't work.  It would have been better to have engaged John Reed.  The only exception to this criticism is the "Princess Ida."  This is the only one of the entire set which stands out as an excellent performance.  Frank Gorshin (of Riddler fame) plays King Gama and he is terrific.  He totally gets it and is very good.  The rest of the cast is good.  The production has its quirks but by and large it is very good. 

By far the best G & S on DVD that I have found are the performances from Opera Australia.  In particular the "Patience" and the "Gondoliers" are excellent.  Anthony Warlow is terrific as Grosvenor as is Dennis Olson as Bunthorne (he is less effective as Don Alhambra) and I loved Heather Begg's Lady Jane - (she actually plays the String Bass - badly - but she plays it!).  In "Gondoliers" the stand outs for me were Fiona Maconaghie as Casilda and Graem Ewer as the Dutchess of Plaza-Toro.  He is great.  The one negative was the cut of the Gavotte from Act II - makes no sense to me.  Don't cut G & S!!!  I wish they would perform and release "Yeoman" and "Iolanthe."

This brings me to YouTube and Halloween.  I was perusing YouTube the other day and, "oh joy oh rapture" I found clips from "Ruddigore," "Yeoman" and "Princess Ida" from the Houston G & S Society.  Now most G & S clips on YouTube are either D'Oyly Carte recordings with a picture of Martyn Greene on the screen the whole time or well intentioned amateur productions - either community theater or high school.  And I would not say anything bad about them, they do their best.  So imagine my surprise to find clips from a professional company - a professional company that is good!  The clips which are posted are top notch - well sung, professional, the chorus is large, extremely well-trained and sounds sumptuous and the orchestra is full and outstanding (no 1 string player per part here).  Listen to the violins in the "Yeoman" clips - this is not a walk in the park and these are pros.  Anyway - below are a couple clips that I love.  The "Ruddigore" is in honor of Halloween.  The others are because I love them.  There are others.  There is a clip from "Princess Ida" of "This Helmet I suppose."  It is not posted here, but you can find it.  It is pretty well done until the singer begins to try to ornament.  Now, I don't mind this in theory.  My feeling is that "Princess Ida" is Sullivan's homage to Handel and the score is very Handelian in many places.  But this singer, try as he might, does not seem to know how to ornament.  So it doesn't really work.  Too bad he didn't coach this with a Baroque expert - it had potential.  Anyway - here are the clips - enjoy and Happy Halloween.

Tower Warders from "Yeoman"
See what I mean about the chorus and orchestra!!!

Here's another:
 "Yeoman" Act I finale

And Happy Halloween:
"Painted Emblems" through "When the Night Wind" from "Ruddigore"