an opera, which by all normal criteria
should have fallen totally out of popularity.
This is because it is a parody of The
Aesthetic Movement, of which there is
no modern equivalent - despite perhaps
a few resonances in ‘Flower Power’.
However the book shows Gilbert at his
best and Sullivan responded with gusto.
The plot is full of unexpected turns
and developments with an ending which
promises happiness to all the cast apart
from Bunthorne himself. A strong feature
is the brilliant military music that
has a fine swagger. The song "A
magnet hung in a hardware shop"
is one of Sullivan’s most famous. The
opera contains some of Sullivan’s most
brilliant woodwind scoring. For example
the quintet in Act 2, "If Sapir
I chose to marry", has exciting
syncopations in the accompaniment combined
with a spectacular high clarinet counterpoint.
This is also repeated in the finale.
There have been three
post-war recordings made and this is
the earliest having been recorded in
mono in 1951. The most recent recording
was made by EMI in 1962 with a star
cast including George Baker, John Cameron
and Monica Sinclair with the Glyndebourne
Chorus and the Pro Arte Orchestra conducted
by Sir Malcolm Sargent. On paper, this
should have swept the board. Unfortunately
this was recorded not long before Sargent’s
death and the lack of vigour in the
performance was perhaps due to ill health
on his part. Sadly despite its merits
that Sargent-EMI version cannot be recommended.
The other recording
appeared two years before Sargent’s.
It is again by the D’Oyly Carte Company
with a good cast including John Reed,
Kenneth Sandford and Gillian Knight.
It is recorded in stereo, complete with
dialogue on a double CD set, conducted
by the estimable Isidore Godfrey, by
The present version
is just one from a comprehensive series
of 1950s Decca recordings reissued by
Naxos. Martin Green, a veteran of the
D’Oyly Carte Company who sings in good
voice and radiates character, plays
the part of Bunthorne, the most ambiguous
of Gilbertian parts. Darrell Fancourt
joined D’Oyly Carte in 1920 and here
plays Colonel Calverly with the excellent
vocal projection and clear diction for
which he was renowned. Margaret Mitchell
sings the part of Patience with good
presence. Ellan Halman has an interesting
contralto voice and makes an arresting
The D’Oyly Carte Company
in its recorded performances maintained
surprisingly consistent standards for
over half a century and the overall
vocal performances make it difficult
to choose between the 1951 Naxos and
1960 Decca recordings; although, if
pressed, I would, by a small margin,
plump for the earlier version. However
there is no doubt that the later version
gains considerably from the smoother
stereo sound. The deciding factor in
choosing between these two probably
lies in whether or not you want the
dialogue. If, like me, you find dialogue
irritating for repeated listening you
would choose the Naxos. This also has
the advantage of being considerably
cheaper. The Naxos notes are excellent.