This is an unusual
programme to come out of the stable of a BBC/Chandos partnership.
With their considerable reputation in promoting opera in English
it has always been baffling why Chandos’s interests have hitherto
been directed to English translations of continental works.
Let’s hope there will be continued interest in the current direction.
a sprinkling of good Trial by Jury recordings already
in the catalogue this coupling had to offer something special
to gain attention and in this it has had more success with
its version of Cox & Box. The Trial performance
is very strong with good singing and lively pace to match.
Maxwell’s aloof portrayal of the Learned Judge is a fresh
direction, which contrasts with the common-speak attitude
taken by D’Oyly Carte singers. It is a matter of taste for
the listener yet for some it may reduce the effectiveness
of contradictions lying behind certain lines in ‘When I
good friends’. His beautifully resonant baritone/bass
voice gives the character its important power.
with Trial is Cox & Box, a title which will
be the main reason for buying this disc since it is an early
version of the piece with some fresh material. Cox &
Box went through a number of changes and these need to
version usually recorded lasts some 30 minutes and comes from
a 1921 version edited by Rupert D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company
as a curtain-raiser. Over 35 minutes had been cut from the
original. The Maddison Morton play, ‘Box & Cox’ had lyrics
added by Burnand in 1866 which Sullivan then set to music.
The 65 minute piece was initially composed for solo piano
accompaniment, an authentic recording of which, complete with
dialogue is available (Divine Art 2-4104). Sullivan then orchestrated
the piece for a one day Adelphi benefit performance in 1867.
He later carried out minor revisions, with a new lullaby setting
for a run within the repertoire of London’s Gallery of Illustration
Chandos have done with Cox & Box is to go back
to much, but not all, of the original material:
get an extended opening song ‘Rataplan’, the reinstatement
of ‘That two are two, arithmetic explains’ (a normally
omitted first verse of ‘Now, coals is coals’) and extra
related material. Why the second version of the haunting lullaby,
‘Hush, is the bacon’ (1869) has been used I’m not sure
because it appears in all previous recordings. It could have
been presented as a bonus track if the producer thought so
much of it. A catchy ‘Sixes’ duet is missing and should
have been reinstated. I understand that studio time was running
out and a late decision was made to drop it, despite over
ten minutes space being unused on the CD — a golden opportunity
missed. However, the original finale has been included for
soloists are strong and in good form: all baritones are excellent
with clear diction and good expression. Neal Davies makes
a good Cox and is probably the best sub-principal Usher I
have heard. A highly pompous Counsel in Matthew Brook delivered
his part with aristocratic RADA vowels that give extra colour.
Rebecca Evans sings well but as the Plaintiff was a shade
mature for the slip of a girl she represents. The very fast
pace of ‘I love him’ [tr. 30] works well and amplifies
the emotions to match the lyrics. Both men and women’s choruses
supported well and it is good to hear the words in their singing.
balance between voices and orchestra is ideal and Hickox nicely
brings out the nuances of the score in Trial by Jury.
His pace from the opening is lively throughout and he manages
to shave half a minute off the later Decca Godfrey D’Oyly
Carte recording of 1964 [LK4579]. A benchmark set by Isidore
Godfrey in Decca’s D’Oyly Carte production of 1949 [LK 4001]
still holds good and for me is the best. It has a real tingle
factor in ‘A nice dilemma’ with its gabble of chorus
adding a truly chaotic excitement. The later Godfrey and Hickox
recordings don’t quite convey the energy Godfrey initially
achieved with such powerful crescendos.
& Box is
provided with sections of dialogue plus some linking commentary
by Donald Maxwell. I understand the reasons for the links
and they work much better than those supplied for The Zoo
(Decca, London 436 807-2). Good and detailed notes by David
Russell Hulme map the period of activity surrounding both
productions. There’s also the substantial libretto in English,
French and German.
in the notes of Gilbert appearing more than once in Trial
as ‘The Advocate’ must be an error. He appeared as the Associate,
only once I believe, in a Ellen Terry Jubilee Commemoration
in 1906 at Drury Lane Theatre, London.