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Sir Arthur SULLIVAN (1842–1900) & Sir William S. GILBERT (1836–1911)
The Mikado (1885) [90.48]
The Mikado – Owen Brannigan (bass)
Nanki-Poo – Richard Lewis (tenor)
Ko-Ko – Sir Geraint Evans (baritone)
Pooh-Bah – Ian Wallace (baritone)
Pish-Tush – John Cameron (baritone)
Yum-Yom – Elsie Morison (soprano)
Pitti-Sing – Marjorie Thomas (contralto)
Peep-Bo – Jeannette Sinclair (soprano)
Katisha – Monica Sinclair (contralto)
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Pro Arte Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
rec. No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, 5-6 May, 15 June, 3 August 1956. ADD
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 2134442 [54.26 + 36.22]
Experience Classicsonline

This was my first recording of The Mikado; bought in the 1970s. I was attracted by the operatic nature of the cast. Even now, one of the recording’s virtues is the fine array of voices which were assembled. The conductor, Malcolm Sargent, had a distinguished history as a conductor of Gilbert and Sullivan, having worked with the D’Oyly Carte company in the 1920s. He also recorded some of the operas with them at that time. He returned to the Savoy Operas in the 1950s when he recorded nine of them for EMI, all with singers from opera and oratorio rather than the D’Oyly Carte roots. Sargent also recorded Yeomen of the Guard and Princess Ida in the 1960s with the D’Oyly Carte people for Decca, with Elizabeth Harwood in the soprano parts.
As with other operas in the series, the cast consists of seasoned opera professionals rather than G&S specialists. This we get good voices and secure musical performances, but not everyone will be entirely happy with the results. It helps that the recording was able to take advantage of the superbly crisp diction prevalent among English singers during the 1950s.
Central to the performance are the trio of baritones, Sir Geraint Evans (Ko-Ko), Ian Wallace (Pooh-Bah) and John Cameron (Pish-Tush). These three provide strong performances, fine musical values and good characterisation so that you are rarely confused as to who is singing. Evans’s Ko-Ko is well sung but sounds a little too nice, a little to refined whereas surely Ko-Ko is the antithesis of this. By contrast Ian Wallace embodies his character completely, adding to the characterisation with his distinctively rotund voice; Wallace’s Poo-Bah sounds fat and self-important.
Act 1 places the young couple in the spot-light. Richard Lewis is beautifully lyrical as Nanki-Poo, singing his opening ballad with a nice feeling for the shape of Sullivan’s melodic line. He does, though, sound a little semi-detached from the drama though his performance is finely musical.
To my mind, Elsie Morison’s voice sounds a little to fluttery and soft-edged for Yum-Yum. She works well in tandem with Marjorie Thomas’s Pitti-Sing and Jeanette Sinclair’s Peep-Bo.
Things perk up considerably in Act 2 when Owen Brannigan and Monica Sinclair appear as the Mikado and Katisha. Brannigan and Sinclair really do sound as if they are appearing in a dramatic production and both characterise superbly with their voices; their opening duet is one of the highlights of the disc.
You would never mistake this disc for a recording arising out of live performances but musical values are high. The opera-house voices are well supported by the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus and the Pro Arte Orchestra. Sargent favours steady speeds but paces the opera well.
Undoubtedly this performance has been overtaken by other recordings. Frustratingly, none of the major sets seem to have recorded the opera complete with spoken dialogue. Probably the most recommendable recording would be Sir Charles Mackerras’s fine account, though this trims the opera slightly to fit on 1 disc, dropping the overture and some repeats. Even though the overture is not by Sullivan it is a loss and might make people think twice.
It has its drawbacks but this remains a disc that I would want on my shelves. Its charm lies in its strongly operatic cast who provide superb diction, high musical values and a wonderful opportunity to hear some fine English singers letting their hair down a little.
Robert Hugill


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