The Prince Consort Beauty Stone (1983)
The Gilbert and Sullivan Society
The Consort Orchestra
Pearl GEMS 0190
My first acquaintance with The Beauty Stone came at the Fourth International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton, when Generally G&S presented the opera in David Eden's revised version, which largely discards the original dialogue but preserves all of Sullivan's score. The Buxton Opera House was under half-full that day, but those who took the trouble were treated to a pleasant surprise. Despite its sorry reputation, The Beauty Stone is one of Sullivan's most advanced scores, one that never ceases to surprise and to impress.
I also purchased Generally G&S's video, and I'm afraid it gave me exactly the opposite impression. Sitting through this dire production was not a love, but a duty! Between the horrible videography and seldom-in-tune orchestral playing, I found that it was impossible to get any favorable impression of Sullivan's score. Only my fond memories of the Buxton performance kept me going.
Well, the Prince Consort recording (not new, but new to me via CD releases) confirms that the impression I got in Buxton was no passing fancy. While this recording falls short of the full professional performance that the opera deserves, the opera's glories shine resplendent. Particularly in the solos and duets, Sullivan expresses characterization through music to a greater degree than he did with Gilbert. The large choral pieces seem to have inspired him less; at times, he sinks into Utopia-style vapidity.
Under David Lyle, the Consort Orchestra is highly inconsistent. At times, they sound like a fully professional band, but at others they can barely keep together. One hears the occasional cough in the background, confirming that this is a live recording—which, perhaps, is why Lyle didn't go back and fix these woolly moments.
Among the soloists, Scott Cooper's Guntram and Ivor Klayman's Simon are the most impressive of the men. Richard Bourjo has all the heft for the role of the Devil, but he tends to swallow his consonants. It's a pity, as I imagine most people will be listening without a score or libretto. Among the women, highest honours go to Mary Timmons (Laine) and Margaret Aronson (Saida).
Overall, for listeners looking to expand their knowledge of Sullivan's lesser-known operas, this recording presents a more than adequate picture of a score that deserves far more recognition.
Arthur Robinson added:
I agree about The Beauty Stone. The music is spectacular. I have not yet warmed to Ivanhoe (perhaps I need to listen to it more), but I consider Yeomen and Beauty Stone Sullivan's supreme achievemments of a "serious" nature (of his theatrical works; I've only heard The Golden Legend once and can't judge it). Having read the libretto, I understand why The Beauty Stone failed, but the music deserves to be heard.
Ian Bond, however, is a less enthusiastic. Here is his review:
The charge by many critics in the past that Sullivan's contribution to The Beauty Stone was 'characterless' is sadly not dispelled by this recording. The tempi (as with the same company's Rose of Persia and Emerald Isle) are lethargic in the extreme and do not help the cause of the work at all.
Having recently seen three performances of The Beauty Stone in David Eden's new version as a Mystery Play where dialogue is restricted to a minimum and the music is allowed, at last, to 'speak' for itself, I would regard this as one of Sullivan's most important 'operatic' (as opposed to comic opera) scores, and far more stageworthy in this version than Ivanhoe is ever likely to be.
|1999||Sounds on CD||CD||VGS 206|