G&S Discography: The Digital Era

The New Sadler's Wells Recordings

The New Sadler's Wells Opera Company was formed at about the time the old D'Oyly Carte closed, and it had many of the same goals, except that its scope was not limited to Gilbert and Sullivan. Indeed, some have speculated that people in power wanted the D'Oyly Carte to go belly-up, to make room for a new entity.

The New Sadler's Wells did not last very long, but they lasted long enough to make extremely important recordings of Pinafore and Ruddigore. Pinafore includes the first recording of the final dialogue performed as a recitative (as was done on the first night) and provides three alternative versions of the Act II finale. Ruddigore restores the opera to a first-night state and scrapes away a century of unauthorized accretions to Sullivan's score. Both recordings are vital, the Ruddigore indispensable.

The New D'Oyly Carte Recordings

After the New D'Oyly Carte Opera Company got its feet on the ground, it resumed active recording in the tradition of its predecessor. Since the New D'Oyly Carte is an ad-hoc group, constantly disbanding and reforming itself with each new season, the Company has not developed the stable of stars that the old Company had. As a consequence, none of these recordings is likely to supplant the better efforts of the old Company in fans' hearts and minds. However, they are all solidly recorded, and several include bonus material that make them compelling purchases indeed.

The New D'Oyly Carte's first two recordings were The Mikado and Pirates, both in 1990. A strong Iolanthe followed in 1991, including Strephon's deleted aria "Fold your flapping wings" and the recently re-discovered Thespis ballet music.

The Gondoliers (1991) included the first recording of Sullivan's "Overture di Ballo" with all of the traditional cuts opened. Yeomen (1993) included Meryll's and Shadbolt's deleted arias, the third and fourth Yeomen's couplets, and an alternate version of Fairfax's "Is life a boon" in 6/8 time. Patience (1995) included the Duke of Dunstable's "lost" song.

After a five-year hiatus, the D'Oyly Carte came back in 2000 with H.M.S. Pinafore. The recording includes all the dialogue (including the "lost" Hebe dialogue), plus Captain Corcoran's re-discovered ballad, "Reflect, my child."

The Mackerras/Telarc Recordings

Like Sir Malcolm Sargent a generation ago, Sir Charles Mackerras is a mainstream classical conductor who takes his Gilbert and Sullivan very seriously. In 1950, when the copyrights on Sullivan's music expired, Mackerras created the well-known Pineapple Poll ballet, which was given its premiere by the Sadler's Wells Ballet just after the music entered the public domain. In later years, he occasionally guested with the old D'Oyly Carte before its 1982 closure.

In the last several years, Mackerras has embarked on a series of recordings very similar to Sargent's, with grand opera singers taking most of the leading roles. To my taste, Mackerras has done an even better job than his esteemed predecessor, in part because he has engaged comedians with unimpeachable G&S credentials, Richard Suart and Donald Adams, in several of the key roles. The series has been the butt of some grumbling because two of the recordings omitted the overture so that an entire opera could fit on just one CD, but this strikes me as a sensible compromise.

The series began, as all G&S series seem to do, with The Mikado in 1992 and was followed by Pirates in 1993. Both of these are on a single disc and omit the overture. Pinafore (1994) also fits on a single disc and is musically complete. The last entry in the series is a two-disc set of Yeomen and Trial, issued in 1995.

Mackerras has said that he wishes to continue the series, with Patience, Iolanthe, and Gondoliers tops on his priority list. However, classical recordings these days require financial sponsorship, and so far no sponsor has been found (Welsh National Opera having lost its taste for producing G&S).

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