G&S Discography: The Electrical Era
The earliest gramophone recordings relied on a technique called acoustical recording. In the mid-twenties, a new technology came along called electrical recording, which converted electrical impulses transmitted from a microphone to the vibrations that drove the cutting needle. Singers no longer needed to shout into a horn to be heard, and this allowed far more realistic-sounding recordings to be made.
At the time, D'Oyly Carte had been in the midst of recording all the G&S operas using acoustical technology. All the more-popular operas, and even the relatively-unpopular Ruddigore (1924) and Princess Ida (1924), were on disc, with others slated to follow. However, with the advent of a new and vastly improved technology, plans to continue recording less-popular operas were put on the shelf, in lieu of a brand new series starting with the most popular opera, The Mikado.
Although they are not what we would consider "high fidelity" today, most of the electrical recordings present at least a tolerable sound quality once one's ear adjusts. By the time these were made, the practice of substituting stock recording artists for D'Oyly Carte stars was largely over, with the sad exception of the principal comic roles. Henry Lytton, whose career with the Company spanned fifty years, was now considered too old to record most of his roles. Of the electrical sets, he appeared only on Mikado, Gondoliers, Pinafore and Ida.
The period when these recordings were made has long been considered a "golden age" of the D'Oyly Carte Company, when it is thought to have employed some of its most talented singers and given some of its greatest performances. Whether this is truth or hype, these recordings are documents no serious collector should be without. Most of them are available in LP and/or CD re-issues.