The Victor Light Opera Company Pinafore
(ca. 1942, Abridged)
Victor Light Opera Company & Orchestra
Victor — later, RCA Victor — was the U.S. distributor for the D'Oyly Carte 78rpm recordings issued in Britain on HMV. However, Victor also made their own recordings. In 1931, Victor issued substantial abridgements of The Mikado and Pirates on a type of "long-playing records" that never caught on. Victor also issued the HMV D'Oyly Carte Pinafore in that format.
This recording, issued during the war years, may well have been a response to the general austerity of that era, as it allowed listeners to get most of their favorite numbers from the opera on just four discs, as compared to nine for the complete recording. The latter also remained in the catalogue, however.
Bruce Miller also notes that, whereas many of the HMV sets had formerly been offered in three formats — manual, slide automatic, and drop automatic — in the 1943 catalogue only the drop automatics were listed. This recording, however, was in the manual format, which may have broadened its appeal to listeners using older equipment.
In 1950, RCA Victor issued abridged recordings of Pinafore and The Mikado with Al Goodman and his Orchestra, and the former clearly superseded the Victor Light Opera Pinafore, as it was no longer listed in the 1953 catalogue.
Here is Bruce's full review:
This set was evidently taken from RCA Victor's vaults and issued as stopgap measure early in World War II. At the time, the musicians' union had set up a recording ban which prohibited any union instrumental musicians from making recordings, and this strike lasted for months and months.
It is known that the USA recording companies had unissued recordings stockpiled for any number of reasons, which they issued during this period to provide a supply of "new" releases. I suspect this was one of them, because the recording technology sounds at least ten years older than the issue date suggests — the dynamic range and overall quality suggests the late 20's or early 30's, rather than the early 40's.
But the above is, for the moment, speculation.
The set itself is quite competently performed, with a uniformly strong set of professional "house" soloists, chorus and orchestra. The soloists are all quite capable singers and handle all of the music, even those passages with difficult tessituras, expertly. They also often roll their r's in a European style — normal for the time in American classical music circles, but not usually done by English singers then or now. They do manage to eschew the use of "Nah-vy", often heared on period American recordings of Pinafore, and sing "Nay-vy".
While I would hesitate to classify the solists as International caliber, the tenor (Fred Hufsmith) is a better singer than at least four D'Oyly Carte tenors who recorded the operas, and Crane Calder is not only an accurate and well trained singer, but simultaneously manages to convey a quite decent foppish, almost whimsical, characterization of Sir Joseph. Walter Preston, who plays the Captain, has (had) a high, light baritone, much as I suspect it was sung by the creator of the role, Rutland Barrington (but probably with more accurate pitch and perhaps a better caliber instrument). Even Paula Hemminghaus, who sings Hebe, is more than merely adequate vocally.
The orchestrations are not by any means Sullivan's originals. They are souped-up, probably in an attempt to appeal to "modern" tastes and probably also because the originals were unavailable. There is a thick overlay of brass throughout, recitatives with string accompaniment are turned into brass fanfares, and there is a constant added fussiness of woodwind details which add nothing but clutter, in the Broadway manner of the time.
The conductor, Emile Coté is surprisingly free with tempo and in the way he allows (or perhaps encourages) what we would consider excessive colla voce singing from the soloists (much of which was not suggested by Sullivan). I say "surprising", because this was issued smack in the middle of the Toscanini era and if it was actually recorded then, would have been an anachronism. This is another reason I believe this recording was made at least ten years before it was released.
There are some unusally fast tempi in isolated instances, which I will charitably attribute to the necessity of fitting the material onto a 10-inch 78rpm disc. The cuts also seem mandated by this necessity; there is only one verse of "Sorry her lot", for example, and there are a number of orchestral bridges which are cut or shortened, and less frequently a recitative is compressed.
While this is obviously not an ideal Pinafore, even among abdriged sets, it is extremely interesting in that it was conceived outside of the D'OC tradition of the time, and has a certain freshness because of that. It also has some fine singing as well and is not unpleasant to hear, if you can get around the brassy orchestral varnish and the jarring un-Sullivan-esque orchestral business.
Russ Karas, after reading Bruce's review, suggested: "I'm led to wonder if the nysterious four-disc Victor 78rpm Pinafore noted on your site, which Bruce Miller believes was recorded long before the 1942 issue date, might be a dubbing from an unreleased Program Transcription recording. That would certainly explain the sub-par sound quality, and the similar approximate half-hour duration of 12" 78s and two 10" Program Transcriptions is consistent with such a hypothesis." Bruce replied that this could well be, although he wondered why Victor didn't use the Civic Light Opera of New York City, which they did use for Pirates and Mikado.
Quentin Riggs also disagrees with Bruce's date for the recording:
I'm inclined to think Bruce Miller was mistaken when he speculated that the set was recorded during the late 1920s or early 1930s. The information in Jay Alden Edkins's entry in Who's Who in Music, which must have been supplied by Edkins himself, states that his first recordings were made in 1940.
Another thing — none of these singers were making records in 1930. At that time Victor had other contract artists who would have been engaged to make these recordings, if they had been made in 1930.
Bob Lang, who provided the details below, also mentioned that the recording was part of a series called "Victor Musical Smart Set."
Basses Kenneth Schon and Jay Alden Edkins are mentioned only on the penultimate side of the album ("He is an Englishman"). Thanks to Quentin Riggs for clarifying that Edkins sang Bobstay and Schon, Deadeye.
|May 1942||RCA Victor||78rpm||27833/6 in Album P-120|
|2000||Sounds on CD||CD||VGS218||Included in Stateside Savoyards|
|27833||A||1. We sail the ocean blue|
2. I'm called Little Buttercup (Mary Hopple)
|B||1. A maiden fair to see (Fred Hufsmith)|
2. My gallant crew (Walter Preston)
|27834||A||1. Sorry her lot (Lois Bennett)|
2. Over the bright blue sea
3. I am the monarch of the sea (Crane Calder, Paula Hemminghaus)
|B||1. When I was a lad (Crane Calder)|
2. A British tar
|27835||A||1. Fair moon to thee I sing (Walter Preston, Mary Hopple)|
2. Things are seldom what they seem (Walter Preston, Mary Hopple)
|B||1. A simple sailor lowly born (Lois Bennett)|
2. Bell trio (Lois Bennett, Walter Preston, Crane Calder)
|27836||A||1. Carefully on tiptoe stealing (Walter Preston)|
2. He is an Englishman (Kenneth Schon, Jay Alden Eakins, Fred Hufsmith)
|B||1. Farewell, my own (Lois Bennett, Fred Hufsmith)|
2. Baby farming song (Mary Hopple)
3. Oh joy, oh rapture