The 1968 D'Oyly Carte Pirates

Major-General StanleyJohn Reed
Pirate KingDonald Adams
SamuelGeorge Cook
FredericPhilip Potter
Sergeant of PoliceOwen Brannigan
MabelValerie Masterson
EdithJean Allister
KatePauline Wales
IsabelSusan Maisey
RuthChristene Palmer

D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Isidore Godfrey

Recorded at Decca Studios, West Hampstead
4–8 December 1967

London OSA-1277
London OSA-1277
London 425 196-2
London 425 196-2
London 436 292-2
London 436 292-2
London Jubilee JL 42003
London Jubilee JL 42003
Decca K61K-22
Decca K61K-22

After the 1966 Sorcerer, the D'Oyly Carte Company had issued stereo recordings of all its operas, except for the little-known (at the time) Utopia, Limited and Grand Duke. This Pirates began a re-traversal of the canon, which was never finished due to the Company's budgetary problems and eventual closure. From this point forward, recordings also became less frequent.

Sadly, most of the recordings in this second stereo series failed to improve on the sets they were intended to replace. This Pirates was an exception. Not only does it include complete dialogue (which its 1957 predecessor had not done), but the excitement of the opera literally leaps off of the disc and into one's living room. This recording is one of the best D'Oyly Carte sets of all time, and certainly the best Pirates.

One suspects that another motivation for making this recording was to offer an alternative to the competing set on RCA with Martyn Green as the Major-General. This, too, may be the reason why the dialogue was included, something the Company had not done on any recording since 1959–61.

Owen Brannigan nearly steals the show as the Sergeant (a role he also played on the Sargent/EMI recording). For most of D'Oyly Carte history, the Sergeant was always played by owners of the "Pooh-Bah" parts, which in 1968 would have been Kenneth Sandford. But when Kenneth Sandford assumed those roles in 1957, he found the Sergeant uncomfortably low, and after a few years he relinquished the role. You can hear him sing it on the 1957 recording, made shortly after he joined the company.

The Sergeant is indeed the lowest of the roles created by Rutland Barrington (the original Pooh-Bah, among many others). Gilbert and Sullivan had not planned to offer Barrington a role in Pirates (his singing as the Captain in Pinafore disappointed them), and the role of the Sergeant was written for a true bass. Barrington managed to talk his way into the show, but that left him with a somewhat lower part than usual. Anyhow, by 1968 George Cook was singing the role on stage, not Sandford. Decca considered Cook a comprimario, and insisted he be replaced for the recording—hence Brannigan. (This was just one of numerous instances over the years when usual performer on stage was replaced in the recording studio.)

Decca 473 650-2
Decca 473 650-2

D'Oyly Carte's regular Sergeant, George Cook, was demoted to Samuel. Chris Webster points out that the June 1968 issue of The Savoyard announced Alan Styler as Samuel, and this was Styler's regular stage role at the time. Cook may have recorded the role, not as a consolation prize after Brannigan took the Sergeant, but because Styler was unavailable. Styler did continue with the Company until retiring for health reasons on 1st June 1968. Ironically, his final performance was as Samuel.

J. Donald Smith points out a problem with the 1970s re-issue on London's Jubilee label: "One needs to be careful about this particular version… Decca was apparently being frugal at the time and used left-over copies of the 1957 Pirates libretto instead of printing a new one. They changed the libretto but left intact the 1958 cast list. The cast list is correct on the record labels, and of course the recording has the dialog."

Issue History
1968 Decca Mono LP LK 4925/6  
Stereo LP SKL 4925/6
SKLA 4925/6 Australian issue
Cassette K61K-22  
London Stereo LP OSA 1277
Cassette OSA5-1277
4-track reel-to-reel LOD-90156
Late 1960s Decca Stereo LP 9BB 156/61 Six-LP set that also included the 1960 Pinafore and the 1960 Iolanthe
1970s Decca Cassette KSKC 4925/6 Australian issue
ca. 1979 Decca Cassette K61K 22 Australian issue
ca. 1980 World Record Club Stereo LP S/5464-5  
1981 London Jubilee Stereo LP JL 42003
Cassette JL5 42003
1984 Decca Stereo LP 414 286-1 Digitally Remastered
Cassette 414 286-4
1990 London CD 425 196-2
1993 London CD 436 292-2 Highlights
Decca Headline CD 436 148-2
2003 Decca CD 473 650-2  
2003 Decca CD 473 631-2 24-CD set including the complete Decca G&S series on CD (13 G&S operas, plus Cox and Box and The Zoo).