The Ohio Light Opera Sorcerer (2005)
Ohio Light Opera
This is the fifth of Ohio Light Opera's G&S recordings. I was disappointed with the early ones, and none of the reviews to come my way suggest that the series has improved, so I am saving my money. However, I do have two reader-contributed reviews (below) and would be happy to include others.
Review by Daniel Florip
Since 1999 Ohio Light Opera has been making recordings of the lesser known Gilbert & Sullivan operas. Previously I have given generally unabashed negative reviews of OLO's Princess Ida, Utopia, Limited, The Grand Duke, and The Yeomen of the Guard, but nearly every objection falls to the ground with 2005's The Sorcerer.
Past recordings from Ohio Light Opera have been great disappointments: Each was billed as the first complete CD recording with dialogue of its respective opera, while Grand Duke and Yeomen both had several ludicrously disheartening and unexplainable cuts. Each previous recording was billed as "live," but in practice was recorded on stage without close microphones (complete with stage noise and shuffling and clomping of feet), without an audience, and with applause piped in at the end of each act. And each previous recording suffered from awful American accents in the dialogue, while "mid-Atlantic" or generic British accents are much more preferred in this genre.
However, The Sorcerer of 2005 completely remedies these problems. There are no cuts, and aside from a slight changed word of no consequence here and there it truly is the first complete professional recording of the opera with dialogue on CD (though there is one glaring problem which will be mentioned later). This recording is not billed as "live," and it has obviously been recorded with close miking in a proper studio, thus making the sound much cleaner and more vibrant and eliminating the annoying stage noise that had plagued the earlier recordings. There's also no hint whatsoever of American twang in the speech of the performers, and all sound very proper in their speaking roles.
Being that Ohio Light Opera is a professional summer repertory company within easy striking distance of several major metropolitan areas, the company should attract great talent for its casts. It has done so for this Sorcerer, and it's nice that OLO has finally gotten on the stick as far as raising the production values of its recordings in order that the talent of the cast may shine through. It's very unfortunate that this change in recording philosophy wasn't made earlier, as recordings of Princess Ida, Utopia, and Grand Duke as wonderful as this Sorcerer would have been great additions to the G&S catalogue.
The star of this recording is Ted Christopher in the role of John Wellington Wells. Bottom line, he's excellent. Christopher (who previously recorded Kings Gama and Paramount, Ludwig, and Jack Point) is full of sinister character, just as Wells should be played. His traversal of the patter song is authoritative, and his diction is immaculate. His delivery of "gibberings grim and ghastly" is priceless, and his "for I am engaged" in the Act Two duet is a thing to behold. The only drawback from this Mr. Wells is that he's slightly done as cockney, which is fine and interesting enough for the dialogue, but is a bit jarring at times during the music. In Christopher's defense however, this was likely a directorial decision, and for what it's worth this guy does cockney businessman far better than most I've heard.
Danielle McCormick is a wonderful Aline, combining the vocal agility of a Valerie Masterson with the beautifully clear tone of a Jean Hindmarsh. Likewise Grant Knox delivers an exceedingly fine Alexis, both in the singing and dialogue.
Both Boyd Mackus as Sir Marmaduke and James Mismas as Dr. Daly are fine singers and sound very pleasant, but I would like to have heard them in the opposite roles. Mackus's voice has the light and airy timbre of a baritone hero in the mold of Grosvenor, Strephon, or Giuseppe, and he would have been an excellent Daly on record. Mismas tends to punch his musical phrases in a manner quite unlike what one would expect from a vicar, and I think this suits Marmaduke far better than Daly. Mismas also elects the lower option whenever given a choice between two notes, and even must drop an octave once in the Act One finale. Though Marmaduke also has its share of higher passages, Mismas's heavier timbre would make him a better fit in the role of the elderly baronet.
Sandra Ross's Lady Sangazure is spot-on. This performer must have a remarkable range of abilities, as her Lisa of two years ago was an appropriately sweet ingénue, while her Sangazure is the very model of an aging grande dame. Her voice in this recording reminds me of Ann Drummond-Grant's.
The Constance of Kari Sorenson and Mrs. Partlet of Jessie Wright Martin are fine in all respects, and both make the opening recitative bubble along without getting bogged down.
Kevin Blickfeldt as the Notary has significant trouble keeping time, but let that pass in the minor role of the aging attorney.
A delightful surprise is the Hercules of young Jack Neill, who judging from his picture in the accompanying booklet can't be more than six years old!
Interestingly, 20 bars into the chorus "With heart and with voice" for the men, this recording gives us "with" tied over a dotted eighth and two thirty-second notes, with "and" taking the final two eighth notes of the measure. Upon checking I find that this is actually prescribed by the Kalmus vocal score, though I have never heard this measure sung in this fashion live or on record (usually "with" ties over to an additional eighth note, leaving "and" only half a beat). I must say I enjoy hearing this as marked in the Kalmus score; it seems to give much more power to the measure.
A particular joy on this recording is the Act Two duet for Mr. Wells and Lady Sangazure. This duet has never been a favorite of mine, but here it really sparkles; so full of character, yet so well sung. Very nice.
The orchestra sounds a bit thin in places for a studio recording (the accompanying booklet lists 24 players), but to my ear at least the playing is incredibly accurate and the orchestra is well recorded technically. The conducting of Steven Byess keeps the opera moving along nicely, but every so often the tempo drops for a measure or two in an odd place. The opera was directed for the stage by Steven Daigle, and Daigle's direction results in excellent delivery of the dialogue.
This recording however is not without its little negatives. The orchestration under the "Oh my adored one! / Beloved boy!" passage in Act One is missing, which is rather jarring. Likewise the chimes at the beginning of the opening chorus are gone, and we therefore lose a very pretty few measures of opening to the opera. As said before, the odd word is changed from the libretto, which is often expected from fallible performers on stage; none of the changes alter the meaning of the text, but when performers are in studio it is odd that these changes should exist on record. At appropriate times on the recording we hear chatter from the chorus as would be expected on stage, and though it is welcome, it is also a bit overdone. In addition, like all of the previous OLO G&S recordings, Act One is split over two discs. This is ridiculous in each instance, with compact discs having the capacity for 80 minutes of material. CD 1 times at 55 minutes and CD 2 at 51 minutes with the Act One finale appearing on CD 2. Inexcusable.
The glaring problem alluded to earlier comes at the very end of the recording. Throughout my listening to Act Two I began to think to myself that this truly must now be classified as the definitive recording of the opera. How close OLO came to getting it completely right! For some reason the OLO directors had need to lengthen the opera's finale. Near the end of the "rollicking bun" chorus, the gong sounds again, and Mr. Wells peeks out from hell to give us a short reprise of the refrain from "My name is John Wellington Wells" before going away again with another gong, whereupon the chorus ends the recording with a reprise of "If you'll marry me." Aside from being a completely pointless change (particularly on a recording purporting to be the "First Complete CD Recording" of the opera and therefore holding itself out as definitive) and disrespectful to the composer's and author's intentions for the end of the opera, this addition doesn't bother me too much. But though I would very much like to endorse this recording as definitive because of its vibrancy, superb singing, excellent dialogue, and technically fine recorded sound, unfortunately I cannot give such an endorsement due to the altered ending. The crown must remain with the 1966 D'Oyly Carte recording.
This two-disc set on the Albany/Troy label is listed by Amazon.com at $36.98. The cost is somewhat prohibitive, and I was able to find my copy "like new" from an Amazon Marketplace dealer at a significantly reduced price. The set is attractively packaged with several photographs from the stage production, and the accompanying booklet includes the libretto. I find it odd however to find several misprints of the lyrics which appear as titles of tracks on the back of the booklet.
But on the whole I must enthusiastically recommend this recording to any Gilbert & Sullivan listener as (aside from the ending) the best and most vibrant representation of the opera in both artistry and technical sound. With any luck Ohio Light Opera will continue in its new higher standard of recording and give us other welcome editions of under-recorded Gilbert & Sullivan works. I look forward to a future Ruddigore, Patience, or any of Sullivan's non-Gilbert operas.
Review by Daniel Osborn
For their 2005 Summer series, OLO recorded The Sorcerer. This operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan is in my top 5. It is always nice when an opera company records it with dialogue, as there aren't many Sorcerers around. Ted Christopher plays the immortal John Wellington Wells. I guess you can't say he is immortal because he dies at the end, or does he? In the finale of Act 2, he is brought back to sing a little snippet at the end. Boyd Mackus and Grant Knox do well as Sir Marmaduke and Alexis. Knox just takes my breath away in his aria in Act 1, and Mackus's characterization of talking like a woman is sure to make you laugh. The only thing that I find dissapointing here is that you have to put in CD 2 to hear the rest of Act 1 before getting to Act 2. Hopefully, one of these days they will get it right. They orchestra is conducted by Steven Byess, who I think could have sped up the tempi in some parts of the score. Other than that, I really enjoyed this recording because it is one of the few with full dialogue.