Recordings of Thespis
It all started, innocently enough, with a posting from one Albert Flower to Savoynet, the G&S-centric internet discussion group, that he had found a Thespis score among the papers he had inherited from his great-great uncle, Sir Arthur Sullivan. After an initial adrenalin rush, most people calmly looked at the posting date — April 1, 1997 — and figured out that this was a clever hoax (though one poor soul was actually taken in).
Later that day, the hoax's creators reported the "tragic death of Albert Flower," and the amusing little thread was over. But, a few days later, the Charles Schlotter took the joke a step further when he posted a Discography of recordings based on the score the putative Mr. Flower had described. The Scholotter Discography, "one of the most delightful pieces ever posted to Savoynet," was thoroughly entertaining and totally made-up.
Mr. Schlotter has kindly allowed me to post his Thespis Discography here, which is appropriate because it spoofs many of the descriptions found at this site, besides being hilarious in its own right. As Charles wittily put it, this web site "is probably the only place on cyberearth where people relish a good Amy Augarde joke."
|NR||1972 Fulham Light Operatic Society||Ster Dial|
The original score of Thespis does not survive, but that has not stopped many an enterprising Savoyard from either composing their own score or assembling one from existing Sullivan melodies. The Fulham Thespis—the only commercial recording of the opera—took the latter course. This recording is not likely to be encountered today, except by lucky chance in a second-hand record shop.
Many amateur companies have done recordings since then, and I am happy to list any others that may be brought to my attention, such as the Chicago Savoyaires' 2004 production (available here).
There are only three surviving items known to be from Thespis: "Climbing over rocky mountain," "Little maid of Arcadee," and the ballet. Many fans have identified tunes in the later operas that fit Thespis lyrics uncannily well, but it is mere supposition that they were borrowed from the earlier work.
- "Climbing over rocky mountain." There is no recording of "Climbing over..." in its Thespis form, aside from the complete recording listed above.
- "Little maid of Arcadee." This Thespis number survives because it was published as a detached number for the Victorian living room. Besides the complete recording listed above, Donald Adams sings on his 1971 recital disc, Donald Adams Sings Sullivan and Gilbert. Jeffrey Benton sings it on If Dougty Deeds.
The Ballet. For many years, "Climbing over rocky mountain" and "Little maid of Arcadee" were thought to be the only surviving movements that could definitely be ascribed to Thespis. Then, in 1990, Roderick Spencer and Selwyn Tillett of the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society astonished the G&S community with the discovery of the Thespis ballet music.
The story of how Spencer and Tillett found and identified the Thespis ballet music is too circuitous to describe in full. The story, in brief, is that while preparing a performing edition of Sullivan's 1864 ballet L'Ile Enchantée, several numbers were found in a different copyist's handwriting, and with a different pagination, from the rest of the work. Furthermore, two of them were captioned "Act 2," yet, L'Ile is not divided into acts. All three appeared to be scored for a theatre pit orchestra, rather than a ballet orchestra.
Clearly, the three numbers were from another Sullivan work, but which one? Internal evidence suggested Thespis, but the proof came when it was found that the handwriting and pagination of those numbers were consistent with the only surviving manuscript that undeniably came from Thespis, the score of "Climbing over rocky mountain" found in Sullivan's Pirates autograph (with Thespis words crossed out and Pirates words written in).
Gaps in the pagination of the three numbers suggested that two more numbers were needed to recreate the Thespis ballet in its entirety. Moreover, the quantity of missing pages suggested how long the remaining numbers had to be. Spencer and Tillett were, in fact, able to find two more numbers that, although not in the same handwriting, could in all probability be ascribed to the lost opera. Thus it was that these five numbers, certainly the most important Sullivan discovery of the 1990s, were brought to light and identified as the "Thespis Ballet Music."
There are two recordings, both claiming to be world premieres:
New D'Oyly Carte Opera Orchestra; John Pryce-Jones, conductor; 1991.
Issue History Date Label Format Number Comments 1991 TER CD CDTER2 1188 with Iolanthe
RTE Concert Orchestra, Dublin; Andrew Penny, conductor; 1992.
Issue History Date Label Format Number Comments 1992 Marco Polo CD 8.223460 with L'Ile Enchantée
- New D'Oyly Carte Opera Orchestra; John Pryce-Jones, conductor; 1991.