The 2003 Ohio Light Opera Grand Duke

RudolphOliver Henderson
Ernest DummkopfGrant Knox
LudwigTed Christopher
Dr. TannhäuserNicholas Wuehrmann
Prince of
   Monte Carlo
Wade Woodward
HeraldJonathan Stinson
CostumierJustin Legris
Princess of
   Monte Carlo
Alice Carnes
   von Krakenfeldt
Jami Rhodes
Julia JellicoeJulie Wright
LisaSandra Ross
OlgaArlene Simmonds
GretchenLauren Beatty
BerthaBetha Curtis
ElsaCandice Coffey
MarthaBreanna Sheffler

Ohio Light Opera
Artistic Director: Stephen Daigle
Conductor: J. Lynn Thompson

Albany Records TROY631-32
Albany Records TROY631-32

This recording continued Ohio Light Opera's traversal of the G&S operas. Following on their reasonably successful Princess Ida (2000) and Utopia (2001), hopes were high for this new Grand Duke.

Unfortunately, hopes were dashed owing to a raft of disfiguring and utterly unnecessary cuts. The CD sleeve promises that this is the "First Complete Recording," but it is nothing of the kind. It is not even close. Ohio Light Opera starts with a disadvantage to other commercial recordings, due to the panoply of inappropriate accents displayed by their semi-pro American casts. But a truly complete Grand Duke would have been an important addition to the catalogue. Instead, it is an opportunity missed.

Ed Patterson posted this review to Savoynet:

Is it me or am I too critical? Any new recording of The Grand Duke should be heralded with "enthusiam big," and any Professional recording should be "even moreso." And although I cannot dismiss the Ohio Light Opera's effort, IMHO, it does not reach out or as far as their previous releases (Utopia —which is superb; and Princess Ida —which is excellent).

I am a Grand Duke afficianado, and I know the work well. I think that the music is well crafted and in some places unique in the Sullivan canon. I looked forward to energy and robustness (something that borders on excess in the GD score). The Ohio recording, however, is laid-back, lightly played, and the most American sounding (I'm from NJ, so I know).

There are some musical cuts, which rattled me (besides the unneccesary slice in the Baroness/Rudolph duet —which to my mind is not justifiable on musical terms) and half of "Big Bombs" (which half I'm not sure), but also a deep cut in the Brindisi (a moment to sparkle missed) and in the Bogie Duet (alas yes). I will say, the "On the outset I must mention" is complete —the only time I've heard it performed complete —and it is done well and is very funny.

More rattling are the cuts in dialog. In addition to the usual Ludwig cuts from the very beginning of the work, the very funny repartee (see the Seattle G&S Society's video performance) between the Duke and his entourage is cut; plus various important pieces which make the included dialogue confusing. I may be in the minority, but I strongly feel that when you begin to cut The Grand Duke, it unravels. Gilbert himself did that —and unravel it did. The work in its entirety stands quite well on its own when performed well.

I also found the references to Ilka von Palmay in the dialogue as clarification for the German accented Julia, an act that made the reference more obscure or an excuse for the Soprano lead to use a Hungarian accent instead of German one. The joke is what it is, whether modern audiences get it our not. Shades of Captain Shaw. I found having one of the Gabor sisters speak the dialog and zing der zongs darling most "upsetting for a sick room." Plus the dialog delivery was akin to the one and only recording of The Mountebanks. I bear that recording's dialog because it is the one and only recording. There are others of GD, so I'm less forgiving.

So, I am glad to include this new item in my collection, as I like many Savoyards must have it all…; and there are neatly played moments; but I am not on the "whole delighted," which is unlike me —the GD enthusiast. To my mind there are 2 excellent complete (nearly) Grand Dukes —The Seattle G&S' concept version —well sung, acted and, if you like the concept, "extremely clever"; and the UMGASS recording directed by our late great Savoy guiding light, Jim Drew. That Grand Duke is a marvel. Would that the professional Ohio recording was half as good as the UMGASS "amateurs," it would have been great.

And secondly, from Ian Bond:

I have to say that as a record of a live production of an operetta which (judging by the applause at the end of each of the acts) was enthusiastically received, this is an excellent recording. As a representation of Gilbert and Sullivan's Grand Duke it falls somewhat short. Such a pity, as many of the criticisms I had of the same company's Ida have been addressed, as they were in Utopia.

To the British ear the most unpalatable aspect of any recording of a G & S Opera made in America is the accent. In Ida this was a real problem, in Utopia it was almost conquered, here in Grand Duke it is almost non-existent although the word "can't" still defeats the performers.

The real gripe with this recording is the amount of totally unnecessary musical (and some of the dialogue) cuts, and the disc break —why oh why does the break come in the middle of the act one finale during the "Oh horror" sequence? With disc one timed at 63:27 and the second half of the finale timed at just 8:19, left on disc one this would have made a disc length of just 71:46. With some discs lasting for 80 or more these days this disc break is totally unacceptable. Even with a multi deck player, the playout of disc one and the playin of disc two time at 0:10 making it impossible to hear the finale without a break.

Ohio bill the opera as a "Romantic comic opera" and play it very much as they play Kalman or Straus. Why? This is Gilbert and Sullivan. It may not be their best work (I don't know anyone who would claim that it is), but a well played and paced Grand Duke can, and does, sparkle like champagne. Here we have a very good white wine but there is not a bubble in sight.

The cuts that are made are of the nature of 'all or nothing' and in some cases are unintelligent. We lose the second verse of "Strange the views," very sad as the first verse is excellently sung, not to mention the fact that having given the reason why duelling is unacceptable we are not given the Pfennig-Halbpfennigian solution.

The second verse of "As o'er our penny roll" is cut. This seems to be a tradition, but as the preceding dialogue has already been cut quite considerably, this reduces Rudolph's, and even more so the Baroness's roles to a minimum.

The act one finale begins very strangely with the "Tall snobs" verse of the Ludwig/Rudolph duet. It is quite common to cut this down by a verse but I have never heard the first ditched in preference to the second. And whilst on the subject of this finale, it was here that Ted Christopher's (Ludwig) habit of lapsing into speaking his lines very much in the vein of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady became annoyingly apparent. It was also with the "Jolly Jinks" sequence that the overall lack of pace in some of the numbers (but not all) became apparent.

Ludwig's Greek pronunciation in "At the outset" is dubious to say the least; Julia misses the lines "I have a rival. Frenzy thrilled I find you both together" at the beginning of her mad scene; "Come bumpers, aye, ever so many," "The Prince of Monte Carlo," and "We're rigged out in magnificent array," are all shorn of their second verses.

When one considers that the two discs of Utopia run for 75:35 and 71:16 respectively with hardly a cut in sight, one has to wonder why so many musical cuts have been made with the two Grand Duke discs running for 63:27 and 62:43, a full 20:41 short of the Utopia recording —more than enough time to include all the cut music and some of the dialogue as well.

All this said however, this is a pleasant recording, which, although it claims to be the "First Complete Recording", cannot perhaps be so considered by those who own Chris Webster's excellent reissue of the UMGASS 1973 recording, which is overall more complete. Even the D'Oyly Carte recording is musically more complete than this. But the atmosphere of a live theatre recording does pervade the new issue, and whilst I for one would not ditch either of the other two recordings, I will certainly listen to this again on occasion.

Issue History
2003 Albany Records CD TROY631/632