The Recordings of Princess Ida

Comparative Review by Michael Walters

The 1965 Decca Recording

The last D'Oyly Carte recording, published in 1967, has Sargent conducting once again, and the result is infinitely superior to that of Godfrey. The recording quality is far better, and for orchestra sound this is the best of the four. For some reason best known to himself, however, Sargent brought in his protege, the young Elizabeth Harwood, to sing the title role, and she is only slightly less objectionable than Victoria Sladen. She has the same wobble, and though lacking the sibilants, has a very forward and harsh tone. Her rendering of the music is matter of fact, with no involvement, and leaves me utterly cold.

To be fair to Harwood, of course, she subsequently became a fine opera singer, but this recording represents an early phase of her career that would have been better forgotten. It would have been more interesting to have heard Jean Hindmarsh, who had just played the role, or Ann Hood, who was playing the part at the time but on the record is relegated to the role of Lady Psyche, which she sings well but with rather veiled voice. (On this recording the line "while Darwinian man though well behaved" is given as "while a man however well behaved").

Philip Potter sings Hilarion with charm and tremendous feeling, but his style and voice production are distinctly suspect in places. He has not quite got Oldham's charisma, though he comes pretty near to it, and is not as accomplished a musician as Round, though he has more charm.

David Palmer is a hard-voiced Cyril who yells his top notes. The Kissing Song is competent but undistinguished. Incidentally the song ends on a chord and the melodrama leading into "Oh joy" is omitted. No other recording does this. However Palmer manages "Madam your words so wise" better than anyone else, actually burping during the verse. Jeffrey Skitch sings Florian with a lot more expression than on the earlier recording.

Hildebrand is one of Kenneth Sandford's least happy efforts, both on stage and on record; he is said to have admitted he did not like the part. John Reed follows the tradition set by Pratt of interpreting Gama as a snarling, spitting imp, a quite wrong interpretation. He also overacts, barking the music rather than singing it, and squeaks some of the top notes. Of all Reed's parts, this was the least successful. Valerie Masterson is an undistinguished Melissa, Christine Palmer a nasal Blanche, and Donald Adams sings Arac well, but with a lot of sibilants.

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