The 1955 D'Oyly Carte Princess Ida

King HildebrandFisher Morgan
HilarionThomas Round
CyrilLeonard Osborn
FlorianJeffrey Skitch
King GamaPeter Pratt
AracDonald Adams
GuronJohn Banks
ScynthiusTrevor Hills
Princess IdaVictoria Sladen
Lady BlancheAnn Drummond-Grant
Lady PsycheMuriel Harding
MelissaBeryl Dixon
SacharissaCynthia Morey

D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
Conductor: Isidore Godfrey

Richmond RS-62011
Richmond RS-62011

During the winter of 1940-41, the scenery and costumes for The Sorcerer, H.M.S. Pinafore, Princess Ida and Ruddigore were destroyed by the German blitzkrieg. For the rest of the war, the Company toured a reduced repertory of only six or seven operas. Naturally, the Pinafore scenery was rebuilt at the earliest opportunity after the war was over, and it returned to the repertory in August, 1947. Ruddigore received a new production on November 1, 1949. Ida's return to the repertory came on September 27, 1954.

Whereas Ida had been a repertory staple before the war, its appearances after the 1955 revival were rather less frequent. The Company tended to treat the opera as a special event and often sought guest artists to play the title role. One such artist was soprano Victoria Sladen, whose only D'Oyly Carte appearances were in this one role, during the last three months of 1954. It was during that period that this recording was made. One would expect a guest artist to bring special talents to the role that the Company's own sopranos lacked, but Sladen's recording of Ida is enormously disappointing and seriously mars the contributions of an otherwise excellent cast.

Decca LK 4092/3
Decca LK 4092/3
Decca DPA 3053/54
Decca DPA 3053/54
London XLL 1200-1
London XLL 1200-1
Decca LKA 4128
Decca LKA 4128

Tom Shepard has described Sladen's singing as having "an apparent elderly quality," while Judy Neale adds:

If you think she sounds "elderly" on the recording, you should have seen her on the stage—she actually looked young enough, but was stiff and wooden and stood out from the rest of the company like a sore thumb. She actually was a ringer from one of the opera companies, not a member of the DOC company. She looked as though Central Casting had sent over someone to play Brunhilde instead of Ida—all she needed was a winged helmet with long braids to complete the picture.

Tom Shepard adds:

Victoria Sladen was totally miscast, but for the rest, I think the '55 Ida is pretty fine, and I'm still a sucker for Pratt, and for Leonard Osborn as Cyril. It's got the absolutely most wonderful "The woman of the wisest wit," and I wish it were available on CD.

Bruce I. Miller adds:

I agree wtih Tom about the '55 Ida recording; it's one of the best of the early D'Oyly Carte LPs as to musical standards. The chorus and orchestra have improved significantly from those of the late '40s/early '50s. It gives Peter Pratt the opportunity to display his best work, in the role for which he was, perhaps, best suited. And the conducting of Isidore Godfrey (an unjustly underrated music director) is more effective than Sargent's was to be ten years later. (The item which bothered me the most about the latter's work was the second act quintet, "The woman of the wisest wit," which had the life and energy of it effectively sucked out by his tempo and approach.) And I found Fisher Morgan's work as Hildebrand both unique and quite wonderful in its way. Too bad that Decca was still using that acoustically tight studio and miking, which tended to stifle things, but overall it's a performance which has much going for it.

To Michael Walters's comments, Bruce had this reply:

I respectfully dissent from Michael's assessment of Godfrey's conducting (which he calls "plodding.") My reaction is precisely the opposite, especially comparing it to the 60's Sargeant recording, which really does plod at times. Perhaps Michael is reacting more to the tightness and tubbiness of the recording technique than Godfrey's tempi. Godfrey's tempos are, in fact, quite brisk, and on the whole I find his overall interpretation to be eminently stage worthy.

Michael also neglected to mention that, on this recording, the closing chorus of the first act is sung by the men only, although Sullivan wrote it for a mixed chorus. I suspect this had something to do with a perhaps brief intermission between the first and second acts, and using men only allowed the women more time for a costume change.

Michael mentions that he does not understand why the orchestral bridges are missing in "Now hearken to my strict command" on the 1955 recording. This probably was done because the director decided to cut the traditional step-kick dance in that production.

Sounds on CD VGS 235
Sounds on CD VGS 235

The recording also excludes "Come, mighty must," and the reprise of "Toward the Empyrean heights." The former was also omitted in stage performances of the time. The latter no doubt was performed, but was left off of the recording since it was merely a repeat. King Gama's Act II song was left off of Decca's simulated stereo re-issue from the 1970s. Chris Webster explained how this occurred:

It turns out that when Decca issued an LP in the 60s of patter songs from the Green and Pratt recordings, instead of just dubbing from the master tapes, they created the master for the compilation LP by snipping the songs they wanted to use from the master tapes, then creating a submaster from the newly spiced tape and then taking this apart and splicing the songs back were they came from — except that they forgot to put the Pratt song back. Can you believe this?? I was told this recently by someone who had been a friend of Peter Pratt. Evidently Pratt had been furious with Decca when he found out that one of his songs had been omitted from the DPA Ida, and this is the explanation he was given.

This was the last of D'Oyly Carte's post-war monaural recordings, a series made betwen 1949 and 1955. After just three years' break, the Company would start the cycle over again with new series of stereo recordings.

During the 1950's, Decca issued highlights of this recording (side 2), coupled with highlights of the 1949 Pirates (side 1). The items included were as follows:

  1. Search Throughout The Panorama
  2. Now Hearken To My Strict Command
  3. If You Give Me Your Attention
  4. P'raps If You Address The Lady
  5. Gently, Gently, Evidently
  6. The Woman Of The Wisest Wit
  7. Whene'er I Spoke
  8. This Helmet, I Suppose
  9. With joy Abiding
Issue History
1955 Decca Mono LP LK 4092/3  
LKA 4092/3 Australian issue
London Mono LP LL 1200/1
XLL 1200/1
1956-7 Decca Mono LP LK 4128 Ida and Pirates highlights. Note that LKA 4128 was an Australian issue.
LKA 4128
London Mono LP LL 1243
ca. 1956-7 London Mono LP A-4218  
Late '50s London Mono LP 5170 Ida and Pirates highlights
1960s? Richmond Mono LP RS 62011  
1979 Decca Stereo LP
DPA 3053/54 Some copies of the U.K. issue were missing Gama's Act III song. The last two listed are from Australian/New Zealand, and they have the song. The simulated stereo versions were not released in the U.S., and the cassette version seems to have appeared only in Australia/NZ.
ca. 1980 Decca Viva Stereo LP
AUS 1016/7
Cassette KAUS 1016/7
2002 Sounds on CD CD VGS 235  
2007 AVID CD AMSC898 Includes Nelson Eddy: Patter Songs from Gilbert and Sullivan