The Ohio Light Opera Princess Ida (2000)

King HildebrandDaniel Neer
HilarionJohn Bernard
CyrilChristopher Swanson
FlorianBradley Wilson
King GamaTed Christopher
AracPeter Castaldi
GuronJohn-Arthur Miller
ScynthiusLucas Meachum
Princess IdaJulie Wright
Lady BlancheElaine Fox
Lady PsycheMelanie Melcher
MelissaSandra Piques Eddy
SacharissaJessie Wright Martin
ChloeHege Marie Korshavn
AdaLauren Pastorek

Ohio Light Opera
Conductor: J. Lynn Thompson

Newport Classics 85675
Newport Classics 85675

Ohio Light Opera presents a season of operetta and G&S in Wooster, Ohio, every summer. They had published several of their productions on CD, but never, until now, G&S. They are a semi-professional company, and one cannot expect from them the same polish that one would expect from D'Oyly Carte.

As the first commercial recording of Princess Ida since the D'Oyly Carte stereo set in 1965, and with all the dialogue to boot, this recording is welcome. Perhaps this most English of operas needed a professional English cast to bring it fully to life. Nevertheless, judging from the reviews I've received, the recording is a worthwhile addition to the G&S catalogue. The recording was also very favorably received in Opera News.

There are a number of shorter reader comments, followed by a full review by James McCarthy below.

Mel Moratti wrote:

Although touted as a live recording, this must have been recorded at rehearsals, as there is no audience presence. This recording contains all the dialogue and also includes "Come, mighty must," which is not on the D'Oyly Carte [stereo] recording.

Generally, it's a great all-around cast. Elaine Fox, as Lady Blanche, needs more power; and Peter Castaldi, as Arac, struggles in his Act III song. Ted Christopher, as King Gama, could be a bit more aggressive. Christopher Swanson, as Cyril, is a delight in his "Kiss me" song. The dialogue does grow tiresome on repeated listenings.

Daniel Florip wrote:

This is a fairly good recording of Princess Ida, but Julie Wright as the Princess is absolutely horrible. She keeps the rating down to three stars. Her singing is much too forced and too operatic for light opera, and her dialogue is much too slow. The passion in her dialogue is forced and is a big turn-off. This recording includes all the dialogue, but as separate tracks, so it can be programmed out.

Melanie Melcher as Lady Psyche and John Bernard as Hilarion are superb and sing especially well. Daniel Neer is an average Hildebrand, as is Ted Christopher an average Gama (he sounds much too pleasant). Elaine Fox is a very sub-par Lady Blanche.

The tempi of many songs is slower than I would have liked, but appropriately fast where it needs to be. Personally, I would have preferred less stacatto singing (as in the opening number and in the three brothers' first two trios) and more legato, but this seems to be the unfortunate trend these days.

Some high points: The Act II quintet, "A lady fair," "This helmet I suppose," "Whene'er I spoke sarcastic joke," and the dialog in the luncheon scene when Cyril gets drunk and also Cyril's kissing song. Don't buy this just because it's got recorded dialog—you'll be disappointed. The blank verse is taken much too slowly by all the characters to be anything more than a bore.

[I would say, contra Dan's opinion, that Julie Wright sings Ida better than most other interpreters on record. While I am not enthusiastic about the dialogue, I would rate her singing as a highlight of the set. —ed.]

Jamie Moffat wrote:

I must say I'm very pleased with the performance. Any reservations amount to a quibble rather than genuine criticism.

Casting is generally good. I like Julie Wright's Ida very much. It's vocally very strong, with secure intonation and just the right dramatic soprano timbre. Perhaps a little more humour would have helped, but on the whole it's streets ahead of Victoria Sladen and a marked improvement on Muriel Dickson. Melanie Melcher gives us a nice, wry "Lady Fair of Lineage High," Sandra Piques Eddy is better suited to Melissa than Valerie Masterson on the Decca recording, and if Elaine Fox sounds too young for Lady Blanche, she does much to vindicate "Come Mighty Must."

The men are also good. Hildebrand and Gama are cast with more vocally secure singers than is the custom. Ted Christopher actually sings Gama's music — personally I never cared for either Lytton or Reed in the role. Peter Castaldi's Arac is good but does not efface memories of Donald Adams and Darrell Fancourt.

The conducting is mercifully free of the sluggish reverence of Sargent's recording. J. Lynn Thompson makes things canter along, though there are odd lapses; "We may remark, though nothing can dismay us" is taken far too slowly in the second act finale. Recorded sound is excellent, the spoken dialogue a bonus (with only the odd jarring American accent.) The choral singing is sometimes a bit scrappy, unavoidable in a live recording.

All that's missing is the polish that D'Oyly Carte brought to their recordings, and no doubt will again when they return to this piece. This new set is not cheap, but its worth having.

Ray Walker wrote:

The recording is certainly as good as the celebrated Ohio Arcadians and comes complete with dialogue and the previously missing "Come, Mighty Must" number. One cannot fault the orchestra, which plays at the lively Isidore Godfrey speed. The brass are handled sensitively, and the strings sing effortlessly. Of special appeal is the fact that the good miking allows one to hear more of Sullivan's orchestration (masked by the reverberation of the Decca Sargent recording and basic miking of the Godfrey recording). The recording is first-class. The soloists are strong, particularly Ida. Some may have a slight reservations of Hilarion's soft tenor voice with its Oldhamesque intonation. But the recording to me bounces along with a breath of fresh air. Much is made of the comedy between the cross-dressing males, which is probably more as Gilbert intended. The chorus is particularly strong, and the diction is clearer than DOC throughout.

After reading Ray's comments, Chris Webster added:

I'd just like to reiterate the comments that Ray has made concerning the new Ida recording. I found this new Ida an absolute delight, especially for the orchestration, as Ray has pointed out. In fact, Ray has hit the nail on the head with many of his points, although I would strongly disagree that the tenor is in any way 'Oldhamesque', except to say that he is quite mannered, but this is in a style all of his own and not at all like Oldham. At first I couldn't put my finger on just what it was, but after some study I think the problem is that he has a certain way of pronouncing his e's that alter the tone of his voice, and make it slightly odd and certainly individual. It would be easy to listen to a passage that has a lot of 'e' sounds and get a very different idea of his voice than one would from a passage in which the e's are less prominent, and the voice that does not have the e 'defect' is a most appealing one, but even his other sound has a certain appeal, although I think that this is a fault that the singer could correct with good training.

A while back I argued strongly against the need for a newer recording of Ida, with various arguments based mainly on the excellence of the existing recordings, however this American recording is able to offer things that are not present in these recordings, and although it is perhaps not in the same class as the DC recordings, it is nevertheless a set that I have no hesitation in strongly recommending. I have already enjoyed several listenings and will no doubt enjoy a good many more over the coming months and beyond. There is a real sense of fun in this recording, but this is not at the expense of the music, which is superbly executed.

Review by James McCarthy

I auditioned this lovely opera with increasing feelings of gratitude towards the Ohio Light Opera and its talented young artists. Its weaknesses notwithstanding, this performance made me aware of how important youthful gaiety is in G&S, and especially so in Princess Ida where the dramatic premise about female education is rather limp. If played with confident coltish assurance, this dated plot device can be passed off as youthful naivety, giving the piece an endearing quality, which coupled with its light romantic style and sensational score, makes it a rewarding experience. The principal stumbling block is Gilbert's blank verse, lifted from his earlier play and modelled on Tennyson's poem, The Princess. It's usually best to forget about traditional G&S delivery and turn to the bard for instruction, as the Americans have done here. In this first published recording of the opera with dialogue, the results are remarkably successful. I also found the burred American accents helped, distancing it from the more arch readings I have spent my life listening to.

There are several complete recordings of the music. The two pre WW2 versions [1924 and 1932] are well regarded by buffs. The 1955 Decca/D'Oyly Carte mono recording was decently conducted by Isidore Godfrey, but had an uneven cast, including a painfully insecure Ida sung by Victoria Sladen and an awful Cyril from Leonard Osborn. Sir Malcolm Sargent directed the 1965 Decca recording which promised much. However it was an unsatisfactory performance in which Elizabeth Harwood sounded too matronly as Ida and Sargent dragged his musical heels. His dreariness nearly brought the exhilarating Act 2 Quintet to a standstill, an unforgivable sin in my book. There have been a few recent recordings, one unpublished as part of a compete set of the operas recorded by the BBC with Mackerras conducting which really should be issued on CD. Now comes this advanced student production from Ohio, where a full flush of youthful enthusiasms for women's education, thwarted love and dressing up in drag are well carried by the cast. John Bernard's Hilarion is charming, but vocally inadequate and Ted Christopher's Gama shows a darker aspect of a role that can often be tiresomely effete. I also liked Elaine Fox's Lady Blanche, showing that Gilbert's dragon ladies do not have to be presented as dyspeptic headmistresses and I found Julie Wright's Ida more attuned to the part than her more professional competition. As Lady Blanche, who in the opera is dedicated to the study of never ending alternatives may have argued, Sladen could have been the better singer, Harwood is the better singer and Wright might be.

The tempi under J. Lynn Thompson are excellent, and the music carefully directed. Too carefully at times for me, for I wanted more gusto in the rambunctious sections of the work. The orchestra played with such good taste I was crying out for a few good wacks on the bass drum from time to time. That said Thompson gets an infectious swing into the score and he has taken due care to ensure the vocal parts are as clear as the talents at his disposal allow.

Let me be clear about this, this is not the recording we have all been waiting for. The opera has been unlucky in this regard for there is no such thing as the perfect Ida on record; yet. (BBC, take note!). However, if youthful joie de vivre accounts for anything, this performance has much to recommend it. Technically, the recording is good and the notes are informative.

Courtesy: International Record Review

Issue History
Feb. 15, 2000 Newport Classic CD 85675