Reader's Digest Best of Gilbert and Sullivan (1963)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Beecham Choral Society
James Walker, conductor

Recorded at
Walthamstow Town Hall

19–20 & 25–27 February 1963
Reader's Digest Album Cover
LP Album Cover
Reader's Digest Gondoliers Sleeve
Reader's Digest Gondoliers Sleeve
(Five others like this, not shown.)

In February, 1963, Reader's Digest recorded a three-disc boxed set containing highlights of six G&S operas. The casts were stellar, including Donald Adams and Kenneth Sandford, but not in the parts for which they were best known, since their recording contracts with Decca prohibited them from recording their usual roles on a competing label. Thus, Adams recorded Ko-Ko, the Sergeant of Police, Private Willis, Don Alhambra and Bunthorne. Sandford recorded the Pirate King, Lord Mountararat, Giuseppe, the Duke of Plaza-Toro and Colonel Caverley.

Other familiar names included Anthony Raffell, who played secondary bass parts with D'Oyly Carte; Jean Allister, and Stanley Riley, both of whom guested on several D'Oyly Carte recordings of the 1960s but were not members of the Company itself. The recordings featured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and were conducted by James Walker (before he assumed the reins as Musical Director of the D'Oyly Carte, in 1968).

The recordings had the full blessing of Bridget D'Oyly Carte, and in the U.K. issue there was a white paper band about one inch wide which encompassed the actual set of three records in their sleeves inside the box. On this was printed, ''It gives me great pleasure to recommend these recordings,'' and underneath that Bridget D'Oyly Carte's facsimile signature and the words Bridget D'Oyly Carte. The paper band also bore a gold seal marked RDA and RCA.

Casting and selections are as listed below.

The Mikado
The MikadoAnthony Raffell
Nanki-PooEdgar Fleet
Ko-KoDonald Adams
Yum-YumPatricia Clarke
Pitti-SingJean Allister
Peep-BoCynthia Glover
KatishaJean Allister
"If you want to know who we are"
"A wand'ring minstrel"
"Behold the Lord High Executioner"
"I've got a little list"
"Comes a train of little ladies"
"Three little maids"
"The sun whose rays"
"Mi-ya sa-ma"
"My object all sublime"
"For he's gone and married Yum-Yum"
The Pirates of Penzance
Major-GeneralJohn Cartier
Pirate KingKenneth Sandford
SamuelNeil Howlett
FredericEdgar Fleet
SergeantDonald Adams
MabelCynthia Glover
"Pour, oh pour the pirate sherry"
"Oh, better far to live and die"
"Climbing over rocky mountain"
"Oh, is there not one maiden breast"
"Poor wand'ring one"
"I am the very model of a modern Major-General"
"When the foeman bares his steel"
"When a felon's not engaged in his employement"
"With cat-like tread"
H.M.S. Pinafore
Sir JosephStanley Riley
CaptainNeil Howlett
Ralph Rackstraw Edgar Fleet
Dick DeadeyeAnthony Raffell
Little ButtercupJean Allister
HebeJean Allister
"We sail the ocean blue"
"I'm called Little Buttercup"
"The Nightingale"
"A maiden fair to see"
"I am the Captain of the Pinafore"
"Over the bright blue sea"
"Sir Joseph's barge is seen"
"I am the monarch of the sea"
"When I was a lad"
"Things are seldom what they seem"
"Kind Captain, I've important information"
"Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen"
Lord ChancellorJohn Cartier
MountararatKenneth Sandford
Private WillisDonald Adams
QueenJean Allister
IolantheJean Allister
"Loudly let the trumpet bray"
"When I went to the bar"
"When all night long"
"Strephon's a member of Parliament"
"When Britain really ruled the waves"
"Oh, foolish fay"
"When you're lying awake"
"My lord, a suppliant at your feet I kneel"
"Soon as we may"
The Gondoliers
DukeKenneth Sandford
LuizEdgar Fleet
Don AlhambraDonald Adams
MarcoEdgar Fleet
GiuseppeKenneth Sandford
DuchessJean Allister
CasildaPatricia Clarke
GianettaPatricia Clarke
TessaJean Allister
"List and learn"
"For the merriest fellows are we" [singer not credited]
"Thank you, gallant gondolieri"
"From the sunny Spanish shore"
"I stole the Prince"
"Bridegroom and bride"
"When a merry maiden marries"
"Kind sir, you cannot have the heart"
"Rising early in the morning"
"Take a pair of sparkling eyes"
"On the day when I was wedded"
"Dance a cachucha"
Colonel CalverleyKenneth Sandford
Major MurgatroydDonald Adams
Duke of DunstableEdgar Fleet
Reginald BunthorneDonald Adams
Archibald GrosvenorNeil Howlett
Lady AngelaCynthia Glover
Lady SaphirJean Allister
Lady JaneJean Allister
PatienceCynthia Glover
"I cannot tell what this love may be"
"The soldiers of our Queen"
"If you're anxious for to shine"
"Prithee, pretty maiden"
"Sad is that woman's lot"
"A magnet hung in a hardware shop"
"So go to him and say to him"
"If Saphir I choose to marry"
Reader's Digest RDCD 641-3
Reader's Digest RDCD 641-3

This set is extremely popular among collectors. Dan Kravetz wrote:

The Reader's Digest was in the recording business in a very big way throughout the 1960s. Sales were strictly by mail-order, and one would guess that a large potential audience for G&S (who were not in the habit of frequenting record shops) was waiting to be tapped. The results were quite satisfying — Donald Adams made a fine Ko-Ko and Bunthorne, and it was a treat to hear Sandford branch out. A very large percentage of the Reader's Digest classical recordings have been put out on CD on the Chesky label [but not the G&S highlights, alas]. The sound quality was state-of-the-art when the recordings were made, and the CD pressings have been acclaimed for preserving sound that is still superb by today's standards.

U.K. CD re-issue
U.K. re-issue (ca. 2008)

J. Donald Smith adds:

These are excellent recordings and interpretations. Rather rapid tempi, in contrast to the D'Oyly Carte recordings of the same period, which tended to drag. The cast are uniformly excellent (with the minor exception of Jean Allister as the Duchess of Plaza-Toro — she never got the stresses right in "On the day when I was wedded"; the rest of her work is superb).

Kenneth Sandford is excellent, but Donald Adams is spectacular. Next to his Sergeant of Police or Private Willis, Sandford's interpretations seem wooden by comparison. As for Adams's Ko-Ko and Bunthorne: WOW! A patter baritone with perfect diction who can sing! In Buxton [the '95 Festival], he said that he would have loved to do other roles (as would have Sandford), but "they weren't allowed to." Good old D'OC type-casting.

Philip Sternenberg wrote: "The excerpts sounded as good as D'Oyly Carte recordings would have sounded had there been role reversal there. Oh, how I wish I could have kept that set!"

Chris Webster has copies of both the mono and stereo versions of this set (his mono set has lost the box), and he added the following comments:

  1. Some of these sets were available with lilac coloured boxes but my copy, although having the same Pinafore cover on the front is in a white box.
  2. Both stereo and mono versions have yellow labels, but the stereo pressing has green lettering and the mono pressing has red lettering.
  3. My stereo set has the records in proper card sleeves as well as the usual white plastic lined inner sleeves. The proper sleeves are in three different colours, but are all identical other than the opera titles. These are not the sleeves mentioned by other writers which show a scene from the opera.
  4. My stereo records have each track banded, but the mono records are not banded.
  5. The stereo box does not have any 'set' number at all, and no reference is made to individual record numbers except on the record labels. However, each indivual sleeve does have a different number in the bottom right hand corner of the reverse or 'evens' side of the sleeve: GS-3A/S1, GS-3A/S2 and GS-3A/S3 respectively.
  6. The 'cyclophonic' logo on the front cover of earlier issues is not present on the front cover, but it is printed in plain b&w on the front of the booklet. The booklet is one large sheet folded to make four pages: a cover page listing players etc., but not detailing who sings what, and three pages of synopses with a line drawing for each opera (possibly the same pictures that were used on sleeves in some pressings). No author credit is given, and there is no mention of Bridget.
  7. John Cartier is credited as playing the Lord Chancellor, but in the finale the Lord Chancellor is played by Neil Howlett, who does not otherwise feature on the Iolanthe side.

Howard Friedman described his set thus:

  1. The labels are light and dark blue, with silver lettering. No selections appear on the labels, and there are no track bands. The record numbers on the labels are RDS 42-1, RDS 42-2, RDS 42-3.
  2. The lower portion of each label says Stereophonic, and below that, Made for Reader's Digest in Cyclophonic Miracle Sound by Radio Corporation of America.
  3. The individual paper sleeves have no windows or inner liners. Each has the selections and casts for two operettas. Each reverse has two plot summaries.
  4. The cover is the first picture on the web page, with the set number RD42-M in the lower right hand corner. The box is pink, and opens with a brass latch. The left-hand inside cover has Notes and Comments by Newman Levy. The right-hand inside cover lists the selections found on each side of each record, with a brief biography of the conductor, James Walker, at the bottom.
Issue History
1963 Reader's Digest Mono LP RDM 60/62 Three-record set, with highlights from a different opera on each side
Stereo LP RDS 460/462
1965 Reader's Digest Mono LP RD-42M
Stereo LP RDS-42-1/3
196-? Reader's Digest Stereo LP GS-3A/S1,2,3
199-? Reader's Digest Cassette 060 008 Three cassettes or CDs. Also includes overtures to Ida, Yeomen, and Sorcerer, the Overture di Ballo (Boult/NSOL, 1960), and "Dance Of The Nymphs And Reapers" from The Tempest (orchestra and conductor unknown). The Ida and Sorcerer overtures are licensed from Nimbus — presumably the Faris traversals.
CD 066 008
CD RDCD 641-3
2007 Reader's Digest (U.K.) CD ? U.K. re-issue (available here) titled "The Wonderful World of Gilbert & Sullivan (verified Jul. 2009)

Note: One of my correspondents reported that some of these items are included on a Reader's Digest "Classics of Operetta" CD, but I don't have any further details. Sarah Mankowski reported that she has a 12 record set issued by Readers Digest called "Festival Of Light Classical" that includes the Overture di Ballo. This is the same item included in the 3 cassette/CD set listed above.