The First D'Oyly Carte Recordings

In 1917, Rupert D'Oyly Carte agreed to provide the artistic assistance of his musical director and stage manager for a new recording of The Mikado. The recording, issued in 1918, perpetuated the policy of using stock studio artists rather than authentic D'Oyly Carte cast members. Thus, although it could claim to be made “under the direction of Mr. Rupert D'Oyly Carte,” no Company members actually participated.

The new Mikado was notable for the first G&S appearance of George Baker, who would figure in Savoy Opera recordings for over forty years. Baker never sang with D'Oyly Carte, but he had an excellent idiomatic feel for the material, coupled with superb diction that made his voice clearly audible even under the worst of recording conditions. Even after HMV finally started using D'Oyly Carte singers, they found a place for Baker in almost every set they made. Many years later, when he was well past his prime, Sir Malcolm Sargent cast him in many of the so-called “Glyndebourne” recordings of the late '50s and early '60s. If these are the only examples you've heard of Baker's art, they really do not do him justice.

The Gondoliers followed in 1919 with much the same cast, and it was a cause of unexpected embarassment, for it coincided with the D'Oyly Carte's celebrated return to London after a ten-year absence, which ushered in the so-called Golden Age of the 1920's. At about this time the Columbia Company, a competitor of HMV's, had launched a series of recordings “of theatrical musical productions by the artists whose names are associated with the theatres themselves.” Yet, Londoners who bought the HMV recordings could clearly see that they were not getting the artists they were accustomed to hearing at the Savoy.

To counteract this criticism, HMV arranged studio auditions for four prominent Savoyards: Henry Lytton, Leo Sheffield, Bertha Lewis and Derek Oldham. Only Oldham was found suitable for the gramophone by HMV management, and so he, but none of the others, joined the cast of the 1920 Yeomen and the 1920 Pirates. Thus it was that many of Lytton's and Sheffield's greatest performances never did make it onto records. (Lewis did get to record most of hers, with the exception of Yeomen.) The 1921 Patience was once again made without any D'Oyly Carte artists, since Oldham had never performed that opera with the Company. However, Oldham, Sydney Granville, and Darrell Fancourt joined the 1922 Iolanthe.

The 1922 Pinafore was the first recording to be conducted by a D'Oyly Carte musical director (Harry Norris) and to feature a predominantly D'Oyly Carte cast (though several studio artists also participated). Rupert D'Oyly Carte's sensational London seasons of the 1920's included the first London revival of Princess Ida and the first revival anywhere of Ruddigore. Both of these operas were recorded, Ruddigore in 1924 and Ida in 1925, with very nearly the same casts that had participated in the revivals. Only in the role of Robin Oakapple, where George Baker replaced Henry Lytton, was a studio artist used.

Plans evidently were on tap for recordings of Trial By Jury, The Sorcerer and even Cox & Box. However, by now electrical recording had come into existence, and so the Company decided instead to start recording the operas all over again. These “lesser operas” would have to wait a few years more to make it onto records.

The entire series has now been issued on CD by Sounds on CD (Chris Webster) and 78s 2 CD (James Lockwood). The two of them have also jointly issued a CD comprising the known published alternative takes.

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