The World Record Club Recordings

The World Record Club Limited issued highlights of The Mikado, Pirates and The Gondoliers in 1962, each set fitting on a single LP. The conductor was Alexander Faris (who also conducted the Sadler's Wells recordings and the Brent Walker videos), with the Hamburg Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Linden Singers (whoever they were). The soloists were competent English artists, but not ones who had any career association with D'Oyly Carte.

Nothing about these recordings is particularly remarkable, but they have had remarkable staying power, as related by Dan Kravetz:

These were very briefly released on Capitol in North America, then somehow went over to the Vox label [where the soloists were then called "The Company of Savoyards"], which put them in a 3-LP Vox Box; from that point onward, the singers became anonymous—don't ask why. The same recordings wound up on the Everest [Summit] and Allegro labels in the 1970s. A few years ago, they were released on CD in Britain by Tring/Symphonia and sold, not in the usual record shops, but in discount-remainder book shops. The conductor, Alex Faris, is identified, but the singers are still anonymous. The covers misleadingly show photos of Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith for Pirates, and Bonaventura Bottone and Leslie Garrett for Mikado, though they are clearly not on the recording. (Gondoliers has a photo of a real Venetian gondolier rowing his gondola.)

Chris Webster observes:

I think the World Record Club series (as we refer to them, although I think W.R.C. only ever licensed recordings and didn't make them), despite being artistically and mechanically sound,are the most boring G&S records I have heard (on a par with the Mackerras Yeomen/Trial IMO — sorry I know you like these). They are not quite good enough to be considered 'good', and there are no really bad bits that make them interesting — if you know what I mean (some bad bits can be a joy on these cheap records). There is evidence of over recording on the CD transfer of Pirates — this does not appear to be noticeable on my LP version and this may be a result of poor transfering from the source to the CD master.

David Leonard adds:

WRC did indeed make their own recordings, although it is quite correct that they mainly licensed from other companies. At the time the G&S recordings were made, WRC were producing a whole series of musical show recordings — Chu Chin Chow, The Vagabond King, etc., etc., — using a regular stable of performers, some of whom were involved in the G&S recordings. On the original LP recordings the orchestra was listed as the Westminster Symphony Orchestra, the attribution to the Hamburg Orchestra turning up in the later reissues. I've always been curious about this: it would surely have been incredibly expensive to fly an English cast and chorus to Germany to record? WRC's "house" orchestra at the time was the Sinfonia of London, a freelance offshoot of the London Symphony Orchestra, and it's odd that they weren't used for these recordings. [The "Hamburg" name was surely invented to make it appear that a "prestigious" orchestra had been used. —ed.]

The Sadler's Wells Opera Recordings

After the copyrights on Gilbert's words expired in 1961, producers were free to put on the G&S operas whenever and however they wished. Many hard-core G&S fans feared the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company would be driven out of existence, and there was even an unsuccessful petition drive, opposed by Dame Bridget herself, to put the operas under perpetual copyright.

In any event, the D'Oyly Carte Company did just fine in a post-copyright environment--their eventual closure was for entirely different reasons. The avalanche of competing productions that many had forecast simply never materialized. The Sadler's Wells Opera, forerunner of today's English National Opera did mount their own productions of The Mikado and Iolanthe, and these were issued on record in 1962, the latter in an abridged version. The general feeling was that neither was serious competition for the D'Oyly Carte.

(As an aside, many of the same artists also recorded German's Merrie England for EMI.)

The Lyric Theater Company Recordings

[Editor's Note: The following brief history was adapted by Lyric Theater founder Peter Kline from an earlier and far less accurate version that had previously appeared in this space.]

In the early 1960s, the now-disbanded Washington, D.C.-based Lyric Theater Company published recordings of three then-rarely-heard operas: Utopia, Limited (1963), The Mountebanks (1964) and The Grand Duke (1965). None of these recordings were made in a studio; they were all made in auditoriums in the Washington D. C. area in special recording sessions. They included every note of the vocal scores and all of the dialogue except one line each in Utopia and Duke, which were inadvertently omitted in the editing process. In the case of The Mountebanks, one song was located in the first edition of the vocal score at the Library of Congress and orchestrated by John Landis especially for the recording. You can thus listen to the actual world premiere of that song, sung by Harold Isen. Utopia was re-issued by Pearl Records in the 1970s, first complete, and then in a single record of excerpts.

Earlier on, the Company produced a number of other, more mainstream G&S recordings. The details of them are beyond the scope of this website, but for the record, they were: Princess Ida (in two different versions); Yeomen; and a 3-LP set containing Trial, Ruddigore, and highlights of Sorcerer. There was also an earlier recording of Utopia issued in 1957, as well as one of The Grand Duke issued in 1962. That recording was a revised edition of the work prepared by Peter Kline, and it included two added numbers: "Now Step Lightly" from Haddon Hall and "With Wily Brain" from Utopia. In 1955, the company performed Thespis with a score especially composed for the occasion by Joel Mandelbaum.

The Washington Lyric was a most enterprising company. They produced, in sequence, a condensed Grand Duke in 1962, which was a sold out hit in its performances and made Washington critics wonder why the work wasn't performed more often; a second complete Utopia in '63, which was also a hit and received outstanding notices; and a condensed Mountebanks in '64. This production was more expensive and didn't sell as well, but the Mountebanks recording included every note of music and most of the dialogue, even though the stage production had been edited. Sale of the recording made the production very profitable. Their Grand Duke recording, in 1965, also sold out all of its copies. It was not based on a staged production but was performed as a recording session. Paul Hume attended, even though no critics were informed of the performance. He didn't care for the score and wondered why "this fine company" was wasting its efforts on it.

The company then went out of business because its leadership decided to concentrate its efforts on other things. Ten years later, some of the same people created a new company called The Victorian Lyric Opera Company, which still performs today and is extremely successful both financially and in the quality of its productions. It should be noted that Lyric made a speciality of the seldom performed works, but managed to do them well enough so that people came to see them in large numbers. From 1956 on, all of the productions received highly favorable notices from the two then existing Washigton newspapers.

J. Donald Smith put it recently, “How is that for a recipe for a company committing suicide?” Answer to question: “It's a great recipe. Maybe someday someone ought to try it. The Lyric leadership decided to retire a company that financially was in a position to continue performing for a long time with the repertory it had become known for. Unfortunately, however, there weren't a lot more works it could revive that seemed worthy of that kind of effort.”

Peter Kline's wife Syril added what I assume modesty led him to omit:

My husband Peter founded Lyric when he was 16 years old. His intent from the beginning was that the unrecorded works of G&S should not remain unheard. He was Washington, DC's one and only teenage opera company impressario.

The Washington Post sometimes gave his company full page, color photo coverage, and critics like the late Paul Hume regularly praised his and Lyric's work. Lyric's recordings brought the more obscure G&S works to many people for the first time, and were reviewed and sold around the world when they were first issued. They received favorable notices in The Gramophone, The Saturday Review (twice), The New York Herald Tribune Magazine, and several other record review journals.

The Michael Sammes Recordings

Michael Sammes and the eponymous Michael Sammes Singers made a number of recordings of musical theater and operetta in the 1950s and '60s. Included were highlights discs from Pinafore, Pirates, Iolanthe, Mikado, Yeomen, The Gondoliers. A miscellaneous Best of Gilbert and Sullivan disc included selections from these.

The operas were released on six separate discs, on each of two labels. Somewhat later, they were issued on three double-LP sets titled "Gilbert and Sullivan Extravaganza," volumes 1, 2, and 3, with two operas to a volume.

The Sammes recordings are not in my collection, but Dan Kravetz reports that he "never took them seriously because of the souped-up orchestrations."

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