The 1989 BBC Ruddigore

Robin OakappleDerek Hammond-Stroud
Richard DauntlessNeil Jenkins
Sir Despard MurgatroydEric Shilling
Old AdamPhilip Summerscales
Rose MaybudSandra Dugdale
Mad MargaretDella Jones
Dame HannahAnne Collins
Zorah[information missing]
Ruth[information missing]
Sir Roderic MurgatroydForbes Robinson

The BBC Singers
BBC Concert Orchestra
Conductor: Sir Charles Mackerras

Recorded in 1984
Originally Broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 19 December 1989

This recording is part of a complete series broadcast on the BBC in 1989. It has never been issued commercially, but many fans own copies taken off the air.

Review by Jeff Trim

This is an admirable recording of the music and dialogue of Ruddigore in a reasonably complete version. I hesitate to be too fulsome in my praise, as not every character is equally successfully realised, and the acoustic has an echoing resonance which may suit the Great Hall and Picture Gallery in Act 2, but does not convey the Cornish fishing village of Act 1. That said, the stereo sound separates singers well to the advantage of items such as the Madrigal, in which all four principal voices are clearly distinct but balanced and blended.

The music benefits from the evident attention to detail brought by Sir Charles Mackerras and the high standard of singing. The orchestra plays well, apart from the occasionally untidy entry at the start of a number. Tempi tend to be brisk. Diction is crisp, as is required for a radio broadcast of an unfamiliar work. In particular, someone has made sure that T's are sounded clearly and in the right place! However, in dialogue there is a lack of consistency regarding how far to exaggerate the melodrama, with the effect that whilst no portrayal is "over the top," one or two seem almost disinterested by comparison. There are some errors that could have been re-recorded; I am surprised they were not.

When first broadcast on BBC Radio 2, an interval talk was given between the acts of each opera by series consultant David Mackie. These were always very detailed and of great interest to G&S enthusiasts, but possibly less so for the casual listener.

On this occasion, David Mackie described the period leading up to the first performances of Ruddigore, using Sullivan's own words to describe the "tedious", "slow work" of scoring The Golden Legend (1886). First night reviews of "Ruddygore" and the immediately subsequent changes were detailed. The replacement of "For thirty-five years I've been sober and wary" was pointed out with the comment that the music for this number has been lost. (I don't know when the music was found again, but it has since been recorded by New Sadler's Wells. [Mackie was likely unaware of the contents of Sullivan's autograph, in which the song is preserved. — ed.]

There followed an outline of the changes made to performance practice by Geoffrey Toye and a brief excerpt from his score for The Haunted Ballroom. Mackie summarised the broadcast performance as retaining many of Toye's minor cuts to orchestral parts (I've noted some in this article) but reinstating four major items: the original overture, the duet "The battle's roar is over," "Henceforth, all the crimes," and the Basingstoke finale.

Other pieces included here are:

  • The chorus response: "This sport he much enjoyed, did Rupert Murgatroyd…"
  • Chorus: "If well his suit is sped," including 3 repeats (but not the solo voice at the end)
  • Duet: "Happily coupled are we," both verses
  • Solo: "Away remorse" … leading to … "Henceforth all the crimes that I find in the Times"
  • Melodrame

Although the first principal to appear, Zorah was unaccredited either on air or in the BBC Radio Times listings magazine. She sings crisply in the opening and later declaims "Who is the wretch who hath betray'd thee?" with almost Wagnerian force. Dame Hannah is ably sung in properly matronly tones by Anne Collins, but in the kind of British Empire accent which suggests that Hannah retired to Cornwall after a society life in Kensington! I suppose she must have got the title "Dame" from somewhere! There are no sound effects to suggest the open air outside a village cottage, nor any door-latch to indicate where Rose arrived from.

Sandra Dugdale portrays Rose Maybud as prim and ingenuous, if a trifle arch. Derek Hammond-Stroud conveys the timid youth of Act 1 convincingly, but fails to become the moustache-twirling villain (albeit briefly and reluctantly) at the start of act 2. "Poor little maid" is taken at a decent tempo; it is one of two numbers in this score which can die a lingering death if taken slowly!

Unfortunately, Old Adam simply does not sound old as delivered by Philip Summerscales. He fails to make any impact in his dialogue with Robin in Act 1, perhaps because he is attempting a more "naturalistic" approach. This is utterly out of place in Act 2, where his suggestion "Poison their beer!" seems offhand and disinterested. Where is Gideon Crawle?

The Hornpipe after Richard's arrival is begun so fast that by the end of the fourth time through (supplemented by a repeat of the last eight bars) the music is quite frantic, and I doubt if it could be danced at that speed! In the duet between Richard and Robin, both men sing the chorus after each verse, and the traditional interjections: "I don't know!" and "No, I didn't!" are made by Richard in the second and third verses. The five chords are played in the introduction to every verse, as on NSWO but not on DC.

Neil Jenkins does an excellent job of making Richard Dauntless sound authentically Cornish in song and dialogue. It's not that he sings in a funny accent throughout, but that there are sufficiently frequent reminders of the dialect without distorting the quality of the intonation. Having said that, the duet with Rose is delivered without any trace of accent! The dialogue between Richard and Rose is really very good, partly helped by the overdue arrival of sound effects; Rose turning the pages of her book, Richard wiping his mouth on his sleeve before kissing Rose.

In the subsequent dialogue, Dugdale accidentally says: "I knew not that thou didst seekst me in wedlock," having earlier sung: "Then I would hint as much to you, when you would hint as much to him.". Later, in Act 2, Hammond-Stroud makes mistakes in his solo. In the first verse he sings "There's confidence picking, bad coin, pocket picking," and in every instance of the rising sequence A, B, C# , D (e.g., on the words "I've promised to" and "a regular course") he sings a B instead of the D. This occurs a total of 6 times. In a live performance these errors would be overlooked as trivial, but in a studio recording, especially where the trouble has been taken to "clean up" many small details of scoring and dialogue and include an "unknown" song, one would expect these to have been corrected.

Della Jones is luxury casting as Mad Margaret (indeed we would be lucky to see such a cast as this in the theatre), and she enjoys herself evidently. I find it a little unsatisfactory that in rhyming "posies" with "roses" she chooses to split the difference and sing "poziz" and "roziz." I am particularly fond of the following scene, but I find Jones simply not "weird" enough to be the unpredictable Margaret whose every next word changes sense. Still, I do like her way with "Strange— They told me she was beautiful!!"

The double chorus preceding Sir Despard is taken very briskly with obvious attention to phrasing. At last we hear some audible response from the chorus, but as Despard enters I'm not clear if their changing cries are meant to indicate fear, pity, acclaim or the reaction to seeing a flasher! Eric Shilling is very good in terms of characterisation and convinces as the melodramatic villain in his monologue. His scene with Richard is just right.

If I have a problem with Shilling in general in these broadcasts, it is that he is simply not "bass-y" enough for my taste. (Incidentally, Shilling takes the higher option for "How I adore you.") In the "Fiddlededee" duet, the two voices sound very similar indeed. Oddly, there is a two bar cut immediately before the second verse voice entry. Perhaps this is one of Toye's minor orchestral excisions?

As mentioned earlier, the Madrigal is presented very well indeed. However, the tempo marking for the dance which follows (L'istesso tempo — the same speed) is ignored, and it is markedly slower. Something else better suited for the Castle Great Hall rather than the village green! The repeat bars, which are interrupted by Sir Despard's arrival, are here omitted. The rest of the finale is spirited (or is that a word best saved for later?).

The start of Act 2 is flat and underplayed. Hammond-Stroud misses the point of the "without the elision" joke and fails in the next line to sing "Sir Ruth-ven Murgatroyd". Things picks up well for the confrontation between Ruthven and Richard, but Hammond-Stroud does not bring Pratt's relish to "I may be a bad Barrrt, but I'm not as bad a Barrrt as all tharrrt!"

The Ghosts' music is sung with good dynamic variation, if a touch too beautifully. At this point I feel that the acoustic, which earlier seemed too reverberent, could do with some enhancement to increase the ghostly echo particularly in the dialogue. Forbes Robinson sings with full tone, speaks in a precise clipped manner and is a dominating and serious "uncle" Roderic. The shorter version of the dialogue with fewer interjections by the four other ghosts is used here; the full "first night" text of this scene was given in 1966, with "Gideon Crawle" changed to "Old Adam."

After Robin's determinedly "risoluto" recitative and slightly flawed solo, the sober Despards arrive. Their duet is sung with relish for the humour in every line. The next dialogue is taken rather quickly with Margaret's lines sounding rushed rather than eccentric. However, this is merely preparation for the fastest Matter Trio I have heard! It lasts 79 seconds in total as opposed to 96 on 1962 DC. There is even an accellerando at the end. At this speed both men sing their respective verses in one breath, with Margaret breathing only once between lines.

Anne Collins returns in threatening form as Hannah – was she ever in any danger from Robin/Ruthven? When she says "and may the best man win!" there is no doubt that it will be a woman! Mackerras wisely keeps "There grew a little flower" moving along, and the "proper" finale ends the Act crisply.

In conclusion, although this performance is more musically complete than the DC or Glyndebourne recordings, it cannot compete in this respect with the NSWO version, except for having chosen the better (in my opinion) of the patter songs to follow "Away remorse!". The singers are all very good, but in terms of atmosphere, especially in dialogue, the performance lacks either the spontaneity of a live performance or the theatricality of the earlier 1966 BBC recording.