The 1978 D'Oyly Carte Zoo

Æsculapius CarboyMeston Reid
Thomas BrownKenneth Sandford
Mr. GrinderJohn Ayldon
LætitiaJulia Goss
Eliza SmithJane Metcalfe

D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Narrator: Geoffrey Shovelton
Conductor: Royston Nash

Recorded at Decca Studios, West Hampstead
9 February 1978

London OSA-1171
London OSA-1171
Decca 473 659-2
Decca 473 659-2. The Zoo isn't mentioned on the cover, but it's there all the same.

The Zoo, a one-act operetta by Arthur Sullivan and B. C. Stephenson (writing under the pen name of Bolton Rowe), opened at the St. James's Theatre on June 5, 1875. It was clearly motivated by the surprise success of Trial By Jury just three months earlier, but it never achieved the success of its more famous predecessor. After a brief run in 1875 and a briefer revival in 1879, the opera was not given again in Sullivan's lifetime. (Herbert Sullivan, the composer's nephew and biographer, wrote in 1927 that the music of The Zoo was re-used in the later operas, but this is unquestionably false, unless one counts the slight resemblance of "I loved her fondly" to "A wand'ring minstrel.")

For many years, the score was believed lost until noted Sullivan sleuth Terence Rees found it in a vault at Coutts bank. Rees was eventually able to buy the score at auction, and with his cooperation a piano reduction was published. The work received its first modern production in 1971, but it did not become popular until after the appearance of this recording, in 1978. The Zoo does not have the sustained excellence of any G&S work, but at half-an-hour's length, it doesn't need to. It is certainly a worthy curtain-raiser to any of the shorter G&S operas, and it can also stand on its own in a shorter program.

Reviewing this recording in The New York Times (December 16, 1979), Frederick S. Roffman wrote:

Unfortunately, the recorded performance only calls forth what Nanki-Poo describes as "modified rapture." For the most part the singers are pretty lifeless. Maybe this is due to British restraint or maybe it comes from the fact that this is a studio performance by performers who have not had the chance to really get into their parts, as they would have done if they had performed them onstage. The soloists and chorus sing well and accurately, but often they sound too carefully polished. There is also an intrusive, irritating and unnecessary narration.

While the recording does not do an ideal job of conveying the opera's virtues (such as they are), The Zoo is nevertheless worthy of consideration by any G&S troupe that is ready to move beyond "the big thirteen."

Issue History
1978 Decca Stereo LP TXS 128 With 1978 Cox and Box
Cassette KTXC 128
London Stereo LP OSA 1171
ca. 1980 Decca Viva Stereo LP AUS 1051/2 Australia/New Zealand issue. Double LP/cassette includes 1964 Trial, Utopia excerpts, and 1978 Cox and Box
Cassette KAUS 1051/2
1986 Decca Stereo LP 417 342-1 Digitally remastered; with The Grand Duke
Cassette 417 342-4
1993 Decca/London CD 436 807-2 With 1966 Sorcerer
2003 Decca CD 473 659-2
2003 Decca CD 473 631-2 24-CD set including the complete Decca G&S series on CD (13 G&S operas, plus Cox and Box and The Zoo).