13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
, 30 Dec. 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Sullivan - The Beauty Stone (Audio CD)
Firstly let us be quite clear about this - the Prince Consort recordings of rare Sullivan operas served a very valuable service in their day and every lover of Sullivan surely must acknowledge a great debt of gratitude to them and to Pearl for issuing recordings of five complete works which, otherwise, we would probably still be waiting for an opportunity to hear. These recordings, also, must have hastened the on-going revival of interest in Sullivan's music and gradually each of the Prince Consort recordings is being superceeded. Firstly ROSE OF PERSIA was recorded under the auspices of the BBC and is now available on the CPO label. Then IVANHOE by Chandos, and now (2013) BEAUTY STONE again by Chandos - effectively blowing this recording out of the water.
Anyone expecting THE BEAUTY STONE to be a typical Savoy Opera will be in for a shock. First produced in 1898 at the Savoy Theatre, Richard D'Oyly Carte had to import two opera singers to play the roles of Lord Philip of Mirlemont and the Lady Saida at greatly increased salaries and this, combined with increased chorus greatly inflated the expenses. The storyline is very strong as one would expect from such a luminary as Arthur Wing Pinero (Trelawney of the Wells, The Magistrate, etc), but the dialogue was, to say the least, over-wordy, and despite advice during the gestation period Pinero refused to cut a single word. When the piece at last came to the stage, the playwrite realised (too late) that the advice had been sound. The libretto was revised, but this revision never reached the stage as THE BEAUTY STONE closed after just 50 performances. The lyrics were by the poet Joseph Comyns-Carr, and their complexity was to cause Sullivan a great deal of hard work but undoubtedly drew forth some of the composer's most beautiful music.
There were very few amateur performances after 1898, but in 1996 Generally G & S (a society based in Retford, Nottinghamshire) gave six performances. The spoken dialogue was replaced by rhyming couplets in the style of a miracle play (written by David Eden) but the music was left intact allowing it to speak for itself. This was a revelation, here was a grand romantic opera of great beauty, well worthy of the opinion of members of the original Savoy orchestra passed down over the years that of all Sullivan's compositions for the theatre, this was the one most worthy of revival.
The present recording by the Prince Consort, originally appeared on L.P. and has now been digitally re-mastered for CD.
The members of the company do their best with a difficult score, but the conducting is lack-luster and the pace is frequently too slow. The part of the Devil is a problematic one - here it is sung by a bass and to me it strikes as a bit too dark. At Retford the part was taken by a patter baritone (as indeed Walter Passmore, the original Devil, was), and that feels in some ways too light. The only other recording of music from BEAUTY STONE apart from the new Chandos release, presents Richard Suart in the role and that feels more natural. However, Alan Opie on Chandos gives quite a different reading which is comic, mesmeric and sinister all at the same time.
The great showpieces for Saida ('Tho she should dance' and 'Mine, mine at last') are well sung but again there is something lacking and even the duet 'My name is crazy Jacqueline' fails to sparkle as it can.
As stated above, since my initial review of this recording, a brand new recording using fully professional forces and recorded using orchestral parts newly prepared from Sullivan's autograph score and containing music deleted during the original 1898 production, and not therefore previously available, has now been released on the Chandos label (November 2013). This issue from Pearl has admirably served its purpose for more than 20 years, but if you are looking for a recording of THE BEAUTY STONE, the new Chandos release has to be recommended.
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