Historic Ruddigore recordings

A Ruddigore discography

Recommended recordings of Ruddigore: Let me start with the two best...

1. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's 1962 stereo recording on 2 Decca CDs. Stars John Reed, Thomas Round, Donald Adams, and Jean Hindmarsh, et al., conducted by Isidore Godfrey. Best all around.

But then 2. The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's 1950 monaural recording on Naxos (1 CD). Stars Martyn Green, Leonard Osbourn, Margaret Mitchell, Darryl Fancourt, et al., conducted by Isidore Godfrey. Excellent also.

But neither is as good as the vintage D'Oyly Carte 1931, so read further!

Here's why I'm recommending recordings: if you plan to go to the NYGASP Ruddigore on the first weekend in November (2014) and you want to come prepared…always recommended if it’s new to you or if you really enjoyed the experience you want to, retrospectively, cement the music in mind…here are some options. Below are listed in more detail only the ones I know firsthand. All are on CD; some may even be available as MP3s now; the spoken dialogue is omitted from all of them. Only the Acorn BBC DVD has any sort of libretto, and at that it's only the words to the songs.

First some background: Ruddygore (as it was originally spelled) was not exactly a flop on its opening night (Saturday evening, January 22, 1887, Savoy Theatre, London), but another Mikado it clearly wasn’t. Gilbert was sensitive to reports of waning audience enthusiasm as the second act wore on, not to mention chaffing at a few audible boos at the final curtain. So he took out his shears and cut the brambles away, a few verses here this night, a few more a month later. He added tweaks, a new song to hide the seams, but many of these would be trimmed in 20th century revivals. If textual issues interest you, as perhaps do folio editions, film outtakes or omitted scenes, Reginald Allen’s The First Night Gilbert and Sullivan (Heritage Press) (out of print, but available at the best used book sellers) and Ian Bradley’s The Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan (Oxford University Press) are indispensable resources. Watch for the newly released 20th anniversary edition! Visit OperaMetro’s bibliography for G & S sources on the page Further reading.

Sullivan too got mixed reviews. Many thought his music to be the best he’d written, but others apparently found it leaning too far toward a grand opera style: heavy, sometimes lugubrious, especially the Ancestor Scene. Indeed the whole tone of Act II is darker. With an “or title” of The Witch’s CurseRuddigore wasn’t as much fun as The Mikado in other words. It did not run long, but only relatively speaking.

The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company staged major revivals of the G & S repertory in the wake of the passing of the duo (and Richard D’Oyly Carte himself), but Ruddigore had to wait until the London season of 1920 to grace the stage again. A year later Geoffrey Toye composed a new overture for it; Rupert D’Oyly Carte authorized Ruddigore to be recorded in 1924 as part of the effort to record all of the operas with casts mostly from the Company itself. This series were the older acoustic recordings; interested readers and collectors should check out Sounds on CD, a page on Oakapplepress.com for these and other recordings. I have not yet heard the 1924 set. But I shall.

In my world there are five audio CD recordings of Ruddigore, each of which will make you smile is some way. There is also a DVD, ‘satisfying’ only because there are no others. More on this later.

I grew up with the Decca/London stereo 1962 D’Oyly Carte LP recording of Ruddigore. Happily it was followed up for me on stage when the Company played at the New York City Center in 1964; my second performance was the Light Opera of Manhattan (LOOM)’s staging by William Mount-Burke et al. at the Jan Hus Theater in the later 60s; I’ve seen it locally bunch more times over the years. Ruddigore is a favorite. They’re all favorites.

The ‘62 Decca release was still relatively early stereo for us all. It starred one of the best D’Oyly Carte tenors, Thomas Round, as Richard Dauntless and one of the best bassos, the stalwart Donald Adams as Sir Roderic Murgatroyd. His laugh in Act II still gives me chills. Twenty years later, Adams would repeat the role in the BBC TV production of Ruddigore (see below) and also appear in these in a few of his other signature roles. Jean Hindmarsh’s Rose Maybud here is exceedingly lovely, if relatively straightforward. She, Round, and Adams brightened the D’Oyly Carte’s two very early Decca stereo LPs of The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. Sad our lot and sorry that Decca (to my knowledge) never saw fit to release these two complete stereo recordings on CD. Peter Pratt was the comic baritone.

For shame! These are, on the whole, better than what followed: Decca released all of their stereo recordings with John Reed as 2 CD sets, but, sadly, the rest of the Company was in steep decline. My old LPs are hanging in there.

Reed is a pleasingly ‘clean’ Robin Oakapple in the ’62 Ruddigore, as he is in all of his previous and subsequent Decca stereo releases, but in this especially he seems to regress from the microphone. Kenneth Sanford is a tame Sir Despard Murgatroyd; Jean Allister is touching as poor Mad Margaret; Gillian Knight is Dame Hannah. Isodore Godfrey conducts a very sonorous Royal Opera House Orchestra. The Geoffrey Toye 1921 revision of the overture is there, of course, but also the original 1887 overture was inserted between the acts as a sort of bonus. What a surprise that was! Included too is the Rose/Richard Dauntless duet (“The Battle’s Roar is Over”) from Act I, which is usually cut from stage performances but apparently still in the score. Also with this Ruddigore is Cox and Box. All good: you won’t be disappointed with this album.

A year later EMI released a stereo Ruddigore, this one conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. As our focus on this page is recordings, the back story is worth elaborating: Sir Malcolm conducted many of the legendary D’Oyly Carte sets of the G & S operas in the early days of electrical recordings (late 1920s, 1930s), including Ruddigore in 1931 (see below). His Robin Oakapple in the ‘31 was baritone George Baker, who was never a member of the D’Oyly Carte and who actually had not been much of a stage performer. But he was a highly respectable singer who knew the style and, more importantly, he recorded well. He had been recording G & S roles since 1917; in fact he stars in that first complete acoustic Ruddigore of 1924, substituting for the Company’s leading comic baritone Henry Lytton, who had sung the role under Gilbert and Sullivan themselves during the first Savoy Theatre run in 1887. But Lytton, at this point in career, was older and his voice was deemed unsuitable for records. These were the days of singing loudly into the big horn.

Fast forward to the late 1950s: Sir Malcolm invited Baker to sing the comic roles for his projected EMI stereo G & S recordings, the so-called “Glyndebourne” series, with real opera voices. Baker was nearly 78 when he recorded Ruddigore in stereo in 1962. I didn’t know the history when I first heard this EMI LP release, but my first impression back then and again now from the CDs is: remarkable and eloquent as his achievement was, Baker sounds, how to put it, old.

And the rest of the cast are to varying degrees staid and polite. Richard Lewis is Richard Dauntless and Owen Brannigan as Sir Despard Murgatroyd, both decent singers. Elsie Morison is Rose Maybud. She too is a polished singer, though she lacks a youthful timbre. A young Elizabeth Harwood sings Zorah; both she and Monica Sinclair (Dame Hannah) would appear in subsequent productions in Great Britain and abroad. Pamela Bowden is Mad Margaret

Sargent, as does Godfrey, reinstates “The Battle’s Roar is Over” in Act I, but also Rose’s verses in “Happily Coupled are We” in Act II. The album is released today as 2 CDs; filler includes Sullivan's Incidental Music for The Tempest and a Suite from The Merchant of Venice.

After the War, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company sought to record all of the operas in the main repertory. These were eventually released by Decca on monaural LP sets (the first ones as 45s!). The CD releases appear on the Regis and Naxos labels, maybe others. The Ruddigore of the series, recorded in 1950, starred Martyn Green as Robin Oakapple. He, who had gradually succeeded Henry Lytton as principal comic baritone in early ‘30s, was, like Ella Halman and Margaret Mitchell, at the end of his run with the company. Perhaps it explains why he sounds tired and detached at first. But he gets his familiar fine form back toward the end. Margaret Mitchell brings an elegant, not to say youthful voice to Rose Maybud; Leonard Osborn is a staunch Richard Dauntless, as is Richard Watson’s Sir Despard Murgatroyd; Darrell Fancourt steals the show as Sir Roderic and Ella Halman brings masterful nuances to the small role of Dame Hannah. Ann Drummond-Grant is Mad Margaret. Isidore Godfrey, who was the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s Music Director from 1929 to 1968, conducts. This is a strong cast! On one Naxos CD, it is second on my list of recommended recordings. And inexpensive.

I’m no longer sure how, in the mid-1980s, I stumbled on the Caedmon LP series of the early electrical recordings of the G & S canon. But each, as it arrived in the mail, was a revelation of just how good, musically and especially expressively, the performances of these operas could be. The 1931 Ruddigore had a young George Baker as Robin Oakapple. Ahh! I get it now!

But more of an impact was tenor Derek Oldham as Richard Dauntless or baritone Sydney Granville as Sir Despard or the wonderful (and much younger) Darrell Fancourt as Sir Roderic Murgatroyd. I loved Thomas Round’s voice, but Oldham’s is easily competitive, certainly in sincerity if not in tone. I’ll never lose my admiration for Donald Adams, but Fancourt is in another league altogether. Add to these beautiful people Muriel Dickson as Rose Maybud (she sang at the Met) and the inimitable Nellie Briercliffe as Mad Margaret (be still my heart!) and you have a full house. Dickson’s Aline from The Sorcerer and Briercliffe’s Iolanthe are also special. Space forbids listing all of the gems in these early recordings. That’s another posting to come.

Though many of the early electricals have been released on other labels (Naxos, Pearl, and Pro-Arte Digital, to name three), to my knowledge a CD of this 1931 Ruddigore is only available at Sounds on CD, a page on the Oakapplepress.com site for this and other recordings (as well as the 1924 acoustical Ruddigore cited above). A goldmine this site is; interested readers will also find an intelligently written, very very complete Gilbert and Sullivan discography. If what I say is a tip, the Oakapple Press site is the whole iceberg!

As long as we’re on the topic, another site worth investigating is David Stone’s compendium on the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company on the Boise State website. Search D'Oyly Carte Opera Company casts to find bios and photos of everyone mentioned here on the D’Oyly Carte recordings, but also the rest of the ‘em never put to record from 1875 to 1982, when, sadly, the Company fell into bankruptcy and shut down.

  The Sadler's Wells reconstruction of the original  Ruddigore

The Sadler's Wells reconstruction of the original Ruddigore

The New Sadler’s Wells Opera gave a centennial reconstruction of the original Ruddigore of 1887, though, like most reconstructed originals, who can say what’s actually “original” and what’s not with a text that was literally tinkered with day by day before and after the premiere? But you’ll get the drift. The balance between the acts is restored by adding Rose’s verses of “Happily coupled are we,” and Sir Ruthven’s monologue “Away remorse,” and his patter song “For thirty five years I’ve been sober and wary” in Act II.

But, case in point: “For thirty five years” was ditched less than a month after the premiere, replace by “Henceforth all the crimes,” which was later dropped in subsequent revivals…oh well. The melodrama of Dame Hannah’s abduction and the original finale of Act II are also reinstated here.

I believe these restorations make an important difference. After all, Ruddigore is not as familiar to audiences today, as is, say, The Mikado. We’d all literally startle at a performance of the original sequence of songs in the premiere of Mikado. But Ruddigore, less familiar, carries fewer expectations and therefore, for the listener, allows more flexibility. In April of 2004, the Troupers Light Opera of Stamford staged the original version of Ruddigore to very positive reviews, as much for the restored balance as for the performance. The production was under the direction of Gayden Wren, author of the insightful A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan (Oxford University Press). This and other source material are listed on OperaMetro under Further reading...

The New Sadler’s Wells Opera 1987 2 CD release on JAY Records of the reconstruction is a credible performance. Gordon Sandison is a formal Robin Oakapple; David Hillman has his shaky moments as Richard Dauntless. Marilyn Hill Smith is a little edgy as Rose Maybud. Thomas Lawler (Sir Roderic Murgatroyd) and Harold Innocent (Sir Despard Murgatroyd) are particularly effective in the lower roles. Joan Davies is a commanding Dame Hannah; Linda Ormiston is a fey Mad Margaret. Simon Phipps conducts a very lively reading of Sullivan’s score with the New Sadler’s Wells Opera Chorus and Orchestra.

The early 1980s BBC made-for-TV series of the G & S operas, released these days on Acorn Media DVDs, has highs and lows. Praise comes easily for some of the singers and for some of the productions, certainly for Alexander Faris leading the Ambrosian Opera Chorus and the London Symphony Orchestra. But there are weak moments to be sure.

  BBC television production of  Ruddigore  from mid 1980s (libretto cover)

BBC television production of Ruddigore from mid 1980s (libretto cover)

The Ruddigore of the series features some great artists: D’Oyly Carte’s Donald Adams sings Sir Roderic, though the impact of his “Ghost’s High Noon” song is compromised by silly visuals; Ann Howard, a star of the English National Opera, is Mad Margaret, happily left to her own dramatic devices; and John Treleaven, soon to be a Wagnerian tenor, is a robust Richard Dauntless. Sandra Dugdale sings well enough as Rose Maybud. Rose is always something of an enigma. Sometimes she seems sincere with a good heart, sometimes she’s just clueless and confused. But Dugdale acquits herself well in this as she does as Patience, Casilda, and Celia in other operas of the series. Johanna Peters is stolid Dame Hannah.

Actors/singers otherwise famous from film, TV, and stage were cast probably to give contemporary audiences a few names and faces they could ‘relate’ to, a ‘draw,’ so to speak. But 32 years later the names are not nearly a draw, certainly not for G & S newcomers from subsequent generations. Worse, these guest artists, out of their element, are often a drawback. Keith Michell, who gained attention in the States as Henry VIII in the series Henry VIII and his Six Wives (and perhaps also through a few episodes of Murder She Wrote) is Robin Oakapple. He clearly thinks he is amusing; your call on whether you find him so. And then there is Vincent Price, star of many a hoary old horror film. Sir Despard is a somber, evil character by the script, but Price here is more like one’s elderly uncle, who used to dabble in the theater and still powders himself, up to visit the old homestead from his retirement village down south.

Director Barrie Gavin ‘solves’ the problem of stage restrictions with cartoonish superimpositions; the finale of Act I has the Bucks and the Blades behaving in ways that, to me, are at odds with the feel of the music. One imagines a proper William S. Gilbert rolling in his grave. Nothing really your children shouldn’t see, but nothing they should.

My advice: if you want to see Ruddigore done well, come to the NYGASP production in November. Dates and times of these performances are listed in the NYGASP preview on the page Gilbert and Sullivan. Enjoy.

JRS