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The Gilbert & Sullivan Collection / Australian Opera

Gilbert / Sullivan / Opera Australia
Release Date: 11/15/2011 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 4028  
Composer:  Arthur Sullivan
Performer:  Jennifer BirminghamPeter CousensGraeme EwerHeather Begg,   ... 
Conductor:  Andrew GreeneDavid StanhopeDobbs Franks
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Australian Opera and Ballet OrchestraAustralian Opera ChorusElizabethan Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 8 Hours 56 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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During their long and successful partnership, William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan collaborated on fourteen operas, many of which are still regularly performed throughout the English speaking world today.

Picture format: NTSC 4:3 (The Mikado, Patience, The Gondoliers) / 16:9 (HMS Pinafore, Trial By Jury)
Sound format: Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English
Running time: 9 hours 23 mins
No. of DVDs: 4



Read more class="COMPOSER12"> SULLIVAN Patience. HMS Pinafore. Trial By Jury. The Mikado. The Gondoliers Various Opera Australia casts OPUS ARTE 4028 (4 DVDs: 563:00) Live: Sydney, Melbourne

Opera Australia offered a series of Gilbert and Sullivan light operas in the 1980s and 1990s, with almost uniformly excellent casts that featured some of the same performers throughout. This is good news for those who appreciate their talents, and these are formidable. With a team that includes the likes of Dennis Olsen, Anthony Warlow, Heather Begg, Christine Douglas, Graeme Ewer, and Roxane Hislop, you have the core of a distinguished company that can be relied upon for a certain level of professional performance. At the same time, these productions were mostly imported by the company. This means that they’re as good or bad as their sources, and the results are uneven.

The best is the Patience originally staged by the English National Opera in the late 1970s. Opera Australia first presented it in 1980; this is a 1995 revival, with some of the same cast. One can complain that Christine Douglas’s beautiful lyric soprano is keyed on too operatic a scale for her Patience, or that her accent wanders, or that Dennis Olsen’s physically superb Bunthorne is just a bit too reticent in characterization while singing—at least, when compared to Martyn Green (Pearl 163). But these are minor complaints in a well-staged production that displays an intensity, unanimity of purpose, and numerous amusing vignettes. Kudos to Anthony Warlow’s wonderfully self-regarding yet unaffected Grosvenor, Graeme Ewer’s Duke—managing to convey more childlike, befuddled incompetence than any actor I’ve seen since Victor Moore—and Heather Begg’s impressive double-bass accompaniment to her own act II aria as Lady Jane.

Slightly less good is the double bill of HMS Pinafore and Trial by Jury . First seen in 2005, these are the latest productions in the set, and unlike the rest, originate with director Stuart Maunder and Opera Australia. Pinafore is updated to the late Edwardian era, and Trial to modern days—the latter not working quite as well, since a modern defendant wouldn’t use that Victorian musical instrument favored by suitors, the mandolin. Otherwise we’re offered interpretations shaded to more physical activity on stage than is usual, all of it beautifully timed, and some very obvious sight gags, such as the Learned Judge’s half-drunken entry through the audience wrapped in a trenchcoat and carrying a liquor bottle in a paper bag. Warlow, the ingénue Grosvenor 10 years before, offers up a stylishly elegant reading as Corcoran, and a very broad one as an elderly Learned Judge who is stereotypically Highland Scottish. Hobson’s enunciation, phrasing, and fast vibrato are all attractive features in both light operas, though his intonation goes off occasionally during Trial . (It was presented on a double bill after Pinafore , so I suspect his voice was tiring a bit.) Stout John Bolton Wood is a fine Counsel for the Plaintiff and a decidedly different, non-military, but moderately amusing Admiral. The only performance that seems out of sync is that of Colette Mann as Little Buttercup. She clearly has the manner for the part, but plays up the plebian side of this jane-of-all-trades by attacking each word marcato in her solo.

The Mikado of 1987 (from a New Sadler’s Wells production) is an unsubtle, energetic, unfocused, but generally entertaining affair. Begg offers a Katisha to place alongside Bertha Lewis in the 1926 recording (Pearl 9025), though some of Ewer’s amusing physical antics reveal a decidedly out-of-character Ko-Ko—but that’s typical of this production. Then, there’s director Christopher Renshaw’s obsession with large jars. Anne-Maree McDonald’s first rate Yum-Yum performs her solo while bathing in one, Pish-Tush first appears in one, Pooh-Bah sits on one during his lengthy wedding advice dialog with Ko-Ko, the madrigal is performed with all singers seated on them, and Katisha enters on a wheeled wagon whose front frame element is a broken half of a jar. A very few changes to lyrics and speech will also likely be incomprehensible outside of those who lived through Australian politics during that time.

But all this pales before the alterations made in The Gondoliers . Produced in 1989, it derives from one of stage director Brian Macdonald’s Stratford Festival productions. Not for nothing are these known for the extensive changes they make to the operas, based upon a belief that G&S is simply too highbrow and old-fashioned for modern audiences. Many of the songs’ lyrics are completely rewritten to feature endless topical references that make far less sense outside of their time and place than Gilbert’s more generalized ones. Much of Sullivan’s carefully detailed orchestration is trashed in favor of a new, garish one. New spoken material is interpolated, none of it fitting with the style of the old. Graeme Ewer is a sad caricature as the Duchess, and Dennis Olsen’s mealy-mouthed Don Alhambra sports one of those unfunny all-accents-as-one that a few people found inexplicably amusing in the late Kenneth Mars’s performances. All of which is a shame, because there are some fine technical touches, good costuming and sets, and decent blocking in this Gondoliers.

For my tastes, the Patience is worth the price of admission to the rest. But the charms of the Pinafore and Trial are not inconsiderable, and The Mikado is fun, if often in a what-the-hell-are-they-doing-now way. With excellent camerawork, English subtitles, and good audio, this is a series of interesting G&S performances that Savoyards will certainly want for their collections.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Mikado by Arthur Sullivan
Performer:  Jennifer Birmingham (Voice), Peter Cousens (Voice), Graeme Ewer (Baritone),
Heather Begg (Mezzo Soprano), Gregory Yurisich (Bass Baritone), Anne-Maree McDonald (Voice),
Robert Eddie (Voice)
Conductor:  Andrew Greene
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra,  Australian Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1885; England 
HMS Pinafore by Arthur Sullivan
Performer:  Ali McGregor (Soprano), John Bolton Wood (Voice), David Hobson (Voice),
Anthony Warlow (Voice), Colette Mann (Voice), Tiffany Speight (Voice),
Andrew Jone (Voice)
Conductor:  Andrew Greene
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra,  Australian Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878; England 
Trial by Jury by Arthur Sullivan
Performer:  Andrew Jone (Voice), Tiffany Speight (Voice), Colette Mann (Voice),
Anthony Warlow (Voice), David Hobson (Voice), John Bolton Wood (Voice),
Ali McGregor (Soprano)
Conductor:  Andrew Greene
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra,  Australian Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875; England 
Patience by Arthur Sullivan
Performer:  Anthony Warlow (Voice), Heather Begg (Mezzo Soprano), Christine Douglas (Soprano),
Dennis Olsen (Voice)
Conductor:  David Stanhope
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Elizabethan Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1881; England 
Date of Recording: 02/25/1995 
Venue:  Sydney Opera House 
Gondoliers by Arthur Sullivan
Performer:  David Hobson (Tenor), Graeme Ewer (Baritone), Roger Lemke (Voice)
Conductor:  Dobbs Franks
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Elizabethan Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1889; England 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Couldn't ask for better. April 2, 2012 By T. Norris (Brawley, CA) See All My Reviews "The Australian Opera company has done an excellent job of interpreting these Gilbert and Sullivan operas. The singing and acting talents of the cast are first rate, and they exuberantly capture the spirit of the music and the humor of the lyrics. As with all such productions (even live performances), the lyrics are not always crystal clear, but these performances are clearer than most others I've seen. The production value of the DVDs is also excellent. The picture quality is crisp and the colors are sharp. The sound quality is superb as well since each performer wears an individual mic, and the mix of music and voices is well balanced. Overall, one couldn't ask for a better rendering of these operas. The only thing missing is the rest of the G&S catalog." Report Abuse
 Excellent March 31, 2012 By Wanda S. (Dallas, TX) See All My Reviews "Excellent Service. A pleasure to do business with ArkivMusic. Have not watched the DVD's." Report Abuse
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