SULLIVAN: The Gondoliers
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William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
this brightest of operas".
(The Sunday Times, December, 1889)
Ever since its first appearance at the tail-end of 1889, The Gondoliers or The King of Barataria has held its place among the more engagingly operatic of the Savoy Operas. Vocally demanding on the one hand, it is a model of its kind, which to some extent also harks back to Gilbert and Sullivans earlier essays in burlesque. Arranged in two acts and set appealingly against a circa-1750 Venetian backdrop, it was the last great success of its creators before their famous quarrel. Following chronologically on the heels of Ruddigore (1887) and Yeomen of the Guard (1888), it was given its first airing on 7th December 1889 in London at the Savoy, where it enjoyed a healthy initial run of 554 performances. It also ran, for a time concurrently, another 103 on Broadway and while, like its predecessor The Mikado, it met with a more short-lived success as Der Gondoliere in both Vienna and Berlin, in Australia, under the auspices of J.C. Williamsons company, it was to prove, both in its first production and in subsequent revivals spanning several decades, as firm a favourite as previously in England.
Among the most frequently recorded of all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, in both complete and abridged selections during the pre-1925 acoustic period and for the first time electrically, by HMV, in 1927, its solos have remained staples in the concert repertoires of, particularly, sopranos and tenors. In December 1968, after the G&S copyrights were relaxed, the work was revived by Scottish Opera and later re-assumed by Sadlers Wells (1984) and, more recently still, toured by the reformed DOyly Carte companies. It has consistently been welcomed by Savoyards as "a good sing"; while in diverse ways the entire opera is a departure from earlier G&S works, its innovative opening scene, a through-composed fifteen-minute operatic ensemble sequence shorn of dialogue, establishes the pattern for what is to follow.
Born William Martyn-Green in London on 22nd April, 1899, Martyn Green studied singing first with his father, the distinguished English tenor William Green and later with Gustave García (1837-1925) at the Royal College of Music. After active service during the First World War, he gained his first stage experience in 1919 touring the Dalys Theatre circuit in musical comedy. Green joined the DOyly Carte as a chorister and understudy in 1922 and his solo début as Luiz in The Gondoliers was followed by other comic leads, including John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer, Major Murgatroyd in Patience, the Major-General in Pirates of Penzance, The Associate in Trial by Jury and the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers. His masterly portrayal of the title-rôle in The Mikado is preserved in the 1939 Technicolor screen adaptation by Geoffrey Toye and in a 1950 Decca studio recording he sang Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner, his other great characterisation from that operetta. After service in the RAF during the Second World War, he returned in 1946 to DOyly Carte to sing comic leads until 1951. Thereafter, he toured the United States, performing and directing as well as lecturing on the Savoy Operas. Martyn Green appeared on American TV (his was the voice of the fox in the cartoon Pinocchio) and on Broadway as Chaucer in the Richard Hill-John Hawkins musical Canterbury Tales. He died in Hollywood, California, on 8th February 1975.
Notwithstanding his close ties with G&S, the career of bass Richard Watson was more generalised. Born in 1906 in Adelaide, Southern Australia, where he studied initially at the Elder Conservatory, he was from 1926 until 1929 a vocal student at the London Royal College of Music. In 1929 he joined Covent Gardens resident opera company and by 1933 was appearing in both its English and international seasons. Already a popular soloist on the British oratorio circuit and on radio and gramophone recordings (for Decca), later that year Watson left Covent Garden to join DOyly Carte and until 1937 also toured regularly with J.C. Williamson in Australia and New Zealand. In 1937 he resumed his career at Covent Garden but in 1940 returned again to Australia where he gave recitals for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and again undertook principal rôles on tour with J. C. Williamson. From 1944 he taught singing at the Elder Conservatory and produced operas at the Tivoli in Adelaide financed by the ABC. From 1946 until 1951 Watson was again principal bass with DOyly Carte both in London and the United States, most notably in New York, and was during this period a featured lead in several Decca hi-fi recordings of G&S operas, including The Mikado (Pooh-Bah) and The Gondoliers (Don Alhambra). From 1951 until 1955 he was Director of the Regina Conservatory of Music in Saskatchewan in Canada, before returning to Southern Australia for further tours with J.C. Williamson.
At first an amateur singer in his native London, Leonard Osborn worked as a chemist in a silk-printing mill before joining the professional chorus of DOyly Carte in the mid-1930s. After his début in a small part in Yeomen of the Guard in 1937, he had by 1939 sung the defendant in Trial by Jury, Francesco in The Gondoliers and Leonard Merrill (in Yeomen). An RAF flight-lieutenant during the second World War, in 1946 Osborn returned to DOyly Carte where, until his retirement in 1959, his many rôles included Tolloller in Iolanthe, the Duke of Dunstable in Patience, Fairfax in Yeomen, Ralph in HMS Pinafore, Frederick in Pirates and Marco in The Gondoliers.
Alan Styler was born in Redditch in Worcestershire. A keen semi-professional baritone in his youth, he was a Grenadier Guard at seventeen and served in the British Army during the Second World War. In 1947 he joined the DOyly Carte where, until his retirement in 1968, he sang a variety of principal rôles, including Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore, Samuel in Pirates, the Lieutenant in Yeomen and Giuseppe in The Gondoliers.
Radley Flynn joined the DOyly Carte in 1928 and sang with the Company for a total of 23 years. He made his solo début during his first season as Giorgio in The Gondoliers and his many subsequent rôles included Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore, the Mikado, the Pirate King and the Usher in Trial by Jury. Flynn was married to the contralto Ella Halman.
After joining the DOyly Carte Chorus in 1937, Ella Halman remained with the Company until 1951, singing a variety of rôles, including Lady Jane in Patience, Katisha in The Mikado, Ruth in Pirates and the Duchess in The Gondoliers.
A DOyly Carte Chorus-member from 1945, before she left the Company in 1954, Muriel Hardings bright, evenly-produced high soprano voice was heard in a variety of rôles, including the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury, Mabel in Pirates, Lady Ella in Patience, Kate in Yeomen, Zorah in Ruddigore, the title-rôle in Princess Ida and Gianetta in The Gondoliers.
After an alternately graceful and hurtling Overture which pre-echoes the operettas main tunes , Act 1 opens on the Piazzetta in Venice, where a group of 24 local girls (contadine) are binding posies for the gondolier