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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon
Written by Julian Sturgis
Composed by Arthur Sullivan
A Romantic Opera in Three Acts
First produced at the Royal English Opera House, London on 31st January 1891
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1973 — Beaufort Opera, London
1991 — Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Victoria, Australia
1991 — Opera Comique, Hampshire — Concert Performance
1999 — Edinburgh G & S
2006 — Bristol Opera — Concert Performance
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Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not represent the views of St David’s Players as a Society.
With Ivanhoe, Sullivan had hoped to establish himself as a composer of Grand as well as Comic Opera. Richard D’Oyly Carte built a new theatre, especially to house a new genre of British Opera, and this he named The Royal English Opera House. This new theatre stood on the western side of Cambridge Circus, the point in London’s West End where Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road intersect. Today we know the building as the Palace Theatre.
What D’Oyly Carte had failed to realise was that, Grand Opera, even when written by such a luminary as Sir Arthur Sullivan, would not achieve lengthy continuous runs on the scale of the Savoy Operas and therefore, when Ivanhoe faltered at 155 performances, he was caught somewhat by surprise. A hasty production of Messager’s La Basoche failed to keep the house open and D’Oyly Carte had to sell the theatre.
All this said, Ivanhoe was a remarkable achievement in that, for a work of it’s type, it still holds the world record for the most consecutive performances at an initial production. The piece was revived at Covent Garden in 1910 by Sir Thomas Beecham and has been broadcast by the BBC on several occasions.
Over the years there have been a number of amateur performances. Several of the numbers from the opera were the staple diet of concert performers, notably the aria ‘Woo thou thy snowflake’, Rebecca’s ‘O awful depth/Lord of our chosen race’, and Friar Tuck’s ‘Ho, Jolly Jenkin’
A three LP set of an amateur performance in Fulham issued
by Rare Recorded Editions in the early 70’s has, thankfully, disappeared.
The recording from the Prince Consort under the baton of David Lyle and featuring members of the Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society recorded in 1989 gives an excellent account of this, another Sullivan neglected masterpiece.
Many of the criticisms levelled at other Prince Consort issues could be applied here; there are passages that are taken a little too slowly; but there are no serious miscastings and all in all this is an excellent account of the work. Irene Drummond is absolutely magnificent as the Jewess Rebecca, turning in an absolutely magnificent performance of ‘Lord of our chosen race’. Scott Cooper is an excellent Friar Tuck and gives a rip-roaring account of ‘Ho Jolly Jenkin’ magnificently accompanied by the chorus. Richard Bourjo is, thankfully, correctly cast as King Richard, Alan Borthwick is dependable as ever in the title role. The remainder of the principal singers, the chorus and orchestra are quite magnificent.
One word of warning - this is a long opera - it plays for just 1½ minutes short of three hours.
The recording seems to slip in and out of the catalogue and so may or may not be available from your local shop. Christopher Browne also carries stock (see Links) as do Amazon. Pearl SHE CDS 9615.
On 1st February 2010 the record company Chandos released the first fully professional recording of Ivanhoe. This is also the first time in many decades that we have been able to hear Sullivan’s original, magnificent orchestrations (including the use of the treble flute and bass trombone) thanks to the unstinting hard work and dedication of Robin Gordon Powell at the Amber Ring.
I can do no better than to quote a review by Christopher Cann, which says everything that I would say and more.
‘This recording has been awaiting for so long - the old Pearl recording was useful to be able to hear the work, but really did not do full justice to the majesty of Sullivan’s score, written at the height of his powers and with a degree of commitment often missing from his labours for the Savoy. So high was the anticipation for this recording that I, for one, was terrified that the finished product could not live up to the hyperbole.
‘However, I need not have worried, as this whole set oozes with the love and attention that has clearly been lavished on the entire project, from the preparation of a new performing edition (could this be a prelude to a staging somewhere......please?!) to the superb notes and essays in the accompanying booklet.
‘The performance is wonderfully conducted with superb pacing from David Lloyd-Jones. The fine ensemble cast (and that is itself an important point) is perfectly suited to their roles and they seem fully at home with the fach. In the title role, Toby Spence really seems to have come of age and his Wilfred is beautifully sung. Most notably for me, he also manages to make the potentially mawkish act III aria ‘Happy with winged feet’ sound ardent and interesting. His pairing with Janice Watson’s ravishing Rowena is delightful, particularly in their Act I duet. The principal antagonist, Brian de-Bois-Guilbert (would Sullivan have referred to him as Gilbert?) is splendidly taken by James Rutherford though I personally would have liked a little more menace in ‘Woo thou the snowflake’, which IMHO should be sung like Scarpia in the Te deum, but this is a very small caveat. His extended scene with Geraldine McGreevy’s Rebecca is thrilling and had me on the edge of my seat - also in this scene we are treated to the positively wagnerian Ulrica of Catherine Wyn-Rogers, with her song of braiding tresses and daughters of Valhalla! The other roles are equally well taken, with special mention for Matthew Brook’s characterful Friar Tuck and Neal Davies’ noble King Richard. They give a wonderful introduction to the jousting scene with their witty verbal sparring and are a total joy in the ‘duel of song’ in Act II, particularly in Brook’s rumbustuous ‘Ho jolly jenkin’.
‘The Chorus sing lustily, whether as Cedric’s grizzled old saxon warriors in Act I, the massed populace at the tournament, or as Locksley’s merry men, and they seize their opportunities with gusto. The one genuine ‘crowd scene’ at the Ashby lists has a wonderfully spacious feel and their double chorus (Sullivan could not resist inserting his operatic trademark, even in his one grand opera) is exhilarating.
‘So, all-in-all, a wonderful set which will hopefully persuade people to reassess this most curious and fascinating of
The set is available in all good record shops, can be purchased on-line from Amazon or from Chandos direct. It can also be downloaded from Amazon and Chandos in MP3 format and also from iTunes in a format that can be transferred directly to audio CD.
Ten years after their recording for PEARL, The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Edinburgh chose Ivanhoe as their 75th anniversary production. Alan Borthwick and David Lyle acted as Stage Director and Musical Director, but in the main the cast is quite different to that of the CD recording. The production was issued by the society as a video.
This video makes a most persuasive argument for a revival of the opera although a number of cuts are made. Richard Bourjo is still present in the cast, but this time it is as Cedric, another role that suits his voice excellently. Susan Brotherston is cast in the role of Rebecca and is, if possible, even more persuasive that Irene Drummond. Roland York as Friar Tuck and Roderick Somerville as King Richard are both on top form.
The performance as a whole is highly enjoyable and proves how lively and interesting a piece this much neglected work actually is.
The video was issued directly from the Edinburgh Gilbert and Sullivan Society and I have no idea about its current availability, but any member interested in obtaining a copy should make contact with the society via their website.