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ST DAVID’S PLAYERS
Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon
Written by W S Gilbert
Composed by Arthur Sullivan
In the seaside village of Rederring, in Cornwall, a chorus of professional bridesmaids frets that there have been no weddings for the last six months and they hope Rose Maybud will oblige. They ask Rose’s aunt, Dame Hannah, if she might consider marriage, but her betrothed turned out to be Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, one of the bad baronets of Ruddigore. She tells of the curse placed on all who hold that title – they must commit a crime a day or perish in dreadful agony! Rose takes her ideas of right and wrong from a book of etiquette and finds all the young men she meets either too rude or too shy.
Avoiding the curse
To avoid inheriting the family curse, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd has fled the ancestral home and, disguised as Robin Oakapple, settled in Rederring. Here he has fallen in love with Rose Maybud but, too shy to develop the relationship himself, he calls upon Richard Dauntless (Robin’s foster brother) to court Rose for him. Overcome by Rose’s beauty, Richard sets about capturing her for himself and nearly succeeds in doing so until Robin finally declares his love for her and wins her back.
Mad Margaret has been driven to madness by her love for Sir Despard, the current ‘Bad Baronet.’ She is jealously seeking Rose Maybud, having heard that Sir Despard intends to carry Rose off as one of his daily crimes. Rose tells her that she is pledged to another. Sir Despard bemoans his fate of having to commit a daily crime and feels obliged to reveal Robin’s true identity.
The village gathers to celebrate the nuptials of Rose and Robin. Sir Despard interrupts, revealing that Robin is his elder brother and must accept his rightful title as the Bad Baronet. Rose, horrified at Robin’s true identity, resolves to marry Despard – who refuses her: now free of the curse, the ex-baronet takes up with his old love and fiancée Mad Margaret. Rose then accepts Richard, as he ‘is the only one that’s left.’ Robin leaves to take up his rightful identity as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd.
Act Two opens in the picture gallery of Ruddigore Castle, now the home of Sir Ruthven (Robin). Robin finds that wickedness does not come naturally to him. His weak crimes stir the ancestral ghosts who come alive from their portraits to give him a taste of the torments to come if he refuses to commit a daily crime. Sir Roderic, Robin’s immediate predecessor, suggests he carries off a lady from the village.
A new start
Meanwhile, Despard has atoned for his previous ten years of evil acts and has married Mad Margaret and the two persuade Ruthven to give up his life of crime. He vows to talk to Sir Roderic, but Old Adam returns having carried off Dame Hannah – whose fury is violent! Answering Robin’s call for help, Sir Roderic comes face to face with his one time fiancée.
A way out
In a flash of inspiration, Robin realises that a baronet of Ruddigore who refuses to commit the daily crime must die and, therefore, to make such a refusal is tantamount to suicide; which is a crime in itself. Consequently,
Sir Roderic ‘ought never to have died’ and the curse should not have been handed on. Sir Roderic, now ‘practically alive,’ is free to marry Dame Hannah, Robin can reclaim Rose and Richard settles for the First Bridesmaid, Zorah.
Fair is Rose as bright May day
Chorus of Bridesmaids (Solo Zorah)
Sir Rupert Murgatroyd
Song (Hannah & Chorus)
If somebody there chanced to be
I know a youth who loves a little maid
Duet (Rose & Robin)
From the briny sea
Chorus of Bridesmaids
I shipp’d, d’ye see, in a revenue sloop
My boy, you may take it from me
The battle’s roar is over
Duet (Richard & Rose)
If well his suit has sped
Chorus of Bridesmaids
In sailing o’er life’s ocean wide
Trio (Rose, Richard & Robin)
Cheerily carols the lark
Recit. and Aria (Margaret)
Welcome, gentry, for your entry
Oh, why am I moody and sad?
Song and Chorus (Sir Despard)
You understand? I think I do
Song and Chorus (Richard & Sir Despard)
Finale Act I
I once was as meek as a new-born lamb
(Robin & Adam)
Happily coupled are we
Duet and Chorus (Rose & Richard)
In bygone days I had thy love
(Rose with Chorus of Bridesmaids)
Painted emblems of a race
Chorus of Ancestors (with Solos, Robin & Sir Roderic)
When the night wind howls
Song (Sir Roderic & Chorus)
He yields! He yields!
I once was a very abandoned person
Duet (Margaret & Sir Despard)
My eyes are fully open
(Margaret, Robin, & Sir Despard)
There grew a little flower
(Hannah with Sir Roderic)
Finale Act II
Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd
Disguised as Robin Oakapple
a Young Farmer (comic baritone)
Richard Dauntless His Foster-Brother –
Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddigore
A Wicked Baronet (bass-baritone or baritone)
Old Adam Goodheart Robin’s Faithful Servant
Rose Maybud A Village Maiden
Dame Hannah Rose’s Aunt
Zorah Professional Bridesmaid
Ruth Professional Bridesmaid
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Orchestral Parts (courtesy of Troupers Light Opera):-
Act 2 Finale Original version
Orchestral Parts (courtesy of Larry Byler/G & S Archive)
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.
Considering the fact that Ruddigore (original spelling Ruddygore) was considered to be a failure at the time of its initial production in January 1887, the opera has been quite well represented in the recording studio, certainly better than either The Sorcerer or Princess Ida. This said however, with the exception of the 1987 New Sadler’s Wells recording, each offering is based on the revised version of the opera prepared by Harry Norris and Geoffrey Toye during 1919/1920, and further tinkered with by Malcolm Sargent. These revisions were supposedly implemented to ‘popularise’ the work, but in fact resulted in a version that misrepresented both the authors and composers intentions. Thankfully there has been a move in recent years, both professionally and by amateur societies to return to performance material closer to the intentions of Gilbert and Sullivan, and the Oxford University Press edition of the vocal score and band parts has made this a practical proposition.
The earliest recording appeared on the HMV label in 1924 and was an acoustic recording. By this time, the recordings were being made mainly with D’Oyly Carte performers, although in the case of Ruddigore George Baker was still being engaged to sing the ‘patter’ roles and is therefore present in the character of Robin Oakapple/Sir Ruthven giving a characteristically sparkling performance in his own inimitable way. One other non-D’Oyly Carte performer is present in the person of Edward Halland as Old Adam.
Of the rest, ever popular D’Oyly Carte tenor, Derek Oldham (complete with strong Scottish accent) plays the role of Richard Dauntless. His stage presence shines through despite the age of the recording. The same can be said of Bertha Lewis as Dame Hannah, Eileen Sharp as Mad Margaret, Elsie Griffin as Rose Maybud and Leo Sheffield as Sir Despard. Special mention has to be made of Darrel Fancourt in the role of Sir Roderic - this is a classic performance and demonstrated why Fancourt was such a force in the company for so many years.
One other unique feature of this recording is the inclusion of the earliest example of Gilbert’s dialogue in a recorded performance as Ruthven’s speech to the picture gallery is included.
The performance is reissued by Sounds on CD VGS 220
With the advent of ‘electrical’ recording in 1927, a new Ruddigore recording was made in 1931.
Apart from Baker, who repeats
the role of Robin/Ruthven with success equal to the earlier recording, the other singers
cannot be considered to be quite
as successful and those on the previous recording, apart from Derek Oldham, whose performance of Richard is generally considered to be his best recording.
Darrell Fancourt repeats his performance as Sir Roderic,
but Dorothy Gill is no match for Bertha Lewis as Dame Hannah despite the performance being perfectly adequate.
The recording has been reissued on a number of occasions. Sounds on CD (VGS 227) and Conifer’s Happy Days (CDHD 225/6), the latter being coupled with the 1929 recording of The Pirates of Penzance.
Recording of the operas ceased during the second world war, but in 1949 a new contract between D’Oyly Carte and DECCA resulted in what is affectionately known as the ‘DECCA 1st Series’ - a sequence of recordings of 11 operas starting with Trial by Jury in 1949 and ending with Princess Ida in 1954.
Ruddigore was recorded in two days during July and August in 1950, and the speed at which DECCA were recording the operas shows as this is probably the least accomplished of the recordings of the opera available and the sound quality has also always been an issue, not just with this recording, but with the first series in general.
Martyn Green as Robin/Ruthven sounds far too old for the part, whilst matinee idol Leonard Osborne comes across as very nasal, a problem evident in most of his recordings, but apparently not in the theatre.
The best of this recording is probably the performance of Ann Drummond-Grant (wife of musical director Isidore Godfrey) in the role of Mad Margaret. Miss Drummind-Grant started her career with D’Oyly Carte as a soprano before the war, but gradually assumed the soubrette roles before becoming a legendary contralto. Her performances of the mezzo roles in the first series are well worth listening to.
Ruddigore has been reissued a number of times. By far the best transfer is that on Sounds on CD. (VGS 222), but you will also find it on Naxos (8.110295), Pearl (GEMS 0135) coupled with the 1950 Gondoliers, and as part of the AVID box set (AMBX 138).
Undoubtedly the best recording of the Norris/Toye revision is that from the ‘DECCA 2nd Series’ (1957 - 1966) and this was released in 1962.
This is a performance that literally fizzes! A classic cast is on top form and is led by the inimitable John Reed as Robin/Ruthven and Kenneth Sandford as Sir Despard. Anyone who ever saw Ken on stage as Despard will never forget the experience. Sadly, despite four previous recordings in this series containing dialogue, Ruddigore does not, so Ken’s first dialogue speech is not preserved. Sad because I never witnessed a performance of this for which Ken did not receive applause, and believe me, receiving spontaneous applause for dialogue is no mean feat!!
John and Ken are ably supported by Thomas Round as Dick Dauntless, Donald Adams as Sir Roderic, the utterly delightful Jean Hindmarsh as Rose, Gillian Knight as Dame Hannah and Mary Sansom as Zorah.
Two non-D’oyly Carte performers complete the cast, Jean Allister as Mad Margaret and Stanley Riley as Old Adam.
Isidore Godfrey is on top form and takes the whole cast through the opera at a cracking pace, and it also has to be said that the presence of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden is a huge asset.
The recording has been reissued a number of times but is currently available on DECCA London (473 656-2) coupled with the 1961 recording of Cox and Box. The recording is also included in the DECCA 24 disc box set (473 631-2).
I have made no secret over the years that I have many reservation with regard to the Malcolm Sargent/Glyndebourne/Pro Arte series of Gilbert and Sullivan recordings. This series began in 1957 and culminated with Ruddigore in 1963, this being the ninth opera to be recorded.
My main objection has always been to some serious mis-castings, especially early in the series, and to Sargent’s (occasionally) painfully slow tempi, again in the earlier recordings. This is particularly evident in Pinafore, Mikado and, worst of all, Iolanthe. Why this should be so is not clear as Sargent’s pre-war D’Oyly Carte recordings sparkle with life and brisk tempi.
However, the last three recordings in this series, Pirates, Patience and Ruddigore are a vast improvement. The reasons for not being able to recommend this current recording as a first choice are firstly, the presence of George Baker who, now in his eighties, is just not credible as Robin/Ruthven, and secondly, Sargent’s slavish adherance to the 1919/1920 revision including the orchestral changes for which he himself was responsible.
On the plus side the recording does include Sullivan’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice as a filler to the second disc.
The set has been reissued on numerous occasions with various catalogue numbers. If you wish to purchase this set, check at Amazon for the current packaging and details.
In the mid to late 1980’s the short-lived New Sadler’s Wells Opera Company produced some remarkable operetta productions, amongst which in 1887 (centenary year) was a new production of Ruddigore. For this a new score and band parts were prepared by Dr David Russell-Hulme from Sullivan’s original autograph score, thus sweeping away all the unauthorised changes made over the years and giving us, at last, a chance to hear the opera as Gilbert and Sullivan had left it. Thankfully, that research led to the production of a new vocal score and band parts available from Oxford University Press.
That I cannot recommend this recording as a first choice is purely due to; a) the presence in the cast of Harold Innocent as Sir Despard - a highly accomplished actor no doubt, but not a singer and certainly not strong enough to carry Sir Despard; b) the failure to include both versions of Sir Ruthven’s Act Two patter song, the first version is present but the second is not, and; c) the failure to include both versions of the Act Two finale. It would also have been good if the extended versions of “I once was as meek” and “In bygone days” had been recorded. That said, we do have the original orchestrations and the complete ‘ghost’ music.
Simon Phipps takes the opera at a cracking pace and the overall effect is electrifying.
The recording is issued by TER currently on their JAY label (CD JAY2 1340)
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