University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Gilbert & Sullivan: The Grand Duke

07/29/2018 1:00 pm
07/29/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

I usually program one or another of the comic operas of William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan on a Sunday in late July. The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel (1896) was Gilbert and Sullivan's last collaboration. They referred to this operetta as "the one that failed." It didn't fail totally. It just did poorly, although it was mounted in a lavish production. The plot is absurdly complicated (which is what probably did the production in), but Sullivan's music is as good as most of what he wrote for the other more well known operettas that are counted in the G & S canon. In radio broadcast it's not the staging but the music that matters.

The Grand Duke was never professionally performed again after its first run until 1975, when the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company recorded it for Decca under the supervision of the legendary troupe's founder, Richard D'Oyly Carte's daughter, Dame Bridget D'Oyly Carte. London Records released The Grand Duke on two stereo LPs which I broadcast way back on Sunday, August 12, 1984. Nobody has a lock on the G & S canon, since amateur theater companies of considerable talent all over the world perform these works, like our own Simsbury Light Opera Company. (The renowned Savoyard Martyn Green coached them at the very end of his career.)

On a more professional level, the Ohio Light Opera Company staged The Grand Duke at its Summer festival in 2003. Founded in 1979, the OLO is the resident lyric theater institution at the College of Wooster (Ohio), a school with a strong emphasis on the performing arts. Albany Records released the live-in-performance recording of the OLO production on two compact discs. The recording is musically complete and includes Gilbert's witty dialog. (The classic 1975 Decca/London Savoyard recording has no dialog at all.) I have previously broadcast OLO recordings of The Sorcerer, Princess Ida and Utopia, Limited.