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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Sullivan: The Beauty Stone

07/27/2014 1:00 pm
07/27/2014 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Normally this would be the Sunday in the Summer seasonal lineup that I reserve for one or another of the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) wrote much other lyric theater music both before and after his longtime collaboration with Mr. William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911). Before Gilbert he wrote the music for C. F. Burnand's lyric comedy Cox and Box (1866), recordings of which I have aired a couple of times. Then there's Burnand's comic opera The Contrabandista (1867), and the incidental music for Tennyson's Robin Hood play The Foresters (1893), which I aired back-to-back on a Hyperion CD on Sunday, March 6, 2005.

Sullivan's dramatic cantata The Golden Legend (1886), after Longfellow's poem, came on Hyperion/Musical Heritage Society CD's. This I broadcast on Sunday, September 26, 2004. The closest thing to G & S minus the "G" might be Sullivan's very late work The Rose of Persia (1899, librettist Basil Hood), extended highlights of which (an hour's worth of music) were broadcast on a BBC Magazine compact disc release on Sunday, July 25, 1999. Most important of all, however, was my broadcast on Sunday, April 28, 2013 of Sullivan's attempt at English grand opera Ivanhoe (1890), based on Sir Walter Scott's novel, recorded with the musical resources of the Welsh division of BBC Radio, and issued in 2010 on three Chandos CDs.

Ivanhoe was a considerable success at the Royal English Opera House in 1890, but The Beauty Stone was a flop at the home G & S venue, the Savoy Theatre, in 1897. Like Ivanhoe, it was a medieval romance for the lyric stage. The Beauty Stone is a light opera, certainly, although not a comic one. In style it's not all that different from The Gondoliers of 1889. Sullivan's music was as engaging as ever, but the book and lyrics by Pinero and Carr failed to hold the attention of the Savoy audience.

This Sunday you can discover and appreciate the beauties of The Beauty Stone in its 2013 world premiere recording for Chandos. The performing resources are virtually the same as for Ivanhoe. Rory MacDonald directs the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales. Tenor Toby Spence was the hero in Ivanhoe. Here he is the knight Philip, Lord of Mirlemont. "In this recording," writes Fanfare magazine's reviewer Ronald E. Graemes," we are spared all of Pinero's verse...this is the best case that one could ever have hoped for on behalf of this neglected opera." (Fanfare, May/June, 2014).