REVIEW POTPOURRI – Writer: Nathaniel Parker Willis

Edgar Allan Poe

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Nathaniel Parker Willis

Nathaniel Parker Willis

Writer Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867) was born in Portland where his father had moved the family from Boston to take a job as editor of a Maine publication, The Eastern Argus, before returning to Boston when Nathaniel was ten. Willis became one of the most well-known and best paid free lance journalists of his lifetime; today, he’s barely remembered. He wrote in a very personalized style about his travels throughout the eastern and mid-west U.S., England, and Europe, the famous literary figures he knew (often criticized for his fascinating gossip about such individuals that should have remained private), the books he read and his domestic life with family and friends, in addition to a few plays, poems and one novel.

I hope to share more from the avalanche of writing by him and about him in future columns.

He was one of the first critics to recognize the originality and genius of Edgar Allan Poe, knew him personally and had an astute understanding of Poe’s very complicated personality. Willis’s eulogy on Poe, written in 1849 just after that poet’s early death at the age of 40, has a few insights on the creator of such masterworks as Annabel Lee and the Tell-Tale Heart:

“His conversation was at times almost supra-mortal in its eloquence. His voice was modulated with astonishing skill, and his large and variably expressive eyes looked repose or shot fiery tumult into theirs who listened, while his own face glowed, or was changeless in pallor, as his imagination quickened his blood or drew it back frozen to his heart. His imagery was from the worlds which no mortal can see but with the vision of genius…. He was at all times a dreamer – dwelling in ideal realms – in heaven or hell – peopled with creatures and the accidents of his brain.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Willis championed the writing of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and opened doors for that poet with other famous writers. In return, Longfellow seems to have felt ambivalent about Willis; even though Longfellow would become even more famous during their lifetimes, he was jealous of Willis’ ability to earn more money, he criticized Willis’ personality as “artificial” and he felt that Willis’ poetry “lacked sincerity.”

Nevertheless, four days after Willis died on his 61st birthday, January 20, 1867, Longfellow was one of the five honorary pallbearers at Willis’ funeral in Cambridge, Massachusetts, along with poets James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, abolitionist Samuel Gridley Howe (who was also one of the first directors of the Perkins Institute for the Blind; whose wife, Julia Ward Howe, wrote the lyrics for The Battle Hymn of the Republic; and whose daughter, Laura Richards, wrote several famous novels and children’s books and settled in Gardiner, Maine), and Boston editor and publisher, James T. Fields. The day of the funeral, all bookstores in Cambridge were closed out of respect.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Placido Domingo, Dean Martin, Gene Krupa

Placido Domingo

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Miscellany!

Placido Domingo

Opera singer Placido Domingo, who’s 79, has tested positive for coronavirus. We can all hope he will be fine, as people even older are recovering from this. But we need to continue with the suggested safety steps, too.

While on the subject of Domingo, I have some of his recordings – various complete operas, single arias, and three tenors collaborations with Pavarotti and Carreras. He also has had a long, professional singing career and seems to have paced himself, as opposed to some singers who ruin their voices earlier. His Cavaradossi on the Leontyne Price Puccini’s Tosca set conducted by Zubin Mehta is a good introduction to his artistry.

Dean Martin

Dream with Dean
Reprise LP, August 1964 release.

Dean Martin

Dean Martin was a singer of talent, even if not on the same level as Frank Sinatra. He phrased with intelligence, suavity and an astute sense of timing.

This album featured him in a small jazz combo setting, accompanied by four very fine instrumentalists – guitarist Barney Kessel, pianist Ken Lane, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Irv Cottler. Dino sang such staples as My Melancholy Baby, Fools Rush In, I’ll Buy That Dream and a scaled down, subdued Everybody Loves Somebody plus eight additional selections. And it can be heard on YouTube.

Gene Krupa and His Orchestra

It’s Just a Matter of Opinion; That’s My Home
Columbia, 37067, ten-inch 78, recorded mid-1940s.

Gene Krupa

Gene Krupa (1909-1973) was a truly gifted musician on the drums who expanded their boundaries from mere rhythm to outstanding artistic virtuosity on the 1930’s hit recording, Sing Sing Sing, by Benny Goodman’s orchestra. At various times during the ‘40s and ‘50s, Krupa led his own orchestra and recorded a number of 78s for Columbia Records.

Both sides feature the very good jazz singer, Buddy Stewart (1922-1950), who is joined in It’s Just a Matter… by Carolyn Grey, who was heard often during the big band days. The songs are not well-known staples but they are quality listening in their vocal and instrumental arrangements.

Krupa played frequent battles of the drums with friend Buddy Rich in concert and recording. He also struggled with heroin addiction but overcame it. Buddy Stewart was killed in a car accident at 27 while on a road trip to New Mexico to be with his wife and child. Carolyn Grey is still living at 98.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfelloow had a gift for dramatic tension as well as a unique sense of the potential narrative possibilities in a descriptive poetic setting. An example was his 1866 poem, God’s Acre, yet another term for cemetery, and the starker words, graveyard and burial ground. I offer the poem before further comments:

I like that ancient Saxon phrase, which calls
The burial-ground God’s Acre! It is just;
It consecrates each grave within its walls,
And breathes a benison o’er the sleeping dust.

God’s-Acre! Yes, that blessed name imparts
Comfort to those, who in the grave have sown
The seed, that they had garnered in their hearts,
Their bread of life, alas ! no more their own.

Into its furrows shall we all be cast,
In the sure faith, that we shall rise again
At the great harvest, when the arch-angel’s blast
Shall winnow, like a fan, the chaff and grain.

Then shall the good stand in immortal bloom,
In the fair gardens of that second birth;
And each bright blossom, mingle its perfume
With that of flowers, which never bloomed on earth.

With thy rude ploughshare, Death, turn up the sod,
And spread the furrow for the seed we sow;
This is the field and Acre of our God,
This is the place, where human harvests grow!

Gottesacker was the ancient German word for God’s Acre which, as mentioned above, was the burial ground. In time, the Moravians and other groups came to see the term as a field for the sowing of flowers and such, instead of cadaver disposal, i.e. burial ground. The scriptural words, ‘from dust to dust,’ do not have to mean disposal in the cemetery septic grounds but a divine benison or blessing honoring the person that was, at least for the time being.

Longfellow was particularly effective in his use of contrasting imagery. ‘Into its furrows shall we all be cast,’ whether or not we led good lives. And we all have an expiration date and will be transferred elsewhere on that date, whether we like it or not. Yet the poet wrote a positive note; ‘In the sure faith, that we shall rise again/at the great harvest’.

But H.W.L. jolted us immediately back to reality – ‘when the arch-angel’s blast/Shall winnow, like a fan, the chaff and grain.’ The ‘winnowing fan’ is a threshing machine, not a gentle breeze.

In the last two stanzas, Longfellow sums up some eternal hope and faith for the meek and pure in heart – ‘good stand in immortal bloom…..Acre of our God…where human harvests grow.’

This is Longfellow’s gift for dramatic tension and narrative possibilities in a most splendid and truly descriptive poetic setting and the story line for the end of life’s journey .

Another highly recommended Longfellow poem is Excelsior.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Robert Schumann

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Schumann

Abendlied and Traumeri
with Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops. RCA Victor Red Seal , 12-0017, 12-inch 78 shellac record, recorded 1940s.

German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856) composed masterworks of symphonies, concertos, solo keyboard, chamber music, choir and lieder. Pieces to introduce anyone new to his music would include the Rhenish Symphony with its evocation of the Rhine River, in Germany, the Spring Symphony in its opening brass fanfare and the sense of re-birth that begins every March 21, and the three sublime Concertos for piano, violin and cello.

Schumann was also one of the most important music critics of the 1800s, along with his contemporary in France, composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869). And he wrote a review of Brahms’s music in 1853, when that composer was only 20, hailing him as a savior of European music.

He and his wife, Clara, also accepted Brahms as a new member of the family. Sadly, Schumann died in a hospital three years later where he was committed after his manic/depressive struggles overtook him and he jumped into the Rhine attempting to drown himself. An older sister had committed suicide 30 years earlier in 1825. But Clara and Brahms would be lifelong friends until she died in 1896.

Arthur Fiedler was music director of the Boston Pops from 1930 until his death in 1979, at the age of 83, and made hundreds of recordings for RCA Victor and then the German-based Deutsche Grammophon/Polydor label starting in the late ‘60s when he, the Boston Pops and the regular Boston Symphony switched over.

Schumann’s Abendlied, originally composed for four-hand piano, and the very well-known Traumeri, from the composer’s solo piano Kinderszenen or Scenes of Childhood, were arranged for orchestra and given very hauntingly exquisite performances by Fiedler and his players. I have many Boston Pops recordings from the Fiedler years but I cannot think of a better one than this gem.

This past Saturday, March 7, the Waterville Opera House had the Met production of Handel’s early opera, Agrippina, by delayed broadcast of a week. The plot involves sex, politics and off-and-on friendship and romance. Agrippina, the devious wife of the Roman Emperor, Claudius, was sung by Joyce di Donato. Other singers were Brenda Rae as Poppea, Kate Lindsey as Poppea’s heartthrob Ottone, Matthew Rose as Claudius etc.

This production changed the original grim story into a comedy with very suggestive humor, and situations and a frequently scantily clad Brenda Rae in her role as Poppea. Comments on the visual details end here. The music and singing were exemplary.

Wagner’s magnificent opera, The Flying Dutchman, is scheduled for this coming Saturday, March 14, starting at the usual time of 12:55 p.m.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler & Oklahoma Round-Up!

Jacques Offenbach

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler

Offenbach: Tales of Hoffmann; Barcarolle, “Oh, Night of Love.” Side 2
Arthur Pryor’s Band – Suppe: Fanitza Selection. Victor. 16827. Ten-inch acoustically recorded 78 rpm. Offenbach from November 22, 1909; Suppe, from June 7, 1910.

Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) and Franz von Suppe (1819-1895) are each represented by three minute selections on this old 78 released more than 100 years ago. The Barcarolle comes from Offen­bach’s one opera, Tales of Hoffmann, although he composed about 80 operettas. He was born in Cologne, Germany, the son of a cantor for a synagogue in the city but lived and worked most of his life in Paris, France, where his satirical operettas had great popularity with the Court of Napoleon the 3rd and the Parisian audiences.

The composer also had good instincts for survival and spirited himself, wife and family out of France during the bloody 1848 Revolution and the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.

The Barcarolle is sweetly sung by the husband-and-wife team of William (1875-1966) and Elizabeth Wheeler (1875-1972). They participated in dozens of acoustic records for Victor and, in later years, taught voice at colleges.

Franz von Suppe

Suppe’s comic operetta, Fanitza, deals with a young Russian lieutenant involved in an escapade in which he’s disguised as a woman and is encountered by a superior officer, a hot-tempered elderly General who believes that he’s actually of the feminine gender and is attracted to him/her. Meanwhile, the young lieutenant is in love with the General’s niece. Being a comedy, the story ends on a happy note.

Trombonist Arthur Pryor (1869-1942) and his band left a huge catalog of 78s on the Victor record label where he also served as one of the staff arrangers and conductors. The Fanitza Selection medley is given a spunky performance.

For interested listeners, the Wheelers’ Barcarolle can be heard on the Google link for the ucsb recorded sound collection, entitled the Discography of American Historical Recordings, while the Fanitza is on YouTube.

As for anybody unacquainted with any music by either composer, I suggest the arguably most recognizable piece for each composer; Offenbach’s Can-Can and Von Suppe’s Light Cavalry Overture. Both selections can be heard in a number of different performances on YouTube.

Oklahoma Round-Up!

selections from a Southwest radio stage show. Apollo, A-5, three 10 inch 78s. Recorded January, 1947.

Oklahoma Round-Up was broadcast from the Oklahoma City radio station, KOMA, but heard on the CBS radio network nationally during the mid-to-late 1940s. This 78 album features performers from the show – the Gruesome Twosome of banjo and harmonica players, Lem Hawkins and Hiram Higsbee; and the Cimarron Kids, Mary Lou, Dick and Ann who sing and yodel. The selections are two musical categories, hillbilly and western swing, with such titles as I’m Brandin’ My Darlin’ With My Heart, Rock Me to Sleep in My Saddle, the Sons of the Pioneers hit Cool Water, and My Blue Ridge Mountain Home. Old-fashioned, charming, hokey 78s of country music.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: John Greenleaf Whittier

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

John Greenleaf Whittier

After barely making ends meet for decades, Quaker poet/abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) hit paydirt in 1866 with the publication of Snowbound, an account of an 1800s family stuck inside the farmhouse during a beautiful blizzard and getting some quality time during its duration. I plan to write about him and other New Eng­land poets from his lifespan years in future columns, along with the sustaining of a commitment to Maine ones that has been on-going. The richness of the New England literary landscape in both its major and minor poets is beyond measure.

John Greenleaf Whittier

This week, I present several verses from another poem of Whittier’s, Amy Wentworth, in which he traces a heroine he modeled on those to be found in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, early colonial society of the 1600s, a group of people less Puritan than that of Boston, Massachusetts:

Her fingers shame the ivory keys
They dance so light along;
The bloom upon her parted lips
Is sweeter than the song.

O perfumed suitor, spare thy smiles!
Her thoughts are not of thee;
She better loves the salted wind,
The voices of the sea.

Her heart is like an outbound ship
That at its anchor swings;
The murmur of the stranded shell
Is in the song she sings.

She sings, and smiling, hears her praise,
But dreams the while of one
Who watches from his sea-blown deck
The icebergs in the sun.

She questions all the winds that blow,
And every fog-wreath dim,
And bids the sea-birds flying north
Bear messages to him.

She speeds them with the thanks of men
He perilled life to save,
And grateful prayers like holy oil
To smooth for him the wave.

Notice Whittier’s gifts as a storyteller in these verses and a general theme of true love!

For what it’s worth, before Whittier’s success with Snowbound, with which he made $10,000, he was supposedly quite lacking in social graces and wasn’t attracting the interest of women at all. After success, he was bombarded with marriage proposals and one woman went so far to buy a house next to his farm in Haverhill, Massachusetts, to have him within easy reach of her tempting tentacles.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Soprano: Mirella Freni

Mirella Freni

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Soprano: Mirella Freni

On Sunday February 9, the soprano Mirella Freni died from the combination of strokes and a degenerative disease she had been suffering for a number of years. I have been a fan of her records ever since first hearing one of her singing a Verdi aria over 50 years ago while still in high school. Her good looks, the power and beauty of her vocal chords and the magnificent acting she brought to bear in her various stage roles set her apart from the other sopranos (to take nothing away from the great ones among them such as Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Virginia Zeani, Victoria de los Angeles etcs.).

She and tenor Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) were born in the same town, Modena, Italy, about six months apart. Their mothers worked in the same cigar factory, were friends themselves, and, because of the toxins from their jobs, gave their babies to the same wet nurse. Pavarotti later happily attributed Freni’s beautiful rosy cheeks to her getting more of that nutritious milk from their nurse.

Pavarotti’s 1965 La Scala debut in Puccini’s La Boheme under conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) had him paired with Freni. As I write this column, I am listening to the YouTube of the 1974 recording of the opera that all three of them did for London records, which I highly recommend as a beginner’s set. For those who want more Freni recommendations, I will simply state I have never heard a Freni recording, with or without Pavarotti, I didn’t like and leave it at that, especially with so many examples of her on YouTube.

Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess delayed and recorded Met February 15 link at Waterville Opera House!

I first saw George Gershwin’s 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess, in 1977 through a touring Houston Grand Opera production at Boston’s Opera House, one that has been preserved on an RCA Victor set. The composer (1898-1937) called it a folk opera and explained his reasoning in a 1935 New York Times article:

Porgy and Bess is a folk tale. Its people naturally would sing folk music. When I first began work on the music, I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore, I wrote my own spirituals and folksongs. But they are still folk music-and therefore being in operatic form, Porgy and Bess became a folk opera.

The Met production starred Eric Owens as Porgy, Angel Blue as Bess, and a fine supporting cast. Mention should be made of Alfred Walker as Bess’s evil ex-boyfriend, Crown; Frederick Ballentine as the unsavory drug dealer, Sportin’ Life; Latonia Moore as the righteous woman of prayer for everybody, Serena; Denyce Graves as the feisty cookshop owner, Maria, etcs.

The opera contains the old favorites Summertime, It Ain’t Necessarily So, Bess You Is My Woman Now, I Got Plenty Of Nuthin’, I’m On My Way, and several other less known but equally good musical numbers.

The very gifted David Robertson conducted a magnificent performance and all visual aspects of the staging were very good.

The next live Met link is George Frederick Handel’s opera, Agrippina, on leap year, February 29.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: The great pianists Peter and Rudolf Serkin

Peter and Rudolf Serkin

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The great pianists Peter and Rudolf Serkin

Peter Serkin (1947-2020) and his father, Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991), achieved fame as classical pianists of immense distinction. I saw each of them perform twice in concert and found their musicianship quite special for different reasons. Before writing about Peter, who died recently of pancreatic cancer, I will share experiences of his father.

My first encounter with Rudolf Serkin was via a 1960 Columbia Masterworks recording of the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which my mother bought as a member of the Columbia Record Club in Terre Haute, Indiana. The piece, written in 1881, more than 20 years after the composer’s 1st Concerto, is filled with grandeur, passion, beauty and knuckle-busting virtuosity – just the sort of music Rudolf Serkin reveled in.

He dove into it with full-fledged commitment and joy, ripped into its furies ferociously and coaxed its more poetic moments, especially in its tender 3rd movement Andante with the solo cello passages, as though his own life depended on it.

I saw him perform twice at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 1974. He was a small man with small fingers that he had to relentlessly train to span octaves, unlike pianists with larger hands who met those technical challenges more easily. And he was a joy to watch; he would sing with his hands and body, jump up and down on the piano stool during the more dramatic passages and hum constantly.

One concert was a pension fund one with the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa and featured the Brahms 1st Concerto which, as far as I was concerned, he played better than anyone else. (It happens to be my favorite piano concerto, I have well over 80 recordings of it including the four different ones that Serkin did and each one of them has at least something good.)

The second concert was an all-Beethoven recital with the 1st and 32nd Piano Sonatas and Diabelli Variations. That Sunday afternoon, Symphony Hall was packed and I was one of several seated on the stage.

Peter was a taller man, he had bigger hands and he conveyed a more relaxed manner at the keyboard. He also favored different repertoire from his father and performed much 20th century music, unlike the 18th and 19th century composers that drew the elder Serkin’s attention. But the son did record six Mozart Concertos, Beethoven’s transcription of his Violin Concerto and a recording of the Brahms 1st Concerto, which is among those I haven’t heard yet.

I saw him play the Ravel Piano Concerto with the Washington D.C. Symphony under Christian Badea at its Kennedy Center, in 1979, and a double bill of the Mozart 16th Concerto and Igor Stravinsky Capriccio for Piano and Winds with the late Sergiu Comissiona conducting the Houston Symphony at Jones Hall, in 1987, during the years I lived in that city. He was the personification of cool, calm and collected at the keyboard and played beautifully.

A couple of asides. Rudolf Serkin once announced that he was taking a winter sabbatical to study the Haydn String Quartets. When asked by friends why, he replied, “Because they are beautiful.”

Meanwhile, Peter listened to such rock bands as the Grateful Dead and would retreat to the Cave in his house which contained his record collection of over 3,000 LPs.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich

Composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Shostakovich

Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar”

Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) based his 13th Symphony on the poem, ‘Babi Yar,’ by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933-2017). Babi Yar is the ravine near Kiev, Ukraine, where over 34,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered by Nazi Einsatzgruppen death squads during late September 1941. However, poet Yevtushenko used the massacre as a jumping off point in his denunciation of the anti-Semitism that had continued to exist in Russia.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Meanwhile, Shostakovich had read Babi Yar and other poems by the author and used it and four others – Humour, In the Store, Fears and Career – as sub-titles for each of the four movements in this Symphony, which he completed in the summer of 1962; movements 2 – 5 were finished in six weeks. It lasts just over an hour and is scored for bass male singer, chorus of basses, three flutes, piccolo, three oboes, English horn, three clarinets, E flat clarinet, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contra bassoon, four French horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, tympani, triangle, castanets, whip, woodblocks, tambourine, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, bells, tam tam, glockenspiel, xylophone, two harps, celesta, piano and full string contingent of violins, violas, cellos and double basses.

When Shostakovich finished the work, he sang the entire Symphony for Yevtushenko in a private meeting, accompanying himself on the piano. The poet later wrote, “If I were able to write music, I would have written it the way Shostakovich did. His music made the poem greater, more meaningful, and powerful….In a word, it became a better poem.”

Shostakovich commented most tellingly about the anti-Semitism that continued to exist in Russia that was alluded to in an earlier paragraph:

“People knew about Babi Yar before Yevtushenko’s poem, but they were silent. And when they read the poem, the silence was broken. Art destroys silence.”

The composer also shared his feelings about Yevtushenko’s writing and its underlying themes:

“Morality is a sister of conscience. And perhaps God is with Yevtushenko when he speaks of conscience. Every morning in place of prayers, I re-read or repeat by memory two poems by Yevtushenko – Career and Boots.” (Time and space do not allow room to print them here.)

Needless to say, the fact that this Symphony was in preparation caused a firestorm among the Soviet leadership, with Nikita Kruschchev going ballistic (and the October ’62 Cuban missile crisis just a few short months later). But the concert took place and caused an absolute sensation. Three or four more followed and then it was suppressed. One of Shostakovich’s greatest interpreters, and close friend, Yevgeny Mravinsky, bowed out for unknown reasons so the great conductor, Kirill Kondrashin, stepped to the podium and his performances were released on LPs. There were several years of waiting but the score was eventually smuggled to the west where it received its American premier and first recording in January 1970, from bass soloist Tom Krause and Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Symphony has received a number of distinguished recordings during the last 50 years and some of them can be heard on YouTube, including those of Kondrashin, Ormandy, Haitink, and Barshai, which I recommend highly.

The February 1 Met Opera Porgy and Bess of George Gershwin has been postponed by the Waterville Opera House until February 15 due to another event held there. I heard the broadcast on the radio, via the WQXR radio station computer link, and plan to see it then!

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Gilbert and Sullivan Weekend

Sir William Gilbert (left) and Sir Arthur Sullivan (right).

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Gilbert and Sullivan Weekend

The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company; London, 430144-4, cassette, selections recorded between 1959 and 1973.

Playwright Sir William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900) began a collaboration that produced 14 comic operas from 1871 to 1896, several of which are still produced often around the world. They were noted for the combination of Gilbert’s witty lyrics and Sullivan’s melodies. The story lines involved thinly-veiled satires on the customs and attitudes of 19th century English society and the then-reigning and wonderful Queen Victoria was one of their biggest fans.

Sir Richard D’Oyly Carte

The premieres and long runs were bankrolled by businessman, Sir Richard D’Oyly Carte (1844-1901) who founded the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, which has produced many stagings and recordings of the Gilbert and Sullivan works, still doing so to this day. The company established the state of the art Savoy Theatre, in London.

Gilbert and Sullivan themselves were micro-managing perfectionists who had the right balance of strictness and wit to get everybody’s best performances, having little tolerance for prima donnas and sloppiness of detail .

The selections on the above cassette come from H.M.S. Pinafore, the Mikado, Yeomen of the Guard, Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, and the Gondoliers, and feature at least two examples of the team’s famous patter songs, which demand tongue-twisting singing- Pinafore’s I Am the Monarch of the Sea and Penzance’s I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General, both of them sung by the very gifted John Reed (1916-2010), who is joined by soprano Elizabeth Harwood (1938-1990) in a special favorite of mine, the Yeoman of the Guard’s I Have a Song to Sing, O!

I can’t finish without offering a few quotes from G & S:

H.M.S. Pinafore – “What, never? No, never! What, never ? Well, hardly ever!”

Pirates of Penzance – “I don’t think much of our profession but, contrasted with respectability, it is comparatively honest!”

Princess Ida – “Darwinian man, though well-behaved, at best is only a monkey shaved.”

“Man is nature’s sole mistake.”