The 1926 D'Oyly Carte production of The Mikado - Superb new Obert-Thorn transfer
"the whole performance is extraordinarily good and sparkling" - The Gramophone, 1927
"it is doubtful that any better cast than this was assembled in the twentieth century" - The G&S Discography
The 1926 Production - promotional film
Review (HMV 78s)
The Mikado. Produced at the Savoy, March 14th, 1885.
In the old set (H.M.V., D.2-D.12 [rec. 1917]) the overture, especially the second half, was the pick of the whole bunch, and Radford the pick of the artists. The tenor and soprano both seem a little flat in their top notes, and the tenor further lacks the sense of the opera which Oldham has. The second verse of Pish-Tush's song Our great Mikado was cut, and I am glad to find it restored in the new set, and there were a few minor ones as well.
The new set has every advantage, not only improved recording, but also the actual singers that we know in the theatre, available to no other recording company. There are, however, some small faults. Oldham in A Wandering Minstrel I is excellent and sympathetic, but uses falsetto at the end which should be unnecessary for so good a singer. Sheffield and Fancourt are neither of them vocally so good as Radford, but are first-rate nevertheless. Fancourt in the Mikado's song "fair gives one the creeps," even though he cannot make such an excruciating "gulch" as Leicester Tunks used to do. Ko-ko is bound to lose most through being invisible, and Lytton seems to feel this. At any rate, he is inclined to be mechanical, delightful though he always is, even at a discount. As for the women, whereas Violet Essex sings The Sun whose rays with dramatic effect but flat, Elsie Griffin sings it blamelessly but with-no dramatic effect at all. Bertha Lewis is first-rate, as one feels sure before coming to her. Three little maids is capitally sung and the Madrigal is heavenly, especially the piano, but the whole performance is extraordinarily good and sparkling, one good thing after another, in fact - with one serious blemish, the overbearing orchestra already referred to. There are certain variations from the original score, but in accordance with invariable stage practice; for instance, So please you, Sir as originally written. included Pish-Tush as well as Pooh-Bah and the three Little Maids. In the finale a few bits of accompaniment are cut out to save time, but every word of the libretto is there apart from the dialogue.
Excerpt from "Savoy Opera Records" by N. M. Cameron, The Gramophone June 1927
The 1926 D’Oyly Carte production of The Mikado boasted several “firsts”. It was the first to use new costumes and scenery since the original production of 1885, and the first to broadcast a portion of the opening night performance on the radio, live from the theater. It would also become not merely the first Gilbert and Sullivan work, but the first opera of any kind to be recorded complete using the new electrical process.
As might be expected with such an early effort, the recording quality is variable. Some portions have much clarity and presence, while other sides sound dim and muffled. There are balance problems between singers and orchestra, and sometimes between one singer and another. The sides dating from the December 6th session are particularly problematic – bass-deficient, shrill and distorted.
Nevertheless, the set is significant in that it preserves the performances of several unforgettable Savoyards. As the Gilbert and Sullivan Discography website puts it, this was “the height of the so-called ‘golden age’ of G&S singing, and it is doubtful that any better cast than this was assembled in the twentieth century. Lytton, Lewis, Fancourt, Oldham and Griffin are all justifiably rated as G&S legends.” Chief among the attractions here is the Ko-Ko of Sir Henry A. Lytton, heir to the “patter” roles originated by George Grossmith and continued by Walter Passmore, who would himself turn them over to Martyn Green in the 1930s. (The recording also, unfortunately, preserves a racial slur in Ko-Ko’s “little list” and the Mikado’s litany of punishments, one which was not removed from the performing editions until 1948.)
The transfer has been made from the best portions of three late-Orthophonic U.S. Victor pressings, the quietest form of issue I have heard for this basically rather noisy set. Save for excerpts, it has never received an “official” LP or CD reissue.
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