Friday, 25 June 2010

Gilbert & Sullivan: Operas with and without Dialogue.

Although I was a member of the chorus in three school performances of G&S – The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe and The Mikado – it is only very recently (after over a third of a century!) that I have bought recordings of these operas. I guess that I have always retained much of the music and the action in my head: I have regularly seen performances over the years and have often played, or is it hacked, my way through the scores.
Yet when I logged on to Amazon to buy my MP3 downloads of the three operas, I discovered that what is missing from many of the CDs is the dialogue – this applies to recordings from the oldest to the most recent. Another lapse appears to be numerous ‘cuts’ that are made to the opera in order to fit them on to one CD.
As an enthusiastic Savoyard, I believe that all the music should be presented: furthermore I have long considered that the dialogue is as important as the music.
Out of the three operas that I downloaded, Iolanthe and the Pirates have the full dialogue – The Mikado has none. I should mention that I insisted on the D’Oyly Carte versions of these operas, so perhaps have missed a fair number of recordings that are complete.

I understand that there are two main reasons usually given for the omission of the dialogue:-
1. When older recordings were made it was usually prohibitive to produce umpteen 78rpm shellac discs or even to stretch to a third LP. Even in the age of the CD there would have been a need to drop onto a second disc for all the operas – with the exception of Trial by Jury or Cox and Box. In the age of MP3 this consideration is surely no longer a ‘case in point.’ Although I guess the dialogue cannot be added if it was not recorded in the first place. I refer here to a number of the D’Oyly Carte/ Sargent recordings.
2. Apparently many listeners only want to hear the music – to the cognoscenti this is virtually sacrilege, but I suppose the record company will always endeavour to provide what the customer wants. Added to this, the tracking tended to include dialogue as well as the song- so it was not possible to ‘skip’ to the next piece of music. This was seen as undesirable –so the dialogue was cut.

So really, the burden of this post is to ensure that if you want the ‘complete’ G&S opera that you check out all the versions and ensure that they have the entire score and the complete dialogue. To this end I suggest that the Savoyard consult the excellent discography on Marc Shepherd’s excellent web site.

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