by Scott Farrell
I was always under the impression that the DOC had never revived the piece until the 70s and the earliest recording came in the 60s. But this one is the daddy of the UTOPIA recordings, because all the others seem to have improved on this crappy album.
The cast looks promising. It's a mix of DOC performers of the era and some HMV stars as well. I'm pasting it in here:
Paramount -- Sydney Granville
Scaphio -- Leo Sheffield
Phantis -- Darrell Fancourt
Tarara -- Leonard Darnton
Calynx -- Ernest Pike
Zara -- Mavis Bennett
Nekaya -- Elsie Griffin
Kalyba -- Eileen Sharp
Sophy -- Bertha Lewis/Edna Thornton
Phylla -- Bessie Jones
Bailey Barre -- Ernest Pike
Goldbury -- Peter Dawson
Dramaliegh -- George Baker
Fitzbattleaxe -- Derek Oldham
Blushington -- Walter Glynne
Corcoran -- Fred Ranalow
Conducted by Harry Norris
Here are some of my notes on each of the tracks on the 4-sided album. (I had great difficulty getting a 4-sided record on my turntable, but after snapping it into 4 equal pieces, it was very easy.)
- The Introduction is not included, as it wasn't diskivered until later in the century. The opera picks up at the opening chorus, but there's a sudden 'drop' in the sound at bar 6, as if the music were loath to cease. Phylla's solo is lovely but the winds drown her out later. Also, the girls let out a big yawn at the end. Cute, but not funny.
- The entrance of Scaphio and Phantis is totally flat. The chorus sounds like they'd rather be somewhere else. The duet is hardly better. Sheffield and Fancourt try to get something out of the song, but the tempo is so abysmally slow that it proves impossible.
- "Let all your doubts" is entirely omitted. The reason being that Sir Rupert Fudgeoff of Ireland claimed to have written a jig following the exact outline of the song and banned it after the close of the provincial tours in the 1890s. Incidentally, the ban was lifted in 1930 because no one cared and Sir Rupert was too senile to remember the fact.
- The entrance of the dancing girls is poorly done. In fact, the 'chorus' sounds like only the principals (BTW, this happens throughout the set). The entrance of Paramount is very much cut. The "Rule Brittania" bars are there, but then it abruptly jumps to "My subjects all". This is quite a pity, for "Autocratic power" was voted the best male song in the opera and always took an encore. Sadly, Granville never recorded the song, so the fans have been robbed of what might have been. Alas!
- The second verse of "Native Maids" is not included, but Sophy's recitative is. The bars for Sophy's song begin immediately afterwards. The middle verse is also cut. BTW, there was rumour that only the recit was included but with no song after on all the disks issued. I am now dispelling that rumour. (I also intend to dispel a rumour of a 1920 recording of UTO-- never mind). This song is performed by Thornton because Lewis had a sneezing fit during every attempt at taping it.
- "First you're born" has nothing to write about, except that the "Ho ho ho!" is very legato and andante, but then it picks up. I can hear only Granville during this one. (The disk switches here)
- "Heavenly gaze" is pretty and Lewis sings the song with much charm. The dance is cut.
- The entrance of Zara and the troopers is dreadfullly slow and sounds as if the journey across the sea wore them out. Zara hacks very loudly just before her solo passage. The troops stamp their feet in rythym after "And we are the escort, First Life Guards!" They proceed to giggle about it in the first bar after that. This happens during both verses. There is also a high screeching sound during the "Oh the hours" part. The band playout at the end of "Gallant Soldier" is not included.
- "It's understood" is utterly bland and Scaphio gets buried in this one. The bridge between this song and "Admirable art" is not included. Both Bennett and Oldham sound acappella in this song. There's a slight murmur but nothing more. "In such a case" Is very quick; I guess they like a whirlwind courtship!
- A strange setting of "Youth is a boon" appears on the disk and this is the only commercial recording of the song, to my knowledge. Bennett sings it well, but the song is set to a hybrid of "We sail the ocean blue" and "Painted emblems"! Very inappropriate and totally stupid.
- Several bars are cut in the opening of the Finale and the chorus sound as though they are gradually approaching without any energy. The introductions of the Flowers are very quick and rushed. Nothing to really write about up to Dramaliegh's song. The waltz following it is not included, but jumps to the cornet outlining C major (but it's played on a clarinet and no man should ever have to make his entrance on a clarinet!) The disk changes again after Blushington's solo. The brief recitatives (beginning "Increase your army!" etc.) is completely cut and launches right into Goldbury's solo. This is the only time I've heard this song at a quick 6/8 beat. All three verses are here and the chorus cheers (with enthusiasm, for once) during the playout. Paramount follows with "And do I understand" etc., and the chorus "Uhlalica" sounds as if half of them left. Then "Henceforward of a verity" is taken at blinding speed. The repeat is not included and the tremolo bars are not either. The orchestra just moves to the C major cadence after the chorus ending. Yuck. Also, I cannot hear Ernest Pike as Calynx during this song, so why is he even listed? He doesn't even have a solo line. Perhaps there is a lost track?
- There is one playing of the strings "A tenor all singers" and then the recitative comes, and rather quickly too. Oldham sings the song straight without any of the gags we're used to. What a pity.
- The duet "Words of love" is also quick and there are several off-center notes from the winds. There's also a loud "SMACK!!" about halfway through the first verse. Also, someone is humming "Were I a king" starting at bar 28, but only on the 2nd verse. This is the worst song on the album for the reasons just enumerated.
- The 2nd verse of the Minstrel song is cut. The refrain "It really is surprising" is taken at andante tempo so every note can be intoned. I wonder what Norris meant by this? To make it less fun, all the tambourines, spoons, blocks and all that stuff are not heard.
- The March is included, the Drawing Room is not. Following that, without a pause, is "This ceremonial". To my surprise, "Eagle High" is wonderful. The only thing that confused me was the 2nd violin playing "Poor wand'ring one" during the brief pause before "Glory, glory anyway!" There's also a horn playing the soprano part throughout. The processional is cut.
- The duet for Scaphio and Phantis is very in character. Very lively until Granville enters and sings "No this won't do" but he sings it on the cadenza "Long life to you" from MIKADO! Pork-pie.
- The proceeding trio is very lackadaisical and uninspired. I don't get why this is here when the duet it mirrors is not. HMV probably insisted on its inclusion.
- We finally get to hear Darnton in his most famous role, Tarara, during "With wily brain". His only other recorded performance of Cyril is a joy to hear; this one tops it. He gives the role a very unique flavour, something it doesn't usually have. Norris' tempo is quite right here. It's a shame that Chris Webster chose not to reissue this song on his label (He claims that his copy of the master tape was chewed on by a pig, prior to it being used as a wrapper for a giant Vienna sausage that was being sent to a Mr. Ibsen in Oslo. I have no reason to disbelieve him, but the whole story sounds contrived. Mr Ibsen refused to comment.)
- Speaking of joy, "Wonderful joy" is also a gem. It's not too slow or too fast and the 2nd verse is given to Dramaliegh. Oddly, Baker doesn't sound like his usual self. Perhaps if he had learned this role on the stage, like all of his other DOC performances, he might have been more convincing. Both Baker and Dawson sing the refrain of the last verse, singing both melodies (that is, the optional vocal line and the other). On the last few chords, Baker sings something different from the harmony, giving it an interesting colour. The other thing worth noting is that the song is sung in C instead of D-flat (take that, Phil!) :)
- piece 4: "Then I may sing and play" is boring. The girls do not sound excited or happy or even alive. Also, there's a crash of cymbal after "It needn't be a hymn one" and prior to "Oh sweet surprise". The playout is reduced to a couple of chords.
- Sophy's recit and song are nice, except that the 2nd verse is much slower than the first. Lewis gets much more emotion out of the song this way, but it's eventually too slow. Lewis also sings the cadenza at the end. It's amazing what a good performer can do for a weak song. There's a sharp blast of brass after the song and Granville begins "Ah lady Sophy!" The recitative is played straight through but does not include "I knew very well why I didn't!". The duet is quick and the dance appears, but the tarantella does not. Only the last 3 bars of it end the Graceful Dance.
- The chorus is finally energized for "Sea-girt land". Unfortunately, there's an ENORMOUS timpani next to the mic, so the Utopians are pounding on the gates of Hell. It's very disturbing.
- The finale is a bigh let-down. It's slow and the energy is gone. Also, someone in the studio lets out a loud belch after Paramount's verse, but the chorus doesn't seem to notice. During the last bars, they shout "Uhlalica" three times, just like at the end of PINAFORE. Now we know where that started.
Final comments: This is a very unusual album. It comes across as a DOC gag gift, I really hope that was the intention. Most of the DOC performers are, sadly, ill-equipped for their assigned roles. The orchestra is almost equally bad. I give this one 2 stars overall. Some performers deserve more, but as a whole, they don't. This recording is historically important only because Queen Elizabeth II owned a copy (which she hated) for a short time and ordered all other copies in the country to be burned and resold as automobile tires. The few that escaped to the States are very rare and expensive. Most record shops, if not all, have never heard of this one. I will burn a copy to CD if nobody doesn't want none.