Tuesday 31 March 2020

Sullivan at his peak, but without Gilbert: Haddon Hall gets its first professional recording

Sullivan Haddon Hall, Ford Mr Jericho, Cellier Captain Billy; Ed Lyon, Henry Waddington, Adrian Thompson, Ben McAteer, Donald Maxwell, Sarah Tynan, Fiona Kimm, Angela Simkin, BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra, John Andrews; Dutton Epoch
Sullivan Haddon Hall, Ford Mr Jericho, Cellier Captain Billy; Ed Lyon, Henry Waddington, Adrian Thompson, Ben McAteer, Donald Maxwell, Sarah Tynan, Fiona Kimm, Angela Simkin, BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra, John Andrews; Dutton Epoch
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 March 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Sullivan's first major operetta without Gilbert receives its first professional recording in a terrific performance which shows the work has a lot to enjoy

After the production of The Gondoliers in 1889, the relationship between Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir W. S. Gilbert fractured, apparently irrevocably. There had been rocky patches before, and the remarkably success of Alfred Cellier's Dorothy in 1888 and 1889 caused problems, as did Sullivan's preference for moving towards more serious subjects. Gilbert would give Sullivan The Yeomen of the Guard, the pair's most serious operetta, but would not go as far as out and out serious opera. Outside of his relationship with Gilbert, Sullivan had success with his oratorio The Golden Legend (1886) and his opera Ivanhoe (1891, which had remarkable success but no obvious successor).

Logic would have said that it was perfectly possible for Sullivan to write comic operas with Gilbert and more serious ones with others, but Gilbert's quarrel with impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte over the finances of the Savoy Operas led to a final break which prevented further Gilbert and Sullivan operas (the two would eventually get together again for two more, Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke, but the magic was gone).

So in 1892, D'Oyly Carte turned to the playwright Sydney Grundy who had already written the libretto for Edward Solomon's 1882 comic opera The Vicar of Bray (which had a successful revival at the Savoy Theatre in 1892). Grundy and Sullivan wrote Haddon Hall, an historical romance rather than comic opera, which seems to have been an attempt to continue the vein of The Yeomen of the Guard.

Haddon Hall had a moderately successful premiere run at the Savoy Theatre, and remained popular with amateurs well into the 1920s. The work was one of a number, I think, whose performing materials were disposed of by publishers during the post-War period which meant that any modern revival had to start with the creation of new performing materials. Sydney Grundy's libretto evidently leaves something to be desired, and whether the work would find a home on the modern stage is an interesting question. But the music is undoubtedly Sullivan at his prime.

So we must be grateful for this new recording of Sullivan and Grundy's Haddon Hall on Dutton Epoch, with John Andrews conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Singers, with Ed Lyon as John Manners, Henry Waddington as Sir George Vernon, Adrian Thompson as Oswald, Ben McAteer as Rupert Vernon, Donald Maxwell as McCrankie, Sarah Tynan as Dorothy Vernon, Fiona Kimm as Lady Vernon and Angela Simkin as Dorcas. The piece is accompanied by two shorter contemporary works, Ernest Ford's Mr Jericho from 1893 and Francois Cellier's Captain Billy from 1891.

Grundy's libretto for Haddon Hall takes an historical event from the history of the Manners and Vernon families of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, when heiress Dorothy Vernon eloped with John Manners, but moved it from 16th century to the 17th so that the differences between the Vernons and the Manners are also ones of politics, the difference between Royalists and Parliamentary supporters. Keen eyed opera lovers will also spot links to Donizetti's opera Lucia di Lammermoor, the heroine forced to marry a man chosen by her father/brother but in love with her father's/brother's enemy (Donizetti's opera debuted in 1835 and was first performed in London in 1838 and was an operatic staple).  And Sullivan's operatic style does, in some ways, hark back to this type of Italian opera as much as the operas of Jacques Offenbach, which are in some ways the closest model.

Sullivan: Haddon Hall - Act One Finale from the 1892 premiere
Sullivan: Haddon Hall - Act One Finale from the 1892 premiere

Whilst John Manners (Ed Lyon) and Dorothy Vernon (Sarah Tynan) are the central characters, Grundy's libretto gives plenty of stage time to their servants, Manners' man Oswald (Adrian Thompson) and Vernon's maid Dorcas (Angela Simkin), whilst the Puritans who come with Dorothy Vernon's espoused, Rupert Vernon (Ben McAteer) are pure comic. The actual elopement is mirrored by a violent storm, where Sullivan's music recalls the serious vein that he found in the music for the ghosts in Ruddigore.

There is no overture, just an introduction leading to an off-stage chorus whose text 'Ye stately homes of England' rather recalls Noel Coward (though Sullivan's music does not!). The opera is in three acts, perhaps reflecting Grundy's theatrical background (of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas, only Princess Ida is in three acts).

Angela Simkin's characterful Dorcas opens things with a delightful song about a  snail and a dormouse (clearly an allegory for Dorothy Vernon and her espoused cousin Rupert). The entrance of Dorothy (Sarah Tynan) and her parents (Henry Waddington and Fiona Kimm) leads to one of Sullivan's delightful 'madrigals' (very little to do with the plot but a lovely musical moment). But Sullivan manages to move the action forward via dramatic trio for Dorothy and her parents articulating their differences which is pure Sullivan and evokes many similar ensembles in earlier operas with Gilbert. Things are temporarily resolved in a lovely mother/daughter duet for Fiona Kimm and Sarah Tynan.

In another G&S echo, the hero John Manners' servant Oswald (Adrian Thompson) enters disguised as a seller of ribbons, and we certainly think of Nanki-Poo in this whilst Sullivan has great fun bringing in quotes from The Marseillaise, Yankee-Doodle and others to illustrate the places the ribbons come from. Thompson is a great delight here, knowing how to make the words count. Oswald catches the eye of Dorothy's maid Dorcas (Angela Simkin), cue a delightful duet with Sullivan at his imaginative best, but business is transacted too as the duet develops into a trio with Dorothy (Sarah Tynan) where we can appreciate Sullivan's melodic gifts and the imaginative way he worked his material with the confines of the style.

There follows a solo for John Manners (Ed Lyons) lyrically hymning his love for Dorothy, leading to a duet for the two; a rather serene piece given the drama that is supposed to be happening. This rather points to a weakness in the work, Sullivan's imaginative music does not always quite match the underlying drama and you feel that things did not catch fire with Grundy the way they did with Gilbert. However, in Dorothy's subsequent aria she develops a vein of determination that we can recognise from Yum-Yum in The Mikado.

With the eruption of the Puritans onto the scene, Sullivan has more musical fun by evoking the Anabaptists theme from Meyerbeer's Le Prophete (1849 with the first London performance that year, it became a staple in the operatic repertoire). The advent of Dorothy's cousin Rupert (Ben McAteer), who gets his own lively patter song which articulates his distrust of the Puritan ethic that he has espoused and McAteer really does bring out the links to earlier G&S comic baritone parts. The finale is one of Sullivan's complex, multi-part ones, involving celebratory chorus, Dorothy's refusal to marry Rupert and the resulting dramatic ensemble.

Act Two starts with a tremendous orchestral storm, and begins with a comic scene with one of the Puritans, a Scot called McCrankie (Donald Maxwell) who accompanies himself on the bagpipes (Sullivan having great fun in the orchestra). This whole opening scene is a comic one, with a duet for McCrankie and Rupert (Ben McAteer) and a trio for McCrankie, Rupert and Dorcas as the two men try to flirt with her, and throughout Sullivan adds a Scots flavour in his music for McCrankie.

The music of the storm threads its way through the elopement scene, with a duet for Dorcas and Oswald, 'The west wind howls', which leads to a trio with Manners defying the storm and lightning. Sarah Tynan and Ed Lyon then have a rapturous duet where Tynan is poignant in Dorothy's farewell to her home, and again Sullivan brings in the storm music towards the end, leading via a final quartet to the terrific storm sequence in the orchestra.

The second scene of Act Two, where the elopement is discovered by Sir George and Lady Vernon and their guests, is a skilful mixture of comedy (the Puritans) and drama, ranging from the striking 'Eloped! Eloped!' quartet (with quotes from the elopement scene) to the comic narrative duet for Rupert and McCrankie, and then finally the scene for Lady Vernon (a wonderfully dignified Fiona Kimm) and chorus, which brings things to a strikingly sober and rather moving conclusion.

With Act Three we have jumped a few years, Rupert is the owner of Haddon Hall and everyone is Puritan; cue a typically Sullivan chorus which is ostensibly sober but has lively asides. Fiona Kimm sings a lovely ballad as Lady Vernon says farewell to her garden (one Gilbertian element, thankfully missing from the opera is the send up of the 'elderly' contralto character), leading to a touching duet with Henry Waddington's Sir George.

Oswald's return as a soldier leads to a lively ensemble, which develops as an extended ensemble where the return of General Monck and the Royal settlement lead to Rupert being evicted from Haddon Hall (with much comedy being made of the McCrankie and the chorus disavowing Puritanism), and the triumphant return of Dorothy and John Manners.

The cast are clearly having great fun, you cannot think of a better performance of the work (this is its first professional recording). You only have to map the various roles onto their equivalents in early G&S operas and you realise how well this is performed musically and strongly characterised. John Andrews conducts with real love, and continuing his profitable mining of a vein of neglected works in this recording. Andrews' previous recordings on Dutton include Sullivan's Light of the World, and the composer's incidental music for Macbeth and The Tempest, plus Francois Cellier's The Mountebanks, which sets a Gilbert libretto that Sullivan rejected. For all lovers of music of this period, I think that it is also worth exploring Ivanhoe, which was given a fine recording on Chandos in 2010 conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, and is a good example of the strengths (and weaknesses) of Sullivan in serious vein.

I don't think that Haddon Hall will ever reach the main stream, but it has an important place in Sullivan's output. This recording enables us to hear some terrific music, without worrying about the efficacy of Grundy's libretto. Throughout the piece, though, you cannot help wishing that Grundy had been Gilbert. Too often you feel Sullivan is harking back to a formula from a previous Savoy Opera, and I am still undecided as to whether the various fine moments add up to a work of real substance.

Sullivan's opera is accompanied on this disc by a pair of works written specifically as curtain raisers (a 19th century tradition which gradually went out of fashion). These are poorly documented, of the 34 curtain raisers known to be performed by D'Oyly Carte companies between 1877 and 1908, only 14 had some of their music published and the orchestral parts for only five survive in the D'Oyly Carte archives.

Here we have Ernest Ford's Mr Jericho which was written to be performed toward the end of the run of Haddon Hall, and Francois Cellier's Captain Bill which was a curtain raiser for Edward Solomon and George Dance's The Nautch Girl and for the revival of Solomon and Grundy's The Vicar of Bray. Both have a Gilbertian cast to the plots (we are not given the dialogue, which is perhaps a blessing). The music in both cases might be called Sullivan-esque, yet the two provide valuable companions to Haddon Hall giving us a greater idea of the music that was around at the time. And perhaps making clear quite how brilliant Sullivan was.

Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) - Haddon Hall (1892) [109:16]
John Manners - Ed Lyon (tenor)
Sir George Vernon - Henry Waddington (bass-baritone)
Oswald - Adrian Thompson (tenor)
Rupert Vernon - Ben McAteer (baritone)
McCrankie - Donald Maxwell (baritone)
Dorothy Vernon - Sarah Tynan (soprano)
Lady Vernon - Fiona Kimm (mezzo-soprano)
Dorcas - Angela Simkin (mezzo-soprano)
BBC Singers
BBC Concert Orchestra
John Andrews (conductor)

Ernest Ford (1858-1919) - Mr Jericho (1893) [21:22]
Michael de Vere - Henry Waddington
Horace Alexander de Vere - Ed Lyon
Mr Jericho - Ben McAteer
Lady Bushey - Fiona Kimm
Winifred - Eleanor Dennis (soprano)
BBC Concert Orchestra
John Andrews (conductor)

Francois Cellier (1849-1914) - Captain Billy (1891) [19:43]
Captain Billy - Ben McAteer
Christopher Jolly - Ed Lyon
Samuel Chunk - Henry Waddington
Widow Jackson - Fiona Kimm
Polly - Eleanor Dennis
BBC Concert Orchestra
John Andrews (conductor)

Recorded at Watford Colosseum, 6-10 January 2019

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