Friday, May 4, 2012

Album Review: Ohio Light Opera's "Princess Ida" (Thompson, 1999)

Gilbert & Sullivan:  "Princess Ida" 
Ohio Light Opera,  J. Lynn Thompson, conductor, 1999

I've enjoyed the music to Gilbert & Sullivan's Princess Ida for over 30 years now, although until recently I did not own a recording of it. In retrospect, that oversight is pretty odd, and I've never really been able to explain my reticence given the delightful score. Back in 1981, I listened to the charming if imperfect 1955 D'Oyly Carte recording in anticipation of what turned out to be a wonderful production in Binghamton, New York. I've also seen it performed by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players featuring John Reed as King Gama shortly after the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's untimely demise. Today I own D'Oyly-Carte's uneven 1965 recording as well. For those Gilbert and Sullivan fans who aren't familiar with "Princess Ida," definitely seek it out in some form.

"Princess Ida" is the only G&S opera in three acts. Gilbert's target, on the surface, is women's education, but his real criticism of Castle Adamant seems to be that it is an obstacle to mating! Fair enough. I've always found Ida herself to be a cold and unsympathetic character, perhaps as a result of the inadequate Ida on the 1955 recording. Much of the music is just grand, though. "For a Month to Dwell" at the close of Act 1, for example, has long been a favorite of mine.

Ohio Light Opera's recording is from its 1999 production. It includes dialogue, which in this case is Gilbert's venture into blank verse. It's a reasonably good recording, although overall, I don't feel the voice characterizations live up to those of D'Oyly Carte's golden age. Alas, Princess Ida is still waiting for a really first-rate recording.

Note: The three most recent posts here and one newer one also featured my reviews of various recordings of Arthur Sullivan's music. In fact, yesterday's post reviews D'Oyly Carte's 1965 recording of "Princess Ida."


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