Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Ghosts' High Noon

For me and many others, the musical highlight of Gilbert & Sullivan's comic opera Ruddigore (1887) occurs in the second act. The ghost of Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, the twenty-first baronet of Ruddigore, after descending from his ancestral picture frame, describes the ghostly revelry that occurs at midnight to the petrified Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, the newest and most reluctant baronet. The song, of course, is "When the night wind howls" or more familiarly "The Ghosts' High Noon" and it is sung by Sir Roderic with the chorus of ghosts. Sullivan's orchestration is nothing less than brilliant.

Donald Adams as the ghost of Sir Roderic Murgatroyd,
1961 Savoy Theatre Production

Bass-baritone Donald Adams handled the song splendidly in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's outstanding 1962 recording of the opera, and two decades later he played the role in the 1982 Brent Walker video production. What's most remarkable about this selection on video is that Roderic's wonderful description of the revelry is fully visualized. Still, you never feel the ghosts are anywhere but a soundstage. Alexander Faris conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus.

Gilbert & Sullivan
Ruddigore (1887)
"When the Night Wind Howls"
Dir. Brent Walker, 1982
Donald Adams as Sir Roderic
Alexander Faris, Conductor
London Symphony Orchestra
Ambrosian Opera Chorus

Sir Arthur Sullivan himself never composed a proper overture for Ruddigore. Instead, the theme to "When the night wind howls" features prominently in Geoffrey Toye's 1921 revised version of the overture, sometimes referred to as "The Haunted Ballroom." This musical theme can be heard in the 1962 D'Oyly Carte recording in the overture starting at around 00:20. Isidore Godfrey conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera.
Gilbert & Sullivan
Ruddigore,Act 1
The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company

In Act II of the same recording, the famous ghost scene begins at 13:00 and "When the night wind howls" is sung by Donald Adams starting at 17:22.
Gilbert & Sullivan
Ruddigore, Act 2
The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company

 W. S. Gilbert's own Bab illustrations for "When the night wind howls" are from his collection Songs of a Savoyard (1890 and 1897):
Bab (W. S. Gilbert), "The Ghosts' High Noon," Songs of a Savoyard, 1890
Bab (W. S. Gilbert), "The Ghosts' High Noon," Songs of a Savoyard, 1897

Bab (W. S. Gilbert), "The Ghosts' High Noon," Songs of a Savoyard, 1890
Sir William Russell Flint (1880-1969) illustrates the ghosts
out of their portrait frams and making passes at Robin,
who begins to writhe in agony.

The album cover illustration for Sir Malcolm Sargent's 1963 "Glyndebourne" recording of the opera depicts the scene so vividly described in "When the night wind howls."
Ray Jelliffe, Ruddigore EMI Album Cover, 1963


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