Musical Opinion

During recent years record collectors have been grateful for the enterprise and imagination of Stephen Sutton’s aptly named Divine Art label, and here is another winner. The complete music of Arthur Sullivan’s Haddon Hall, made complete through the inclusion of Sydney Grundy’s complete libretto, including the spoken sections, which are quite rightly omitted form the performance.

G&S addicts generally agree that The Gondoliers, in 1889, was the last of the high quality operas, neither Utopia Limited nor The Grand Duke, in 1893 and 1896 respectively, being vintage pieces in the Savoy Opera tradition. In 1892 Gilbert began a court case which created a rift, causing Richard d’Oyly-Carte and Sullivan to look for another librettist. Sydney Grundy filled the bill with a libretto based on Dorothy Vernon’s elopement with John Manners from her ancestral home Haddon Hall. Grundy moved the action to another century, letting the Savoy audience enjoy a chorus of Puritans.

From Sullivan’s point of view he had a libretto which did not call for the special attention to each word demanded by Gilbert’s genius, as well as a plot which involved real people. He obviously relished his task and the enthusiasm of the Chorus and Orchestra of the Prince Consort in Edinburgh’s Portobello Town Hall in June 2000 has produced an infectious recording of what deserves to be a regularly staged member of the Savoy Opera repertory.

With 15 singing and one speaking parts Haddon Hall is no inexpensive work to stage but listening to these CDs is such a delight that it must be possible to convince the legion of G&S quality amateurs to bring it to life. The Sir Arthur Sullivan Society has collaborated with Divine Art in this project and their number is 01388-710308.

This is Sullivan at his best, with the success of The Golden Legend and his own opera Ivanhoe to persuade him that he was a real composer, yet needing to keep up the Savoy pieces for financial reasons. The lovers’ problems are owing to the Civil War. Although Dorothy’s father is a Royalist, her Roundhead cousin, Rupert, is claiming the Haddon estate and Dorothy has been promised to him. However she loves John Manners, another Royalist, and they elope. At the end of an eventful three acts John Manners arrives in the inevitable nick of time to put everything right with a Royal Warrant from King Charles II and Rupert’s Puritan friends decide that merry making is better than being miserable.

A second romance blossoms between John’s servant, Oswald, and Dorothy’s maid, Dorcas. Which means that we have a wealth of solos, duets and ensembles filled with drama, eloquence, and sheer joie-de-vivre. Not to be missed.

—Denby Richards