Arthur Sullivan – Ivanhoe
CAST: Wilfred, Knight of Ivanhoe: Toby Spence, Richard Cœur-de-Lion: Neal Davies, Lady Rowena: Janice Watson, Rebecca: Geraldine McGreevy, Prince John/Lucas de Beaumanoir: Stephen Gadd, Sir Brian: James Rutherford, Maurice de Bracy: Peter Wedd, Cedric the Saxon: Peter Rose, Friar Tuck: Matthew Brook, Isaac: Leigh Melrose, Ulrica: Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Locksley: Andrew Staples
Adrian Partington Singers
Chorus master: Adrian Partington
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
David Lloyd-Jones, conductor
Sullivan’s Ivanhoe: History
English composer Arthur Sullivan is remembered above all for his collaborations with William Schwenck Gilbert (which create the so-called Savoy operas) and the rest of his production is more or less fallen into oblivion, despite his interest in various musical genres. This was also the destiny of Sullivan’s only grand opera, Ivanhoe, which has gone out of the repertoire after the opening of the Royal English Opera House on January 31, 1891 and the record of one hundred fifty-five performances in a season.
One of the two main reasons of Ivanhoe’s disappearance from the repertoires and theatres in the 20th century lies in its indifference to the renewal of the opera which characterized those years: despite the pressure of Wagnerian music on one side and of Verismo on the other, Ivanhoe proposes nine scenes without musical ties. It is an opera arrived without timing, in fact. The second reason is intrinsic and is related to the libretto: the words and scenes of Julian Sturgis are poor of dramatic effect and this affects also the music, which is not particularly brilliant.
This recording was published by Chandos in 2010 and was the first professional one, after few others, which fade in comparison.
Sullivan’s Ivanhoe: the Performance
Overall, this is a fine discovery: although the music is not deeply engaging, it is never boring. It is rather “placid”, except in the very short introduction, in some choruses and in the tournament at Ashby, where the spirit of the medieval joust prevails. David Lloyd-Jones is not to blame if he could not do more than what he did: he directs the orchestra and soloists with precision, manages to emphasize the important and characteristic moments and, after all, never loses the listener’s attention.
The singers are quite popular (with various shades of notoriety) in the English vocal repertoire and they are generally very good. The one I liked least was Janice Watson as Lady Rowena, both for the thankless voice and for the difficulties she encounters in the high register. Far better are the other two women, Geraldine McGreevy as Rebecca and Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Ulrica, but especially the first. McGreevy has a lovely voice, sweet and expressive, which comes to be moving in the aria of the second act, Lord of our chosen race, which is also one of the most successful pieces of the opera, both musically and dramatically. Wyn-Rogers has a short part, but she sings it very well, although I would have preferred a slightly darker timbre.
Among the male voices, the best of all is Neal Davies as King Richard, who has his best moment in the first scene of Act II, which takes place in Friar Tuck’s hut. I do not know how else to explain (conventional ways would not do justice to the concept), so I hope you will understand: Davies has musicality in his voice, with elegant phrasing and regal and authoritative interpretation that led him above all other baritones of Ivanhoe (including himself, there are four of them, plus two bass-baritones). Also the title role, sung by Toby Spence, is excellent and shows great nobility together with youthful spirit. His best aria is that in Act III.
I think you too will like this opera, but if you do not want to be disappointed, remember that here you will not find the same vivacity of a Savoy opera, but that you will be dealing with an entirely different genre.