When Cole Porter’s “Out of This World” premiered in 1950, the critics could not help (I assume) crying down its value because it did not compare with his 1948 “Kiss Me Kate.” So when Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Ruddygore, or The Witch’s Curse” opened in 1887, boos were heard for the first time in their career, mostly because it could not top “The Mikado” of 1885. Not fair, but that’s what audiences are like. So several revisions were made, mostly cuts, for the rest of the run. And the title was changed orthographically but not phonetically to “Ruddigore.” The subtitle was nearly changed to “Not so Good as The Mikado,” but that silly idea was dropped.
When revived in 1920, even more cuts began to be made, the most important of which were the Act I love duet “The battle’s roar is over,” an Act II patter song for Robin Oakapple, and a very snappy Act II finale sequence that led into the usual reprise of an earlier number. Even the Overture, which contained the excised material, had to be revised—and not for the better.
The three D’Oyly Carte Company recordings keep most of the cuts. None of them have the snappy finale or the patter song, while the 1931 electric recording omits the duet, which is included on the 1924 acoustic and the 1962 stereo versions. The monophonic LP of 1952 has even further cuts. Including the 1962 stereo version with Glyndebourne singers and the very complete 1987 recording with the New Sadler’s Wells forces, there are scarcely two recordings that are consistent in what is included.
However, what they all lack is the dialogue. And now the Ohio Light Opera company’s production is out in a 2-CD set on the Albany label, and any Ruddigore-lover’s fondest wish has come true. Not only are many of the musical cuts restored but the complete dialogue is included.
Although it lacks the period charm of the older 78 rpm recordings, the cast sounds just right for this spoof on the Victorian gothic melodrama of pure village maidens (who know how to follow the money), simple village lads (with horrible secrets), wicked baronets (who crave to be virtuous), simple seamen (who are motivated purely by self-interest), faithful family retainers (who become as wicked as their masters), village mad women (who are almost cured by a sort of mantra), and haunted castles (with picture galleries that come alive at “the night’s high noon”). And one must mention a female population entirely devoted to being bridesmaids during a depression in the marriage market.
The tunes are as delightful as any found in the other G&S works, while the dialogue spoofs the genre simply by sounding exactly like it with slight exaggerations. And, of course, the Act II patter trio is the patter song to end all patter songs. Some say that the ghost music is almost too good for a spoof; but Sullivan is more of a major composer than some admit and must be given some leeway to “show his stuff.” (The next work, “The Yeoman of the Guard,” gives him an entire work to show his serious side.)
My only slight complaint (too strong a word for this excellent OLO production) is that the pacing of the dialogue could be a little snappier. As with all of their past G&S recordings, they speak it very slowly lest a single bit of humor escape the audience. That said, I can find little fault with any aspect of this recording. I do wish, however, they used the original, not the revised, Overture.
The cast includes Ted Christopher (Robin), Cecily Ellis (Rose), Frederick Reeder (Despard), Anthony Buck (Dick), Dennis Jesse (Roderic), Jessie Wright Martin (Hannah), and Sahara Glasener-Boles (Margaret). Unlike the male vocalists in the New Sadler’s Wells recording, those here have the deep voices needed for their characters, especially the bottomless basso of Cory Clines (Adam).
While conductor Michael Borowitz’ tempos are now and then a little slow, he obviously loves the score and even gives an encore of the last stanza of the patter trio.
The running time is a very enjoyable 130 minutes and the complete text is provided in the program notes.