Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Gilbert Sullivan - Master Collection |
Actors: Eric Shilling, Anne Collins, Francis Egerton, Tom McDonnell, Fiona Kimm
Directors: Barrie Gavin, Dave Heather, Peter Wood, Rodney Greenberg
Genres: Comedy, Television, Musicals & Performing Arts
Featuring the london symphony orchestra and a host of international stars including vincent price joel gray peter marshall keith mitchell frankie howerd and peter allen. Filmed in england and created especially for tv they... more »
Less than hoped for
Walter P. Sheppard | Arlington, VA United States | 02/12/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"For many (most?) of us, this set provides the first chance to see as well as hear all of the principal G & S operas except "Trial by Jury," in all their "innocent merriment." That said, I have to observe that the set is not a source of "unalloyed pleasure." The individual productions range from very good to unmitigated disasters. At the same time, I must acknowledge that it is something of a miracle that any of them are even acceptable because they were produced under conditions that virtually guaranteed that excellence was impossible: the principals apparently worked under the handicap of singing to pre-recorded accompaniment, allowing them no flexibility of phrasing for expression. In addition, each production was rehearsed for only a week and then taped in a week. All are plagued by generally poor diction, especially from the chorus, and by lots of busy, pointless moving around, especially by the chorus. When the chorus has to brandish swords, staffs, lilies, etc., the members rarely are together. Dancing, choreographed by Terry Gilbert (no relation, I'm sure!), is at best passable. Finally, the scenery and costumes mostly look low budget. Casting is odd. The producers apparently didn't trust the material, so they brought in a "name" performer or two to "star" in each production whether or not they could contribute anything but their names. Some of them are very good, others are disasters. Clive Revill gives excellent performances as John Wellington Wells ("Patience") and Ko-Ko ("Mikado"), and Joel Grey is a wonderful Jack Point ("Yeomen"). Peter Allen brings nothing special to the Pirate King, but he does not disgrace himself or spoil the production. William Conrad as the Mikado can't sing, and he delivers his lines in a strange, falsetto-like voice at odds with the character. Vincent Price can't really sing, either, but he manages to bring off Despard ("Ruddigore") with credit through canny professionalism. Frank Gorshin brings nothing but monotony to King Gama ("Princess Ida"). Peter Marshall and Frankie Howerd combine to utterly destroy "Pinafore." By his own account, Marshall decided to play Captain Corcoran as a song-and-dance man, which has no connection with the character created by Gilbert & Sullivan. Howerd included bits of his standard comic shtick, even though they are totally unrelated to the character of Sir Joseph. Gilbert would have keel-hauled both of them, along with staging director Michael Geliot for letting them get away with it. "Princess Ida" is staged as a kind of charade or show at some posh estate. This conceit makes the piece mostly unintelligible. Several distinguished opera singers make substantial contributions in the roles they play. Derek Hammond-Stroud is a superb Bunthorne ("Patience"), but his Lord Chancellor ("Iolanthe") is vitiated by David Pountney's staging, which puts most of the action in the House of Lords, contrary to the libretto; the recognition scene with Iolanthe goes for nothing, when it should be touching. Anne Collins gives enjoyable performances as Jane ("Patience"), the Queen of the Fairies ("Iolanthe"; also compromised by the staging), Lady Blanche ("Princess Ida"), Katisha ("Mikado"), and the Duchess of Plaza-Toro ("Gondoliers"). Elizabeth Bainbridge is a solid Dame Carruthers ("Yeomen"). Stafford Dean is a decent Pooh-Bah ("Mikado"). Richard Van Allan sings Private Willis ("Iolanthe") strongly, but his impact is diminished by Pountney's staging. One puzzle of the casting is why only two D'Oyly Carte veterans were used. Donald Adams shows his clear mastery of the style in "The Sorcerer" (Sir Marmaduke), "Patience" (Col. Calverly), and "Ruddigore" (Sir Roderic), as does Gillian Knight (Ruth) in "The Pirates of Penzance." Both have exemplary diction and project the characters they are playing while they sing and move. They would have been welcome in many more roles, along with other members of the company. Each act of each opera is introduced by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in stilted, uncomfortable fashion; your DVD player will let you skip him. The booklets with each set have cast lists (including a few errors and omissions) and texts of the musical numbers. Some familiarity with the librettos is certainly useful. In this connection, the ideal companion would be Ian Bradley's "Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan" (Oxford University Press). In spite of the problems and disappointments, we're not apt to have any alternative to these productions if we want the G & S canon for our home screens. Acquisition of this set should certainly be supplemented by the 1939 film of "The Mikado." It has some peculiarities as a production, but it also has the matchless Ko-Ko of Martyn Green and the first-class Pooh-Bah of Sydney Granville, plus a surprisingly winning Nanki-Poo from Kenny Baker."
Where's Trial by Jury?
paulench | Winter Park, FL USA | 11/19/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is the "Brent Walker" series, noticeably missing from home video for some time. The set makes up the bulk of the G&S popular canon. Recorded but missing are "Trial by Jury" and "Cox & Box" (more on that in a minute).
I saw the series on PBS when it was originally aired about twenty years ago and enjoyed it very much. Bootleg off-air copies and a short-lived VHS release of the series have been all that's available of the Brent/George Walker set until now. I hear that copyright fights over the videos have resulted in years of delays. There must still be a problem with what would be the 11th DVD in the set: "Trial by Jury", coupled with "Cox & Box", which had been released on the the VHS tapes. Perhaps someone else has the facts about this omission.Over the years aficionados have argued the videos' production values which seem to vary somewhat from opera to opera. However, the use of close-ups and conventional television effects make for good television, and these are definitely not videos of live stage performances and should not be judged as such. -True, it's not D'Oyly Carte.
-True, each opera has had some trimming - lines of dialog here and there, a dropped verse or even a song now and then, but they still flow nicely over all.
-True, the choice of comic and romantic lead singers seem strange at times (William Conrad as "The Mikado"!).
-True, these DVDs do have the annoying introduction and intermission lectures by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. which no one I know has ever thought necessary.
-True, optional subtitles might have been nice to have, especially for the some of the rapidunintelligiblepatter songs.BUT - This is probably the best we're going to get of (almost) everything under one roof."
A Great Disappointment
Ranger243 | East Coast USA | 04/06/2006
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I purchased the Favorites Collection from the same series, which contains most of the DVDs included in the Master Collection. Let me start by saying I love Gilbert and Sullivan, but the productions in this series are so bad I winced watching them. When Captain Corcoran first appeared on deck, I furrowed by brow and said out loud, "No, it can't be." But sure enough, a check of the credits revealed that the hardy captain of the H.M.S. Pinafore actually was game show icon Peter Marshall. That claim to fame and his constant horse-toothed grin were distracting enough, but his terrible performance made watching this version of Pinafore almost unbearable. Pete should have stuck to the likes of Yahtzee! and Hollywood Squares. Frankie Howerd speaks most of his lines as Sir Joseph. That may have worked fine for Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, but it was a deep disappointment to a diehard G&S fan waiting to hear some of his favorite songs actually sung. The cast includes a plain-looking Josephine and downright ugly (and aging) Ralph Rackstraw. I focus here on Pinafore because it is usually my favorite and was so horribly wrecked here. But the other productions in the series are no better. The choreography is consistently overwrought to the point of being downright silly. The singing, while at times good, is generally uneven. Spoken lines often are poorly delivered. The series was taped in 1982. It shows its age, and not only from the silly looking, big 70s-80s hair on all the men. The camera work is awkward, the sets invariably cheesy. In one scene in Pirates of Penzance, the camera rises from behind a potted plant in an effect reminiscent of early public access cable television. I could go on, and really I'd like to find something positive to say, but I do so love G&S, whose work here is turned into something so bad it's difficult to watch. I was going to sell my boxed set and the extra DVDs I purchased, but I would not inflict them on someone else. Save your money and invest in some of the excellent audio versions that are out there."
Revisiting after twenty years
I. C. Bond | Taunton UK | 11/30/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The medium of film allows the director the freedom to move in and out of fairyland, inside the Tower of London, from a Japanese Market Place into a Japanese Garden, around the village of Rederring and along the waterways of Venice.
This set of films is a remarkable achievement in many ways. The Brent Walker Organisation announced these recordings back in the early 80's and for a time it was intended to film the stage presentations of the old D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. However, with yet another refusal by the British Arts Council to inject funds into that organisation, (they never did provide any funds although many labour under the misconception that they did), the company had to disband and George Walker had to re-think.
10 operas are presented in this magnificent boxed set (12 in the recent UK release), the 10 Gilbert and Sullivan works from THE SORCERER (1877) to GONDOLIERS (1889) sadly UTOPIA and GRAND DUKE were missed out and of course THESPIS still eludes re-discovery. At the heart of these films is Alexander Faris (himself a guest conductor at D'Oyly Carte from time to time) and he undoubtedly draws some magnificent performances from the London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus. These performances are all the more enjoyable now as the digital re-mastering (at lease in the UK release) has not only enhanced the magnificent picture quality, but has provided the soundtracks in three different stereo formats.
The one real sadness of the series is the production of YEOMEN. Not only do the producers advance the action to the time of Charles I (making the costumes for the Yeomen themselves rather less spectacular and somewhat dowdy), but there are numerous cuts; Phoebe loses the 1st verse of her opening number, the act one trio and Fairfax's ballad are both missing, Fairfax's act two ballad, "Strange Adventure", "When a wooer goes a-wooing" and "Rapture, rapture" are absent. The excuse for this was that the piece needed to run no longer than two hours for the purposes of television broadcast, and yet when it was first broadcast in the UK on the BBC, much of the missing material was present. Strange too that, although not the longest of the works, none of the other operas in the series suffer cuts of a similar magnitude.
Some of the productions that seemed so unacceptable in 1982, now are quite charming, once you get past some of the so-called "star" performers. Frankie Howerd is dreadful as Sir Joseph (PINAFORE) but quite charming as the Learned Judge (TRIAL)(one of the works not present in the US release). He is not helped by Peter Marshall who is particularly weak as Captain Corcoran. The production of PRINCESS IDA seems now quite delightful as a play within a play and even Frank Gorshin as King Gama is really quite acceptable, whilst the quality of the musical production, now fully revealed, is stunning. Keith Michell, more associated with the musical comedy repertoire, makes a very good job of Major-General Stanley, Robin Oakapple and Don Alhambra. Joel Gray's American accent grates somewhat on the UK ear in the role of Jack Point but it cannot be denied that he does give an excellent performance.
The gems of this series have to be COX AND BOX (not present in the US set but presented in its full-length 1866/7 version), THE SORCERER and PATIENCE (the latter taken almost entirely from the English National Opera production. Ex-D'Oyly Carte performer Donald Adams makes an invaluable contribution to SORCERER, PATIENCE and RUDDIGORE. It is a pity that his MIKADO was not preserved, but William Conrad (Cannon) gives a surprisingly good performance in the role.
Sadly, no attempt has been made to credit singers who were missed in the credits on the sleeves of the original tapes. For example, I still don't know who plays the Notary in SORCERER or Tolloller in IOLANTHE, they may be named in the end credits, but I never seem to get to watch them.
Each DVD (in the UK release) comes with a copy of the 'production' libretto, missing out the dialogue but giving all the lyrics. One is able to skip the dreadful (and frequently inaccurate and patronising) introductions by Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, there are bonus features about the making of some of the films, picture galleries, and the ability on each DVD to play the musical numbers as if they were a CD (UK, don't know about US release), allowing you to hear the music in the new glorious stereo without the dialogue or the picture.
All in all, twenty years on, this series comes into its own. Anyone who owns the original VHS/NTSC tapes, I would urge you to ditch them and buy this set as a replacement . After all, it is currently the only way to own 10 Gilbert and Sullivan Operas on film.
The UK release is available from www.amazon.co.uk in Region 2 format, so is playable on multiregion DVD players. The cost (depends on the exchange rate) and the catalouge number in the UK is DVD 8228651-11.