Marc Shepherd wrote: I made an observation on this subject to Bruce Miller in a private E-mail, and he suggested I post it to the net. At the G&S Festival last year, Kenneth Sandford said that he played the Sergeant early in his career, but he begged the D'OC administration to allow him to give it up, as he found it simply too low for his voice. He said he even offered to take lower pay in return for not having to sing this role. After several years, they did allow him to give it up. Sandford never said explicitly whether they took him up on the monetary side of his offer, but I got the impression they did not.
This arrangement was remarkable in that it left Sandford with a day off whenever the Company performed Pinafore or Pirates, and these were two of the three most frequently performed operas. Sandford has occasionally performed the Pinafore Captain in his post-D'OC career, and given that Grosvenor and Daly were considered two of his better parts, it's remarkable they never thought of having him sing the Captain. Sandford sung the Sergeant on the 1958 Pirates recording, which was made very early in his D'OC career. I have not listened to this recording in a very long time, but it would be interesting to hear whether he is noticeably uncomfortable in it.
After Sandford gave up the Sergeant, the role devolved to George Cook, whose other D'OC roles included the Boatswain, Scynthius, Go-To, Old Adam, and Giorgio. However, in the 1968 Pirates recording, Decca evidently wanted someone more famous in the role, so it went to Owen Brannigan, with Cook "demoted" to Samuel. Incidentally, I do not at all agree with the criticisms of Brannigan on the list; I find him a superb Sergeant. Steve Lichtenstein wrote: To the best of my recollection, Sandford's low G's were a bit muffled, but audible on that recording.
David Duffey replied: As I made the initial Brannigan criticism, perhaps I could clarify. I have great difficulty with objective criticism of the disembodied voices of those whose performances I knew well on the stage. This is slightly different with G&S than "Grand Opera". Having been brought up, so to speak, on the fifteen stone Dame Eva Turner playing Little Butterfly, closing eyes during a stage performance was something I got used to. (Sorry 15 stone = 210 pounds). With the D'Oyly Carte, however, eyes were at least on a par with ears. There would never be a 210 lb Yum-Yum. (Keep quiet about Muriel Harding). Brannigan's voice had passed its best by 1968; but more than that, I knew what he looked like and had several times seen him perform the Sergeant's Song as a concert item. He therefore did and does not fit into the mental picture I have of Pirates when I listen to the cast of the 1968 recording. In my mind, George Cook plays Sergeant and Puffing Billy and his performance does not fit. (The nickname came from his habit of puffing out his cheeks.)
I am not sure that what Ken Sandford said about the role of Sergeant lying too low for his voice is the whole of the story. I do think he was not comfortable with the characterisation of the part or with the 'traditional' business expected of him in it. In all his other roles the characters have a certain gravitas, and this suited him very well. The DOC management, having invested in Sandford, would not have let him relinquish the part for purely vocal reasons had he been superb in characterisation. Biff Florescu added: Regarding Kenneth Sandford as the Sergeant, I cannot conceive of him in the role, as he is weak on the bottom, even for a baritone. I've always appreciated his interpretations, but have always thought him very weak vocally, particularly when compared to some of the baritones on the Sargent recordings -the name slips my mind, but the Australian baritone who sang on some of the Sargents was superb. Don Smith observed: Are you thinking of Peter Dawson? Yes, he was superb. Biff Florescu added: By the way, I agree wholeheartedly that Brannigan was superb on the 68 recording. I'm simply at a loss as to what people find weak about it.
Michael Walters observed: The "demotion" of D'OC regulars was not limited to that of George Cook referred to in the last section. For the 1965 Ida, Elizabeth Harwood was brought in as a guest artist for the title role, with the regular Ida at that time (Ann Hood) demoted to Psyche, and the regular Psyche (Valerie Masterson) demoted to Melissa. Peggy-Ann Jones, who was the regular principal mezzo for much of the late '60s and early '70s, was a great crowd favorite, but Pitti-Sing was the only role she recorded complete. Her singing voice was clearly not her strength, and in all the other recordings made during her tenure, someone always replaced her.
Steve Lichtenstein wrote: By the way, when Thomas Round signed the libretto of the recording with Sandford for me last month in Berkeley, he told me that it was his first recording with D'Oyly Carte, and that it was made in 1953. Was he mis-remembering? I note that the Discography in the Archives lists it as 1958 also (of course, it's Marc's discography anyway!), and the recording itself contains no information on it. Marc Shepherd replied: My source for the date was Rollins & Witts. In 1953, the incumbent in the "Pooh-Bah" roles was Fisher Morgan. Morgan recorded Private Willis in the 1952 Iolanthe, Sir Marmaduke in the 1953 Sorcerer, and King Hildebrand in the 1955 Ida. Had there been a 1953 Pirates, Morgan would have been the Sergeant. Kenneth Sandford's D'OC career didn't start until 1957. Jean Hindmarsh, the Mabel on that recording, didn't join D'OC until 1956. Moreover, in 1953, the Company's regular Frederic was Neville Griffiths, not Thomas Round. Round didn't take over the role till 1958. So, with due respect to Thomas Round, that recording wasn't made in 1953.
Biff Florescu wrote: To my mind, the tenor is the weak link on the 68 recording. Chris Webster replied: And yet Philip Potter is my favourite G & S tenor, and this is my favourite rendering of any of the tenor roles on record! I have always felt that the really weak link was the demoted George Cook as Samuel, both in words and music.
Biff Florescu replied: I have a very hard time listening to that Pirates and getting to his "interpretation" given his, what I consider, abysmal vocalism. I want to hear Frederic sung "beautifully", that is one of the aspects of the lead tenor roles....and he just ain't got it.
[During a discussion (section 9.4.4 below) about the American TV Programme Jeopardy, which featured "Poor Wandering One", the following thread on Linda Ronstadt was generated.]
Steve Lichtenstein wrote: Linda Ronstadt was who they chose to perform today's Daily Double?? Ugh..how utterly crass and "Hollywood" of them! ducking flames from Ronstadt's admirers, if any! Mary Finn replied: As I listened to the clue (although like any good SavoyNetter, I didn't need the music) I remember thinking "Who IS that singing? She's awful!" I was surprised to learn it was Linda Ronstadt - it sounded too high to be her. One of my beefs about the movie starring Ms. Ronstadt is that it sounds like they transposed "Poor Wand'ring One" down about a third. (Not having perfect pitch, I can't be certain.) Now, I'm not a huge Pirates fan, and I don't have much use for Mabel, but I do like to hear a good soprano float the high notes. (Just to prove to me that it CAN be done.) BTW, Did I mis-hear, or did Alex Trebek refer to the song as "Poor Wand'ring Soul"?
Neil Midkiff replied to this: As I recall (it's been fourteen years since the movie came out!) there are some parts that are transposed down (I think Mary's ear is about right - about a third down) and some parts, including the highest notes, that are in the original key. I'm guessing that Ms. Ronstadt's voice had a "break" between registers that made the original key difficult for her in the main parts of the song. But she did have sufficient upper range in her "head" voice to do some of the top fiorituri, if that's the word I want, in the original key. If anyone really wants the details, I'll get out my videotape and check it out, but I'd really rather not. The primary reaction I have to hearing the audio Daily Double clip is disgust at the cheesy synthesized substitute for an orchestra. I know synth technology has improved over the years, but this has to be as much a matter of bad taste as bad technology. And yes, Mary, I heard Alex the same way you did: he said "Poor Wand'ring Soul." Not the least of his problems yesterday! I only wish, when he's having a bad day, that he wouldn't spend so much time talking about himself and thus making it worse. Philip Sternenberg also replied: It doesn't take perfect pitch to tell what was done -- just knowledge that the number that immediately precedes PW1 is not transposed. The three "For shames" are transposed down a fourth, leading into PW1 in Eb instead of Ab. What's jarring aside from the change in lead-in is that the women's chorus is NOT transposed. When Mabel sings after her first set of cadenzas, though, she's back in Eb.
Page created 28 April 1998