Sullivan: The Contrabandista; The Foresters (incidental music)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: The Contrabandista; The Foresters (incidental music)
PERFORMER: Claire Rutter, Frances McCafferty, Ashley Catling, Donald Maxwell, Richard Suart, Geoffrey Moses; London Chorus, New London Orchestra/Ronald Corp
Before Sullivan met Gilbert he consorted with FC Burnand, sometime editor of Punch, on two shows, of which The Contrabandista of 1867 was the successor to Cox and Box. When the great partnership was faltering to a close in the 1890s, the operetta was revised as The Chieftain (the original title means ‘a smuggler’: the cast is largely a bunch of Spanish brigands). But it’s the original version that Sullivan specialist Ronald Corp offers here, in a fluent account that shows the composer’s musical forebears to be Donizetti, Auber, Rossini and Schubert as much as his obvious antecedent, Offenbach.Gracefully and skilfully written, the score rarely rises to memorability. Granted that Sullivan was just dipping his toes into the waters of commercial theatre, but it’s hard not to associate its weakness with Burnand’s flat-footed lyrics. Gilbert’s far sharper and cleverer texts spurred him on to become a comic-opera genius.Nice performances, though, from splendid-toned contralto Frances McCafferty (Inez), Claire Rutter’s distinctive Rita and the redoubtable Richard Suart as the wonderfully named Adolphus Cimabue Grigg.If a good text was what Sullivan needed, he certainly didn’t find one in Tennyson’s play The Foresters, with its Robin Hood and Maid Marian theme. Indeed it’s staggering to see a great poet producing the atrocious commonplaces set in the incidental music. Though a fairy scene sparked an earthbound revival of Sir Arthur’s Iolanthe idiom, the rest is frankly dull and not likely to generate much interest beyond the Sullivan anorak market. The sound, though, is clear and well defined. George Hall