Sullivan – Ivanhoe

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Ivanhoe
PERFORMER: Neal Davies, Stephen Gadd, James Rutherford, Peter Wedd, Peter Rose, Toby Spence, Matthew Brook, Leigh Melrose, Andrew Staples, Janice Watson, Catherin Wyn-Rogers, Geraldine McGreevy; Adrian Partington Singers; BBC National Orchestra of Wales/David Lloyd-Jones


Ivanhoe was the grand opera everyone told Sullivan he should write, instead of Mr Gilbert’s Savoy frivols. Launched with immense expense at D’Oyly Carte’s new opera house, it sank after a season, unprofitable more than unpopular, and was never seriously revived. The main earlier recording, a semi-amateur performance (Pearl CDS 9165, 1989), was inadequate. This one, planned by the late Richard Hickox, is another matter. We can at last hear what Sullivan conceived – and it’s impressive.

Ivanhoe’s obvious kinship is with Yeomen of the Guard, which sparkles with Sullivan’s love of historical pomp and pageantry but on an altogether larger scale. Julian Sturgis’s libretto is overwhelmingly cod-Shakespearian but lively and faithful to Scott. It deserves the first-rate performance it receives from David Lloyd-Jones, a worthy stand-in for Hickox, working with an excellent cast.

Most impressive here are rising young Wagnerian James Rutherford as the anti-heroic Bois-Guilbert, Neal Davies’s sturdy Richard Lionheart, Toby Spence’s lyrical young Ivanhoe, and heroines Janice Watson and Geraldine McGreevy. Peter Rose is a resonantly churlish Cedric, Brook’s Friar Tuck more dashing than Staples’s pallid Robin Hood, and Stephen Gadd a sinister Grand Master (the Sir Christopher Lee role). They get some memorable music, alive with deft Mendelssohnian touches – Rebecca’s subtly exotic aria ‘Lord of our Chosen Race’, the boozy ‘Ho, Jolly Jenkyn!’, and rousingly Weberish choruses. So what was Ivanhoe’s problem?


Chiefly, the date. It’s a shock to realise this was offered up as a British operatic ideal, barely ten years before Verklärte Nacht and Pelléas. It’s amazingly backward-looking, almost to the time Sullivan was born. Before Ivanhoe could be revived, it was simply steamrollered by fashion. Now, though, we can appreciate it on its own terms. Michael Scott Rohan