, February 2004
"In some ways it is almost a miracle that this recording was ever made. Ruddigore was considered a failure in its day and, despite Gilbert and Sullivans prominence, took a great deal of time to be fully accepted as a great musical. Its early problems included the set falling apart during the initial haunting scene and a general row about the name (originally spelled "Ruddygore" and considered in very poor taste by the Victorian press-men). Gilberts libretto was also considered poor. Additionally it was viewed as a novelty work and highly derivative. The famous "gallery of ghosts" scene was actually a reworking of a scene from an earlier Gilbert and Clay show, Ages Ago. However, Ruddigore was reworked shortly after its opening night and went on to run for 288 original performances over the course of eight months. Even so, until its revival in the 1920s it was not considered a particularly worthy work. In subsequent days it was able to find its way back into acceptance.
At its heart, Ruddigore is a parody of the stock melodrama. It comes complete with a disguised hero, a mustachioed villain that kidnaps the dimwitted but virtuous and beautiful young heroine, and the insane girl who lends clues that drive the plot forward. The point, however, was to turn the tradition on its head, making good become bad, requiring villainous actions to get to heroic ends, and having the heroes take the easy way out.
The plot, briefly, is that the village girls dont stand a chance at marriage because all the young men of the village love Rose Maybud. However none of them measure up to her strict etiquette. Enter Robin Oakapple, who also loves Rose but is too shy to court her. He is then shown to be the Duke of Ruddigore in disguise who, if he were to claim his birthright, would be cursed to commit one major crime per day or die in agony. So he runs away, leaving his brother Despard to fulfill his role in both the curse and the government. Robin's foster brother, Richard also wants to woo Rose for himself. When he sees Robin he tells Despard of the deception. Despard then transfers the curse back to Robin. Subsequently the ghosts of the former Dukes of Ruddigore come forth to chastise Robin and enforce the curse or leave him to an agonizing death. However Robin finds a subtle contradiction in the curse. In a moment that reminds one of a Star Trek computer self-destructing due to a logical paradox, Robin notes that it is considered a major crime to commit suicide. Since it is essentially suicide to not commit the crime, he is committing a major crime by not committing a major crime ... which suddenly seems to lead to the reanimation of one of his recent ancestors, Sir Roderick, who can then marry his love Hannah.
If all of that seems a bit confusing, don’t worry. It really wasn’t intended to make a great deal of sense. It is a farce in the very Victorian sense of the word. You can be assured that it does end up being just coherent enough to make the play quite enjoyable. Gilbert himself considered this to be one of his three favorite works, and it is now part of the standard repertoire in any respectable Gilbert and Sullivan company.
Thus Ruddigore is now part of the respected canon from Gilbert & Sullivan. As such one must consider the worthiness of the recording more than the play. This particular one was made as the D’Oyly Carte Company was performing it in 1950, which means that there are several cuts. The most notable elisions are two of Robin’s works: the Act II recitative and the patter song "Away remorse". Also it must be said that Ann Drummond-Grant's Mad Margaret is rather lackluster. Aside from that, the rest of the cast is quite good, and this recording is oft studied as a model for modern resurrections of the play. Leonard Osborne does a notably good job as Richard, and Martyn Greene does well playing the youthful farm-boy Robin.
Aside from Ann Drummond-Grant, the sound fidelity of the original recordings must be in question. While the recordings are old and masters probably not well preserved, one would wish that the engineers would at last have worked at achieving better equalization. There is a notable lack at both ends of the audible spectrum. It sounds very much like the entire recording was passed through a mid-range compression filter in order to remove extraneous noise. While this is the ideal means of resurrecting the spoken word, the result for music recordings is often that the sacrifice of fidelity in exchange for noise reduction is too great. When the full chorus comes in during such works as "Happily Coupled are we" or "In bygone days I had the love" there is a hollowness to the sound that seems unfulfilling to the casual listener.
All told, this is one of the noted recordings of Ruddigore. It is difficult to criticize it too harshly, as the performance is certainly a landmark. It provides direction to performances given today. The sound fidelity is not bad, per se. This recording seems predominantly directed towards those already familiar with the play and already hardcore Gilbert & Sullivan fans. For this audience, this recording of Ruddigore is a success. For the casual fan, the New Sadler’s Wells recording from 1987 is probably a better choice."