SULLIVAN The Beauty Stone
It was a sad day for Sullivan when his ‘romantic musical drama’ The Beauty Stone ran for only 50 performances at the Savoy Theatre in 1898. Musically speaking there is much to commend it but the audiences in London that summer preferred the American import The Belle of New York, which clocked up 697 performances. This handsomely presented Chandos recording restores all the cuts that Sullivan made after the first night that had run for nearly four hours.
The Beauty Stone is a medieval tale in three acts which is about a magic stone that transforms the appearance of anyone who touches it. As prime mover of the action, Alan Opie revels in his Faustian role as the Devil, appearing in various guises, his every word ringing out in gleeful tones. If it’s true that the Devil gets all the best tunes then this one gets his fair share, including two duets with his accomplice, the ragamuffin Jacqueline (Madeleine Shaw). Both are show-stoppers enhanced with attractive dance music. She declares her love for him in a beautifully sung solo with pizzicato accompaniment – just one of dozens of felicitous touches in Sullivan’s orchestrations. Elin Manahan Thomas sings the role of the ingénue, Laine, a crippled girl who eventually wins the hand of Lord Mirlemont. Her youthful soprano voice is well focused throughout and her identification with the part is never in doubt; the Trio with her parents, stoically sung by Stephen Gadd and Catherine Wyn-Rogers, is very affecting. Their opening duet at the beginning of the show is a strong reminder of Sullivan with Gilbert, which must have temporarily raised the expectations of that first-night audience. Rebecca Evans offers a vivid and dramatic profile of Saida, concluding with a full-bodied solo describing the Lord’s return home before he jilts her. Toby Spence as the cavalier Lord Mirlemont sings with that same heroic vigour that he brought to his role of Essex in Gloriana recently at the Royal Opera House, and he sings one of the best tunes of the show, ‘When the rose leaf lies on the dew’, reprised in the finale. Burgomaster Richard Suart isn’t quite the steady vocal presence he was in the classic Mackerras/Telarc G&S series.
Rory Macdonald favours brisk tempi: the first chorus sounds rushed off its feet and a steadier tempo might have eased some of the awkward corners for the soloists. However, his enthusiam for this score is in no doubt and he keeps the impressive Act 1 finale, which rises to grand opera proportions, well in check. There’s some lovely playing from the BBC NOW, particulary in the score’s more reflective moments. This release will please listeners far beyond the Sullivan Society, whose generosity enabled the recording to be made.