Spirited performances are the order of the day in this recording of two little-known operettas by Sir Arthur Sullivan.
The Contrabandista—a ‘comic opera in two acts’ dating from 1867—tells the story of the hapless Adolphus Cimabue Grigg, an English traveller who is co-opted into becoming leader of the Ladrones, a notorious band of thieves. Amid shenanigans of more than a passing resemblance to Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers Sullivan successfully imbues the spice of the Spanish countryside into his score. His second opera to reach the stage, this early work—to a libretto by Francis Burnand—already shows much of the musical mastery that was to characterize so many of Sullivan’s later collaborations with W S Gilbert. The work’s popularity ensured a run spanning 1867 and 1868 and inspired its composer to expand much of its material into his longer opera of 1894, The Chieftain.
First performed—simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic—in 1892, The Foresters sets verses by Lord Tennyson on the theme of Robin Hood. Warmly received in the States, the work met with a distinctly hostile reception in London, where critics were less than impressed by the (American) lead soprano and gave Tennyson’s libretto a roasting. Sullivan’s score, by contrast, was universally recognized as being the saving grace; this new recording gives a new century the opportunity to draw its own conclusion.