Saturday, July 19, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: The Witch's Curse

Dame Hannah (Maya Stroshane) tells the impressionable young village bridesmaids the story of the Witch's Curse in Brown University Gilbert and Sullivan's 2010 Ruddigore.

by Ken

We first pondered "The Witch's Curse," though at the time I wasn't able to enable you to hear it, in a June 2007 post called "'Laws? I don't obey no stinkin' laws!' Are Chimpy the Prez and his partner in crime 'Big Dick' Cheney blood brothers of the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore?," in response to a Washington Post report, "'Signing Statements' Study Finds Administration Has Ignored Laws." Right-wing scum pols ignoring the law -- what a surprise! This has a special resonance now when degraded and demented right-wing life forms like Darrell "The Unembarrassable" Issa have made a daily habit of persecuting the Obama administration for sins that were in fact spécialités de maison of the Bush regime, when they went routinely unremarked upon, even defended, by degraded and demented right-wing life forms like Darrell "The Unembarrassable" Issa.

Though I wasn't able to enable you to hear it back in 2007, we did eventually hear one of our versions of Dame Hannah's song in June 2010. We actually have entirely other-than-political reasons -- leftover business from last week, to be exact -- for returning this week to the ghost of Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, the first and baddest of the whole long line of Bad Baronets of Ruddigore. But I think it's never out of place to recall the curse that lay so heavily upon the bad barts, as explained by the doughty Dame Hannah early in Act I of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore.

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse: Act I, Song, Dame Hannah and chorus, "Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, his leisure and his riches"
DAME HANNAH: Sir Rupert Murgatroyd,
his leisure and his riches,
he ruthlessly employed
in persecuting witches.
With fear he'd make them quake—
he'd duck them in his lake—
he'd break their bones
with sticks and stones,
and burn them at the stake!
CHORUS OF BRIDESMAIDS: This sport he much enjoyed,
did Rupert Murgatroyd—
no sense of shame
or pity came
to Rupert Murgatroyd!

DAME HANNAH: Once, on the village green,
a palsied hag he roasted,
and what took place, I ween,
shook his composure boasted.
For as the torture grim
aeized on each withered limb,
the writhing dame
'mid fire and flame
yelled forth this curse on him:
     "Each lord of Ruddigore,
     despite his best endeavour,
     shall do one crime, or more,
     once, every day, forever!
     This doom he can't defy,
     however he may try,
     for should he stay
     his hand, that day
     in torture he shall die!"

The prophecy came true:
each heir who held the title
had, every day, to do
some crime of import vital;
until, with guilt o'erplied,
"I'll sin no more!" he cried,
and on the day
he said that say,
in agony he died!
CHORUS OF BRIDESMAIDS: And thus, with sinning cloyed,
has died each Murgatroyd,
and so shall fall,
both one and all,
each coming Murgatroyd!

Monica Sinclair (c), Dame Hannah; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 11-14, 1962

Gillian Knight (ms), Dame Hannah; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

Ella Halman (c), Dame Hannah; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Promenade Orchestra, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 21, 1950

Bertha Lewis (c); D'Oyty Carte Opera Chorus, orchestra, Harry Norris (or maybe George Byng?), cond. EMI, recorded June 30, 1924

I don't suppose we can any longer call the more-than-50-year-old EMI and Decca recordings "modern," though they sound better to me than an awful lot of recordings that are unquestionably "modern" chronologically. Stil, we have to distinguish them somehow from the two "historical" recordings I've included. Ella Halman, who recorded most of the G-and-S contralto roles in the late '40s and early '50s, has ardent Savoyard admirers, which has always mystified me. The greatness of Bertha Lewis, however, seems to me to glow through the 1924 acoustical sound.


We'll meet the ghostly Bad Baronets of Ruddigore, including their spokesghost, Sir Roderic Murgatroyd.

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