Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Rataplan!

How many "Rataplan"s can you count in these 33 seconds?

rataplan  n.  A tattoo, as of a drum, the hoofs of a galloping horse, or machine-gun fire. [French, of imitative origin.]
-- The American Heritage Dictionary

by Ken

So this is what I suddenly found going through my head this week. And once it was lodged in there, it was mighty hard to get out. Then it occurred to me that we've never listened to this wonderfully goofy moment from the little one-act farce Cox and Box, with a libretto by F. C. Burnand, here in Sunday Classics. (Regular readers will know that my admiration for Sullivan as musical dramatist in his partnership with W. S. Gilbert is something like reverence. However, Cox and Box is the only music he wrote without Gilbert which I return to with real pleasure.) I figured that while the lights are still on here at Sunday Classics, however dimly, we ought to rectify this omission.

In a moment we'll hear a little more music to place the above in context. Then I thought, since the delicious Bouncer of these excerpts is the beloved (by me, anyway) Donald Adams, we should do some sort of Donald Adams retrospective, but that project quickly got out of hand, so maybe we'll do it some other time. For the record, though, as I recall we've already heard him in his most famous role, the Mikado (and he's still the best I've ever heard, without even a close second), and also as Colonel Calverley in Patience, as Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre in The Sorcerer, and even in a snippet from a role that as far as I know he never sang, the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance. (The Pirate King was another of his most famous roles, and we have heard him in a snippet from that, the incandescent Paradox Trio.)

I love the idea of a Donald Adams retrospective, but for now, in order to make this a proper post, even a proper "ghost" post, after we've dealt with the rataplanning Sergeant Bouncer, we'll hear quite a different "Rataplan."


This is an old Sunday Classics habit, and in this case it's pays quick dividends, as I think you'll hear pretty quickly. You'll also note very different approaches to our material from our first two conductors, our old G-and-S friends Isidore Godfrey and Sir Malcolm Sargent. For the heck of it, I've thrown in the perfectly solid Overture from the generally lackluster later D'Oyly Carte recording of Cox and Box, also of basically the "Savoy edition," which chops the show down to a half-hour -- a loss that's almost pure gain.

Cox and Box: Overture

New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded 1961

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded 1961

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royston Nash, cond. Decca, recorded February 1978


Bouncer, the landlord of our little show, is one of those those Brits who, once having been in the Army, never manage to leave it, and offer never seem to try. And in the brief stretch of dialogue that precedes his good-old-days Army-reminiscence song, prompted -- well sort of -- by his lodger, the newspaperman Colonel Cox. ("Ah, now he's off on his hobby!" says this worthy.)

BURNAND and SULLIVAN: Cox and Box: Dialogue, Cox-Bouncer, "Eight o'clock" . . . Song, Bouncer, "We sounded the trumpet"
A room, a bed, with curtains closed, three doors, a window, a fireplace, table and chairs. COX, dressed with the exception of his coat, is looking at himself in a small looking glass, which he holds in his hand.

COX: Eight o'clock! [Knock at door.] Come in!
BOUNCER: Good morning, Colonel Cox.
COX: Good morning.
BOUNCER: Why, you've had your hair cut!
COX: Cut! It strikes me I've had it mowed! I look as if I'd been cropped for the Army --
BOUNCER: The Army! I recollect when I was in the militia . . .
COX: Ah, now he's off on his hobby!
[Exit COX.]
BOUNCER: We were mounted on chargers!
Song, Bouncer, "We sounded the trumpet"
BOUNCER: We sounded the trumpet, we beat the drum.
Somehow the enemy didn't come.
So I gave up my horse
in Her Majesty's force,
as there wasn't a foeman
to meet with the yeoman;
and so no invasion
threatened the nation.
There wasn't a man
in the rear or the van
who found an occasion to sing --
Rataplan! Rataplan! Rataplan!
Rataplan, plan, plan plan!

Alan Styler (b), Cox; Donald Adams (bs), Bouncer; New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded 1961

Finally come back to, well, where we started. Bouncer's plan for a quick "Rataplan"-and-out, so as to avoid being drawn into awkward matters by Mr. Cox, is thwarted, which leads to the fusilade of "Rataplan"s we already. In the following spoken dialogue, we learn about Bouncer's other lodger, Mr. Box, and how he fits into the picture. (I've cut the dialogue off none too elegantly as Mr. Box enters.)

Cox and Box: Dialogue, Cox-Bouncer, "This comes of having one's hair cut" . . . Duet, Cox-Bouncer, "Stay, bouncer, stay" . . . Dialogue, Bouncer, "He's gone at last"
[COX reenters.]
COX: This comes of having one's hair cut. None of my hats will fit me. By the bye, Bouncer, I wish to know how it is that I frequently find my apartment full of smoke?
BOUNCER: Why, I suppose, the chimney . . .
COX: The chimney doesn't smoke tobacco. I'm speaking of tobacco smoke.
BOUNCER: Why, the gentleman who has got the attics is hardly ever without a pipe in his mouth . . .
COX: Ah, then you mean to say that this gentleman's smoke, instead of emulating the example of all other sorts of smoke and going up the chimney, thinks proper to affect a singularity by taking the contrary direction?
BOUNCER: Why . . .
COX: Then I suppose the gentleman you are speaking of is the gentleman that I invariably meet coming up stairs when I'm going down and going down when I'm coming up?
BOUNCER: Why, yes . . .
COX: I should set him down as a gentleman connected with the printing interest.
BOUNCER: Yes, sir. Good morning!
Recitative and duet, Cox and Bouncer, "Stay, Bouncer, stay!"
COX: Stay, Bouncer, stay! To me it has occurred
that now's the time with you to have a word.
BOUNCER [aside]: What can he mean?
I tremble.! Ah, I tremble!
COX: Now coals is coals, as sure as eggs is eggs.
Coals haven't souls, no more than they have legs.
But as you will admit, the case is so,
that legs or no legs, my coals contrive to go!
BOUNCER: Well, I should say, or as it seems to me . . .
COX: Exactly!
BOUNCER: Quite so!
COX: Then we both agree!
BOUNCER: As we agree, good day !
COX: I've something more to say!
BOUNCER: Mister Cox, Mister Cox,
my feelings overpower me,
that his lodger, his friendly lodger,
should once suspect . . .
COX: That Bouncer is a dodger!
BOUNCER: As to who takes your coals, fuel and all of that,
it must have been . . .
COX: No, no, 'twas not the cat!
BOUNCER: Rataplan, rataplan, I'm a military man,
rough, honest, I hope, though unpolished,
and I'll bet you a hat that as to the cat,
the cat in the Army's abolished!
COX: Rataplan, rataplan, you're a military man,
honest, I hope, though it doesn't appear,
and as to the cat, the treacherous cat,
if it isn't in the Army, don't have it here!
BOTH: Rataplan, rataplan, I'm/he's a military man, etc.
[Exit COX.]
Spoken dialogue:
BOUNCER: He's gone at last! I was in fear Mr. Box should come in before Mr. Cox went out. Luckily, they've never met yet, for Mr. Box is hard at work at a newspaper office all night, and doesn't come home till the morning, and Mr. Cox is busy making hats all day long, and doesn't come home till night, so that I'm getting double rent for my room and neither of my lodgers is any the wiser for it. And if they ask us any awkward questions, I can always put them off by singing, "Rataplan! Rataplan!"

Alan Styler (b), Cox; Donald Adams (bs), Bouncer; New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded 1961

By the way, Adams's partner in our Cox and Box excerpts isn't exactly chopped liver himself. Alan Styler was, I think, the greatest of the D'Oyly Carte company's "singing" baritones. We've heard his lovely recordings (along with Jeffrey Skitch's also-lovely ones) of the vicar Dr. Daly's two memorable songs from The Sorcerer.


Verdi's "Rataplan" at Buenos Aires's Teatro Colón, 2012

Here we have an episode, and in fact a character, that only gently intersects with the plot of Verdi's sprawling, often messy, but uniquely fascinating epic of an opera. If you get these "genre" scenes right, they provide amazing background and depth for the actual storylines, and Verdi poured into them lots of wonderful music.

Act III of Forza, the "military" act, seems to have been a mess from the get-go, and in the successive revisions it became if anything more chaotic -- but what glorious chaos! As we know the opera now, the "Rataplan" episode provides a rousing conclusion to an act that began (well, almost) in the dark of night with one of Verdi's great tenor monologues (which we poked about in an October 2011 post.)

As for our performances, we start with a couple of up-tempo ones -- and you'll note that the great mezzo Giulietta Simionato doesn't have the easiest time in the world spitting it all out (here it helps to have a basically lighter-weight voice like Olga Borodina's) -- and then we hear this little episode taken more moderately, first with the great Italian dramatic mezzo Ebe Stignani still in her vocal prime, then with the Greek mezzo Agnes Baltsa hurling that odd but somehow sort-of-held-together voice at the music.

VERDI: La Forza del destino: Act III, Preziosilla and Chorus, "Rataplan"
A military encampment near Velletri (Italy). PREZIOSILLA seizes hold of a drum, and as she imitates its beating, the soldiers, followed by the whole crowd, run in and surround her.

PREZIOSILLA: Rataplan, rataplan, rataplan!
Rataplan, rataplan, rataplan!
CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, plan.
PREZIOSILLA: Rataplan, rataplan
strengthens the love of glory in the soldier . . .
CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, plan, etc.
PREZIOSILLA: Rataplan, rataplan, this sound
is the precursor of victory!
CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, plan, etc.
PREZIOSILLA and CHORUS: Rataplan, rataplan, etc.
PREZIOSILLA: Rataplan, rataplan,
now the legions are mustered, led to the attack . . .
CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, plan, etc.
PREZIOSILLA: Rataplan, rataplan,
the standards of the enemy are seen falling back.
CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, plan, etc.
PREZIOSILLA and CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, pim, pum, pum.
PREZIOSILLA: Pursue him who has turned in flight!
CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, pim, pum, pum, etc.
PREZIOSILLA: Fate has crowned the glorious wounds with triumph.
CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, pim, pum, pum.
PREZIOSILLA and CHORUS: Rataplan, plan, plan, etc.
CHORUS: Rataplan, etc.
PREZIOSILLA: Rataplan, rataplan,
victory draws every heart to the soldier.
CHORUS: Rataplan, etc.
PREZIOSILLA and CHORUS: Rataplan, pim, pum, pum.

Giulietta Simionato (ms), Preziosilla; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Decca, recorded 1955
Olga Borodina (ms), Preziosilla; Kirov Chorus and Orchestra (St. Petersburg), Valery Gergiev, cond. Philips, recorded December 1995

Ebe Stignani (ms), Preziosilla; Italian Radio (Turin) Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Gino Marinuzzi, cond. Cetra, recorded summer 1941

Agnes Baltsa (ms), Preziosilla; Ambrosian Opera Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra, Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond. DG, recorded September 1985


Don't ask why I'm thinking particularly of Trial by Jury, since I doubt that Donald Adams sang the role of the Usher onstage, at least not in his mature D'Oyly Carte years. It's a fact, though, that his recorded performance has spoiled most every performance of TbJ I've heard since, considering the way the Usher has the power to set the tone for the performance to come.

Anyway, I thougt I'd throw these in, considering how little music we've actually heard in this "ghost" post, despite the countless hours of toil it cost me to cobble it together.

For this first excerpt, the obvious course would have been to start at 1:25 of the clip, where the Usher utters his "Now, jurymen, hear my advice." But I couldn't just lop off the exuberant opening chorus of TbJ, especially in such a wonderful performance. TbJ wasn't the initial G-and-S collaboration (that was Thespis whose score is sadly lost), but it announces pretty triumphantly that a collboration has begun that's going to produce musical dramas unlike anything that had been seen or heard before.

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Trial by Jury: Chorus, "Hark, the hour of ten is sounding" . . . Usher, "Now, jurymen, hear my advice"
A Court of Justice. Barristers, attorney, and jurymen discovered.

CHORUS: Hark, the hour of ten is sounding:
hearts with anxious fears are bounding,
Hall of Justice, crowds surrounding,
breathing hope and fear--
For today in this arena,
summoned by a stern subpoena,
Edwin, sued by Angelina,
shortly will appear.
[Enter USHER.]
USHER: Now, jurymen, hear my advice --
all kinds of vulgar prejudice
I pray you set aside.
With stern, judicial frame of mind,
from bias free of every kind,
this trial must be tried.
CHORUS: From bias free of every kind,
this trial must be tried.
[During chorus, USHER sings fortissimo, "Silence in court!"]
USHER: Oh, listen to the plaintiff's case:
observe the features of her face--
the broken-hearted bride.
Condole with her distress of mind:
from bias free of every kind,
this trial must be tried!
CHORUS: From bias free, etc.
USHER: And when, amid the plaintiff's shrieks,
the ruffianly defendant speaks--
upon the other side;
what he may say you needn't mind--
from bias free of every kind,
this trial must be tried!
CHORUS: From bias free, etc.

Donald Adams (bs), Usher; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded August 1963

After the various players in our drama have introduced themselves, we have this:

Trial by Jury: Counsel for the Plaintiff, "Swear thou the jury!" Usher, "Kneel, jurymen, all kneel!"
COUNSEL FOR THE PLAINTIFF: Swear thou the jury!
USHER: Kneel, jurymen, oh kneel!
[All the jury kneel in the jury box, and so are hidden from audience.]
USHER: Oh, will you swear by yonder skies,
whatever question may arise,
'twixt rich and poor, 'twixt low and high,
that you will well and truly try?
JURY [raising their hands, which alone are visible]:
To all of this we make reply,
to all of this we make reply,
by the slate of yonder sky,
that we will well and truly try.
We will well and truly try.
[All rise with the last note.]

Kenneth Sandford (bs-b), Counsel for the Plaintiff; Donald Adams (bs), Usher; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded August 1963

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