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Confessions of a Compulsive Collector, Part I

September, 2002

[Warning: The process described herein is descriptive and not prescriptive. Emulation can be dangerous to one's health.]

How many of my readers know all too well that it is the madness of the Collector that the Collection must be complete? Many a mystery and many a comedy has centered round a wealthy collector who commits this and that in order to obtain a single object that will complete his collection. But, alas, I must confess I am such a one. And my major weakness is Gilbert & Sullivan recordings.

I recall how my uncle got me interested in that team when I was in the fifth grade when he gave me a book with the libretti to "HMS Pinafore," "The Pirates of Penzance," and "The Mikado" with a few "Bab Ballads" at the end.

Well, a local shop in the Bronx was selling the 1936 "Mikado" with Martyn Green as Ko-Ko and the D'Oyly Carte Company. It was an RCA Victor set with 11 heavy 12 inch 78 rpms and cost an enormous sum–$12. And I wanted it like I wanted nothing else on earth. My mother bought me instead two "Nelson Eddy Sings Gilbert & Sullivan Patter Songs" albums, which I played to death, along with some other abridged G&S recordings by unknown artists. But that was not enough. I wanted the complete "Mikado" and nothing else would do.

At last the day came when I purchased it out of my own money that I had saved up from my after-school job. It was then that I was doomed–for you see, now I wanted all the other G&S operas in their complete recordings. The fever was upon me and the Great Hunt for the other sets began.

I learned that those sets were available on both the RCA and the HMV label, most of which were conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent, and were still floating around used-music dealers, but were hard to find. I managed to find the HMV "Gondoliers," "Iolanthe" and "Trial By Jury." On the RCA red label series, I located "Patience," "Trial By Jury," and "HMS Pinafore." I could not find "Princess Ida" and "Ruddigore." ("The Sorcerer" was available only in an abridged set, no copy of which I have ever actually seen.) Years later, I spotted a "Princess Ida" in a bin on Fourth Avenue; but my joy was short lived–one of the discs was broken. Many years later, I did find a "Ruddigore" at a church sale and instantly put it onto tape so I could hear it over and over. (What ever did happen to my old three-speed turntable? Oh, well.)

Now and again, I ran across references to older sets put out by the D'Oyly Carte forces; but they remained legendary. Later on, I learned that each of those works ("Trial By Jury" excepted) had been recorded on acoustic (i.e., non-electric) 78 rpms; and I instantly knew I had to hunt those down too. Pearl records issued the acoustic "Princess Ida" and "Ruddigore" on LPs, so that part of my frenzy was satisfied for a while.

Then came from London Records the mono LPs with Isidore Godfrey conducting, and I did the damnedest foolish thing possible. I sold my 78s and began to collect the so-called Martyn Green series (misnamed, because he did not appear in "Trial By Jury," "Princess Ida," or "The Sorcerer"). Later I realized how wonderful those older "electric" sets were and–heaven help this lunatic Collector–began to hunt them down again! But blessings on the Arabesque people, who began to issue them on LPs and tapes; and I was in G&S heaven again.

When the copyright on Gilbert's words expired, Angel records came out with a series of 9 G&S operas in stereo with the Glynbourne singers under Sir Malcolm Sargent, back again on the podium. Naturally I had to add all of these to my collection.

But ah, wait. Now the D'Oyly Carte had to meet the competition with their own stereo versions. This is the series in which John Reed takes on the comic lead roles. To add to the kitty, they also included the complete dialogue to "Iolanthe," "The Gondoliers" (which was paired with a shortened version of "Cox and Box"), and "Patience." Then, for some reason, they re-did "Pirates" with complete dialogue; so naturally I had to purchase that too.

But by now, my LP series was getting too scratchy to play–and…

No, the sequel will have to wait until next month.

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