Friday, November 14, 2008

The First Cast Recording

In September and October of 1900, the two-year-old Gramophone Company of London invited cast members from Florodora to make recordings of the songs that they were singing every night in the show. The world's first ever "original cast recording" was created in four sessions, comprising 14 seven-inch disks (the longer playing - by about a minute - higher fidelity 10-inch 78 rpm hadn't yet been invented).

It was a big gamble. The primitive recording technology of the day better captured louder, and often less accomplished, singers. The Florodora cast members persevered, giving themselves a place in history and giving us an important record of the style of performance in the original production.

In Lady Holyrood's solo numbers, actress Ada Reeve practically recites many of her numbers music hall style. Some of this clipped delivery might be exaggerated so that the words came through on the recording, but contemporary accounts and reviews also tell us of her comic melodrama style. Now we can hear it. Indeed in the vocal score the notes in the vocal line of the number are represented in all sixteenth notes - and now we know why.

Florodora's composer, Leslie Stuart, happened to be filling in as conductor at the Lyric Theatre during this time and joined in on the recording sessions as accompanist on a day of these recordings. We can safely assume those numbers are delivered in a manner that the composer approved of! Paul Rubens, lyricist, also accompanies the recordings. (Rubens soon became a noted composer/lyricist of many West End hit musicals).

Eleven of these original Florodora recordings were released on a modern CD by Pearl records in 1993 and though now discontinued, new and used copies can still be found on the Internet. The recordings are understandably low fidelity, but give us another connection to the Florodora Days.

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