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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   1919-20 Season of Gilbert and Sullivan Operas

 

Gilbert and Sullivan Opera

THE wonderful success of Rupert D'Oyly Carte's season of Savoy Opera at the Prince's Theatre (September 29, 1919-January 31, 1920) has been a foregone conclusion to some people, and a revelation to others. Therein it merely multiplies the paradoxes which are as inherent in it as they were in the very individual outlook of Gilbert himself.

Savoy Opera is at once so highly idiosyncratic that it cannot be continued by others except in the spirit of pure imitation: and yet it is essentially English in its whole atmosphere. Again, it represents at once two halves of a unique whole (like the Gondoliers, they "sing as one individual"); and yet libretto and music remain such perfect units that each has a distinct life by itself, the librettos alone having enjoyed an enormous vogue among mere bookbuyers, while the scores are equally well known by purely musical people. Indeed, what other librettos ever written for any type of operatic music can compare in distinction with Gilbert's? Certainly not Da Ponte's, nor Schikaneder's, from which poor Mozart had to seek inspiration. Some of Gilbert's lyrics — for example, "Is Life a boon ?" — will find a place in our anthologies: his genius for mere rhyming is equalled only by Calverley: while many of his turns of phrase have passed permanently into the current coin of the language.

Not only did Gilbert and Sullivan perfect an art-form, but they also created a unique school of acting and singing. Gilbert, on his side, insisted on having his words evaluated to the finest syllable, and pronounced so clearly that the furthest off seat in the gallery could hear: and he had a sense of acting and stage management almost as autocratic as Wagner's. Then Sullivan saw to it that his contribution should be really sung: while D'Oyly Carte's co- ordination showed a unique understanding of the aims of both. The tradition, so carefully thought out and built up, has been continued ever since, so that each Savoyard, from veterans to youngest members of the chorus, has a quite unmistakable flavour.

This tradition has gained a totally new lease of life at the hands of Rupert D'Oyly Carte, who has not only maintained it, but greatly enhanced it by his brilliantly sympathetic and successful season at the Prince's. This is just as it should be, for he is the actual and sole descendant of the triumphing trio who created Savoy Opera between them. As the son of Richard D'Oyly Carte, he was born and bred in the whole atmosphere of Savoy Opera, in all its manifestations, and he has treated it as lovingly as a family heirloom. Not only has he preserved the honoured traditions of the acting and the stage managernent — while avoiding the danger of cramping the artist's individuality — but he has given us a new setting, in dress and decoration, which is even more delicate and appropriate than originally attempted at the Savoy itself; and playgoers have shown their keen sense of indebtedness to him by crowding the Prince's to overflowing.

The public have much, indeed, to thank Gilbert and Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte for, and rightly recognise the fact; for what other men of our time have given pleasure so clean, so refreshing, and so untiring, to so many millions of people of all ages, and of all classes? That has been clearly demonstrated at the Prince's, where young as well as old have revelled in all the ten operas that have been given: the elders returning to the old themes as to an old friend, and the young, who had never seen or heard them, recognising their worth on the instant, and becoming converts on the spot. Small wonder that the Savoy Operas have been running, somewhere or somehow, ever since they were born. And they will continue to do so, for if some of them bear traces of their own time, they have the touch of all time for they deal with the eternal foibles of human nature. They have actually no rivals. They have become classics: though unlike many classics, they make an appeal which is universal. And London, having seen and learned to love them once again, asks eagerly, like the young Jacobite, "Will ye no come back again?"

J. M. BULLOCH.


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