A CHRISTMAS DAY INTERVIEW WITH MR. W.S. GILBERT
The public doesn’t care an icicle whether the interviewer goes out on Christmas Day or stays at home. Yet a good many of them were out on worse errands than that which caused a Pall Mall Gazette representative to pick his way over the frozen surfaces of the Belgravian pavements yesterday morning. These were the thoughts that failed to console me, writes our interviewer, who, for sins of omission or one or other of the third or fourth generations who had failed to expiate an ancestral offence, pressed the button of the electric bell which was ultimately to put him in connection with Mr. W. S. Gilbert. "I stepped cautiously over the glazed parqueteries in the hall — as slippery as the pavements outside — on to the islands of rugs, and found terra firma at last in this large London dining-room. Presently the towering figure of Mr. Gilbert loomed in the doorway, and the spirit of his welcome to me was almost Japanese in its self-depreciation for having fixed upon such a morning for our interview, "but the truth is," said Mr. Gilbert, with all the good-nature of a Johnny Pounce, "we have been rehearsing day and night. And the worst of it all is that the music has been so much delayed that I have had at least two sleepless nights over it, and we shall have to crave the indulgence of the public for yet another day. You certainly won’t see "The Mountebanks" at the Lyric Theatre before next Thursday. I delivered the finished book to Mr. Cellier as long ago as last April, but his many engagements, coupled with his ill-health at the present time, have thrown the opera back so much that up to this morning I am entirely at a loss to know how my opera will look. I have had no bird’s-eye view of the whole work, and cannot until to-morrow get a correct idea of its general effect. Fortunately, however, we have one of the best companies that it has ever been my privilege to entrust my "book" to, and they can convert mountains into molehills, and no doubt by Thursday we shall have made such satisfactory progress that I shan’t know my own child, which now keeps me awake at nights."
"And what is the "Mountebanks" about, Mr. Gilbert?" — "Well, I expected that question. It’s only natural; and so I have just sketched out what you may want to know" — and with this Mr. Gilbert handed me a sheet of "Silurian" — I believe that is the title — grey-blue notepaper, bearing the following legend written in a bold hand:—
An alchemist, who has blown himself up in his researches after the philosopher’s stone, has left a powerful potion behind him which has the property of making sham things real. This potion — which is diluted with wine — falls into the hands of a number of persons, all of whom for different reasons are assuming identities or dispositions which do not belong to them. Unacquainted with the potion’s power, they drink the doctored wine, and at once are transformed into the characters they have assumed. Thus a gang of banditti, who have seized on a monastery for a felonious purpose, have disguised themselves in the monks’ robes, and are transformed into veritable Dominicans — to the distress of the girls to whom they were to have been married. Two mountebanks who pretend to be clockwork representations of Hamlet and Ophelia are transformed accordingly. A young bride, who, for an unworthy purpose, has disguised herself as an old woman, becomes an old woman in fact. A conjuror who pretends to be dying of slow poison really suffers the agonies he simulates. A young girl who pretends an affection she does not feel, in order to lure an admirer from a rival beauty, becomes the love-sick girl she affects to be, and her rival, who, for the purposes of rehearsing the reception of a couple of grandees, has assumed the part of a wife, becomes a wife in earnest. Of course matters are eventually restored to their normal condition."
"It is all on account of this potion?" — "Yes, and the sad part about it is that the alchemist was a most proper person, actuated by a high moral tone, when he was blown up. He wished that his fateful potion should be used to enable those well-intentioned people to realize those high aspirations and good intentions which, as things now are, are generally supposed to form the "macadam" of a place we need not mention."
"I must say," added Mr. Gilbert, "that, in addition to the admirable way in which Mr. Sedger has put the opera upon the stage we have a company of actors, a "galaxy of dramatic talent," upon which I have good cause to congratulate myself. The company and chorus are certainly the pleasantest I have ever had to deal with. Mr. Wyatt is the chief of the banditti, who, by a trick change, become Dominican monks. Mr. Lionel Brough is the proprietor of the troupe of mountebanks, and Miss Jenoure and Mr. Harry Monkhouse are the dancing girl and clown who undertake to play the parts of the two clockwork figures of Ophelia and Hamlet. The original clockwork figures are on their way to be exhibited to the Duke and Duchess of Palermo, who are great connoisseurs of automata, but owing to their lifelike character they are detained by the police, as being unprovided with passports. In this dilemma the proprietor of the troupe suggests that the dancing girl and clown shall simulate the automata, which they do, and having taken some of the alchemist’s elixir they are transformed and worked on the principle of the "put-a-penny-in-and-the-figure-will-work." Mr. Robertson, the tenor, is the handsome lover, the jeune premier, and the object of contention between Miss Geraldine Ulmar and Miss Lucille Saunders, who play the interesting young ladies whose fortunes and misfortunes constitute the sentimental interest. Miss Eva Moore is the young bride who is transformed into the old woman.
"The opera is in two acts, and will play on the first evening from 8 o’clock to 11.15, and from 8:15 till 11.15 on following nights. The scene is laid in Sicily, the Trinacria, the first act taking place in a mountainous pass within view of Mount Etna; the second in the monastery by moonlight. The period of the opera is about 1805, just before the brief rule of the French in Naples, when Joseph Bonaparte was King. The dresses of the Sicilian peasants, banditti, and Dominican monks have been designed by Mr. Percy Anderson."
"The music?" — "Well, so far as I know, who have no pretence to a right judgment in such things, it is very skilful, especially in the orchestration, but throughout I have somewhat suffered by a lack of — well, I haven’t seen quite as much of Mr. Cellier as I used to of Sir Arthur Sullivan, or as much as I should have liked. In fact, it is that which has so far kept us back. I have no doubt, however, that the "Mountebanks" will be ready for production next Thursday."
And then I left.
Page modified 31 July, 2011