You are here: Archive Home > W. S. Gilbert > Interviews > "Ruddy-gore" and Savoy Operas
 
   
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Gilbert Interviews

"RUDDY-GORE" AND SAVOY OPERAS.

AN INTERVIEW WITH MR. W.S. GILBERT.

Mr. Gilbert was sitting in that sumptuous library of his, in his often described house in Harrington-gardens, evidently in a state of extreme jubilation, from which I inferred that the "Ruddy-gore" rehearsals were progressing favourably, for Mr. Gilbert looks very grim indeed when things are not going to his fancy.  I had called to ask for a few of the spirited pen and ink sketches which the most popular playwright of the day loves to scribble on his manuscript, perhaps to assist a train of thought, perhaps to see how the child of his brain looks on paper.  Alas! I had come too late.  Mr. Gilbert is not like some littérateurs and dramatists who preserve their manuscripts with religious care, and pay a Cusin or a Zaehnsdorf a fabulous sum for enclosing them in the immortality of calf.  Not he.  He loves Liberty fabrics, and high art, rich stuffs, old oak, brass-work, cabinets, Eastern rugs, Oriental settees, and other little matters which his manuscripts secure for him, but the soiled sheets themselves only serve to remind him of weeks of toil.  So he makes a bonfire of them.  Nor is he exigeant about his pens or his paper, or his ink, like some great men.  Blue lined foolscap is good enough for him. I was
luckily just in time to secure the little sketch given here, roughly drawn in pen and ink, on a sheet of blue writing paper, of Miss Jessie Bond’s costume.  Miss Bond will perhaps say that she recognizes her costume, but her pretty face is hidden beneath the poke bonnet of the period,  If the manuscripts had been burned, there yet remained some almost indecipherable sheets sewn together, on which were scribbled Mr. Gilbert’s analysis and guide to the stage management of the new opera.  Until the playwright explains the mysterious writings and the cabalistic signs they remain enigmas.  But Mr. Gilbert shows you a box full of little oblong blocks, much like a box of toy bricks, of different sizes and colours, and explains how each one is made to scale, how it represents a member of the Savoy company, and then Mr. Gilbert’s system of stage management becomes easy to understand, and one admires his untiring pains and exact methods.  So this box contains a block representing every member of the company, different colours representing principals and chorus, and dividing them again into sopranos, tenors, basses, and so on.  Mr. Gilbert also has models made to scale of the different platforms used, so that he is able to rehearse his effects in the quiet of his own library, and can thus go down to the theatre every morning with the stage business of the day well fixed in his head.  Any one who has attended rehearsals of a new play will understand what a saving of time and temper is thus effected.  The result of these lonely rehearsals is noted down in the
MISS JESSIE BOND
manuscript book which I have mentioned, and from this I take the diagram.

Diagram

THE AMERICAN PIRATES.

Many details of the new opera have already been published; but Mr. Gilbert was good enough to talk freely concerning its birth, its growth, and its preparation.  "It is quite true that you make merry at our secrecy, but I assure you we do not lock our doors.  We must, however, protect ourselves.  It is the American pirates for whom we have a deadly hatred.  But we shall soon be even with them.  At present, Massachusetts is the only state where we have absolute protection against them.  In the other States we have to fight.  But we are a pretty powerful trio, and are determined to do battle with every American manager who attempts to produce one of our plays without paying the fee.  We have fought, we are fighting, and we intend to fight, cost what it may.  The pirates are beginning to fear our pugnacity, and I think we shall win in the end."

HOW AN IMPRESARIO WAS BAFFLED.

"But the public has no idea of the dodges one has to resort to.  I will tell you a story of one American impresario who wished to produce ‘The Mikado.’  We told him our terms; he declined them, and said he would produce it without paying a fee.  He came over to London to buy the costumes; he went to Liberty’s and ordered a whole set of dresses.  We heard of this and we went to Liberty’s and put our case.  Mr. Liberty at once declined the order.  Not beaten, the American took the boat for Paris.  In that boat was one of Mr. Carte’s emissaries, who slept not.  The American drove to his hotel on reaching Paris; Mr. Carte’s emissary drove round all the Japanese shops and bought up every bit of stuff in the market.  The next morning our American drove round to find himself again foiled.  Then he returned to London, and tried the City.  Here again we beat him.  Then he took ship for New York.  So did we.  In this way.  Our American company was ready.  Mr. Carte took them down to Liverpool in a special train, very quietly.  They were taken on board in a special tender, and taken below decks at once, with strict injunctions not to appear until after leaving Queenstown.  Mr. Carte, disguised, set them the good example.  Thus they avoided the pressman and the cable.  On arriving in New York they found our American friend had announced the ‘Mikado’ in a week’s time.  He had vamped up the dresses in New York.  But he was foiled again, for we produced the authorized edition a week in front of him.  When it is said that because I go to Egypt therefore I am writing an Egyptian opera, I do not contradict it.  It misleads the Americans.  On the slender basis of this rumour I hear that more than one manager had bought Egyptian dresses."

THE COST OF PRODUCTION.

"Ruddy-gore; or, the Witch’s Curse," is a burlesque of old-fashioned melodrama, laid in the time of George II.  There is no need to say more.  The production will cost six or seven thousand pounds, for the dresses are, of course, to be very rich and elaborate.  Mr. Gilbert mentioned the hussar uniforms of the period, which have been reproduced with an admirable fidelity, from the heavy gold lace to the pattern on the button.  Some of these dazzling costumes will cost £180 apiece.  As an instance of the thoroughness with which the Savoy operas are produced, I am allowed to say that five hundred pounds’ worth of costumes were thrown on one side, as they were found to resemble the costumes of the last act of "Monte Cristo."  Need one say that Mr. Gilbert directs every detail, except, of course, the music.  In one amusing scene, laid in the picture-gallery, in the second act, Mr. Grossmith’s twenty-four ancestors, going back from the time of George I. to William the Conqueror, will walk out of their canvasses.

LIBRETTOS AND LEMON SQUASH.

"On and off I have been working at ‘Ruddy-gore’ for a year and a half," said Mr. Gilbert; "for so soon as one opera is produced I never rest until I have found a theme for another, but having found it, I can finish it in six weeks if I work hard.  The pressure all depends on the prospects of the current opera.  When I have finished the numbers I send them on to Sir Arthur Sullivan, who has been working hard, I know, for a number of weeks, from mid-day to six the next morning.  I never do any work in the daytime, except rehearsals, but generally begin writing at 11 P.M., and go to bed at 2 or 3 A.M.  I find lemon squash the best liquid to work on.  I smoke, but not so much as I used to."

MR. GILBERT’S NERVOUSNESS.

Mr. Gilbert has never seen one of his own plays acted for fourteen years, owing to excessive nervousness, which he admits grows upon him every day.  It is easy to understand that a playwright is too nervous to be present at the "first night’ of his play; but however pronounced the success, Mr. Gilbert adheres to his determination.  Only on one occasion has he been persuaded to make the experiment, and then he broke down.  The Duke of Edinburgh once sent for him to his box to talk to him on this very peculiarity.  Being pressed to stay Mr. Gilbert had no option but to take a seat in the box.  But presently he began to feel hotter and hotter, fainter and fainter, and had to beg the Duke to release him.

TITLES.

"We have a sort of superstition about never fixing our titles until just before the opera is produced.  It is not easy to get a good title; I dare say I had half a dozen for this, printing them in block letters to see the effect on the eye.  We finally fixed on ‘Ruddy-gore.’  We only changed ‘Titipoo’ to ‘The Mikado’ at the last moment."

THE FUTURE.

I asked Mr. Gilbert whether he ever proposed to change his scheme on operas, a question to which he replied by saying that the supply would always be equal to the demand.  "It is true," he went on, "that it is difficult to present a stock company in different aspects.  I am a believer in stock companies.  They have their disadvantages as well as their advantages.  Many members of our present company have been with us for ten years; they know us, and are thoroughly trained in our ways.  Now they know one another, and there are, I believe, many warm personal friendships existing among them, whereas in ordinary companies it is man against man and woman against woman, each trying to force himself to the front.  Beyond a little tiff at rehearsals, which are not, I am happy to say, of frequent occurrence, we are a very united family.  In the future, if we may look forward, we shall alternate revivals with new pieces.  It is never good to run a good piece threadbare.  Now ‘The Mikado’ has been running two years, but the other night there was £201 in the house.  Yet it is to come off.  Now ‘The Pinafore’ was run down to nothing, and was played to £60 houses in its last moments. [sic]  What is the consequence?  We have never cared to revive it, and do not think it will bear revival for a year or more.  ‘The Mikado’ could be revived with success."

THE CHORISTERS.

"We have a thousand applications for places in our chorus," said Mr. Gilbert, "though its normal strength is fifty.  We require a good voice and a musical education for qualifications.  The ladies are drawn from the professional classes, doctors, army officers, and so on, and they have every chance of promotion.  We have a system of double ‘understudies’ at the Savoy, and if a lady is ambitious and clever she may emerge from the chorus to the position of leading lady.  Then you see we have our provincial and American companies, which we form from London material.  That is to say, a promising young lady in the chorus, if she was willing to go into the provinces, might take a small part in the provinces.  And thus we endeavour to stimulate ambition."



Archive Home  |  W. S. Gilbert  |  Interviews

   Page modified 20 November, 2011 Copyright © 2011 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.