|W. S. Gilbert > Interviews > Fallen Fairies
"Fallen Fairies" – Tonight’s New Opera at the Savoy.
SOME GILBERT STORIES.
To-night may mean much for the gaiety of nations, particularly for the English-speaking races. The question to be answered this evening at the Savoy Theatre is, "Are Gilbert and German as good as Gilbert and Sullivan?"
NOTHING BUT GILBERT.
How will the work of the pair strike the public to-night? Success probably means a further flow of Gilbertian wit, for though Sir William is well past the three score years and ten, and though he has a ducal mansion and estate on the western fringe of London, he is still a keen worker. Day after day he has spent long, arduous hours at the Savoy rehearsing the company, for he is not only an unrivalled stage manager, but he insists upon supervising very detail, from the engagement of the actors to the exact position a singer shall occupy whilst he is facing the footlights. In a Gilbert production comedians do not invent their own "business," as in a pantomime, and there is never any "gagging." The performance is Gilbert first, Gilbert last, and Gilbert all the time.
As to the music by Mr. German, we can but hope, and hearken to Sir William, who says: "It is extraordinarily beautiful — equal to anything I have ever heard — and quaint when quaintness is necessary." That must mean that the mantle of Sullivan has fallen upon German, and that the new composer, like the old, sees humour with the same eyes as the author.
Granting this, we may expect the people to demand more, and we may picture Sir William, in his great library at Grim’s Dyke, lying back in his favourite old armchair to think out fresh fancies and frolics of phrases for the entertainment of countless thousands.
A LITTLE LAND OF LOVELINESS.
Sir William, of course, has more money than ever he can spend, and Grim’s Dyke has delights by the dozen to help him pass pleasant days. On this Harrow estate there are woodlands, an old-world moat, a model farm, avenues, valleys, rose walks, gardens, vineries, terraced walks, with steps which remind one of Dorothy Vernon at Haddon Hall, a lake, an observatory — in fact, the whole place is a little land of loveliness. Then the splendid house, with its noble rooms, furniture of all periods, pictures, plate, curios, and statuary is a sheer joy to the lucky guest of the brightest brained man of his day.
It is a common saying that, while London attracts the cleverest men of the Empire, few great Britons were born in the Metropolis. Well, if this be true, then Sir W. S. Gilbert is one of the few, for he first saw the light of day in a historic house just off the Strand, and his ancestors for generations have lived in London. He was born on November 18, 1838, and can remember a grandfather who wore a pigtail and Hessian boots, plus other garments of a by-gone age.
Sir William attended school at Ealing, and had for master that renowned pedagogue, Dr. Nicholas, whom W. M. Thackeray wrote of as Dr. Tickle-us. Had the Crimean War lasted a little longer than was the case, the light literature of the second half of the nineteenth century might have been robbed of its brightest star, for young Gilbert was about to become an officer in the Royal Artillery when hostilities ceased and further fighters were not required. The young man was offered a commission in the Royal Aberdeenshire Highlanders, but it was guns or nothing for him, and he chose the law in preference to a foot regiment.
MET SULLIVAN 40 YEARS AGO.
Such a peaceful occupation gave him an opportunity to develop his genius for humorous verse, so before long he left the court for the theatre. Gilbert’s first meeting with Sullivan was at the old Gallery of Illustration just over forty years ago. The young author was then writing "The Palace of Truth," in which figured a musical impostor, who talked bewildering technicalities to demonstrate his knowledge of the art. Gilbert, knowing little of music, turned to a learned treatise for words to put into the mouth of his posing character, and thus he made up a startling sentence containing such staggerers as "the tetrachord of Mercury" and "diatonic intervals." When casually introduced to Sullivan, Gilbert fired off his weird and wonderful phrases in the form of a question, and, naturally, the composer, alarmed at this apparent display of theoretical knowledge, said he would have to think his answer out. But answer came there none in all the years of friendship.
Page modified 21 November, 2011 Copyright © 2011 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.