|Gilbert > Plays > His Excellency > Times Review
Since the dissolution of the famous Savoy partnership many coalitions have been formed, now of Sir Arthur Sullivan with new librettists, now of Mr. Gilbert with other composers, and again of the popular members of the troupe with new authors. Various degrees of success have attended these experiments, but none has seemed so likely to succeed permanently, because none has been nearly so strong, as that which was concerned in the production of His Excellency, produced on Saturday night at the Lyric Theatre, whence the popular variety entertainment called Little Christopher Columbus has been withdrawn to Terry’s Theatre.
His Excellency the Governor of Elsinore is an inveterate practical joker, and his daughters inherit this characteristic to such an extent that they lend themselves to making complete fools of their respective lovers, a sculptor and a physician, who are decorated with sham Court titles. The joke in the case of the sculptor has been carried to extreme limits, for on the strength of a spurious commission he has erected a statue of the Prince Regent of Denmark in the market-place. Christina, a romantic ballad singer, loses her heart, not to the sculptor, which, as he remarks, “would be rational enough,” but to the work of his hands, with which she feigns to hold converse. While indulging her fancy in this way she is overheard by the Regent himself, who has come to Elsinore in the disguise of a strolling player to observe the doings of Griffenfeld, the Governor.
Griffenfeld is completely taken in by the disguise, and, noticing the resemblance to the statue, persuades, of course with little difficulty, the supposed actor to personate the Regent and to bestow the various appointments upon the victims of his jests and to countenance the marriage of the girls of the place with a regiment of hussars, who have, by another practical joke, been forced to practise ballet-steps instead of drill. This incident has not much connexion with the plot, but it is one of the most whimsical ideas Mr. Gilbert has ever conceived, and its execution by all concerned is so good that the elaborate “ballet of hussars” is sure to be one of the great successes of the piece.
The return of Mr. Grossmith to the stage, and the reassociation with him of such favourite members of the old Savoy company as Miss Jessie Bond and Mr. Rutland Barrington in a piece especially designed for them by Mr. Gilbert, would of themselves secure the success of the new opera, even were it provided with music of an inferior kind. And it is only fair to say that these public performers have more than once been associated with music of far flimsier texture than Dr. Osmond Carr’s. In setting Mr. Gilbert’s words, the composer has wisely attempted to imitate, as so many have done before him, the Sullivanian methods and mannerisms, rather than to cast his work in that more vulgar mould in which he has found favour with the purveyors of variety entertainments. If his music is seldom distinguished, it at least adheres closely to the model chosen. For instance, the overture has so perfunctory an air that it might almost be intended to suggest the idea of being written on the night before the performance. Christina’s opening ballad, too, “I see with a silent awe,” lies none too well for the voice, and the quartet in which the girls befool their sweethearts is very cleverly managed. The greater part of the solos in the first act, the patter trio and a whole series of concerted pieces in the second, follow most faithfully the pattern set in what may be called the classical Savoy operas; as a consequence of this, individuality is not a leading characteristic of the composition, though in several numbers, where he has felt more free to go his own way, Dr. Carr has given us music that lacks neither fun nor refinement.
The first duet of Griffenfeld’s daughters when they see their admirers; the entry of the dancing hussars, whose ponderous evolutions in the second act to a conventionally-scored “air de ballet” are an admirable piece of parody; Nanna’s song “My wedded life,” in which a scarcely called-for air of sadness prevails; and, above all, the whole finale of the first act, with its bright and effective sections, are one and all original. Christina’s song in the second act, in the accompaniment of which a guitar is introduced and actually played by the singer, is exceedingly pretty; but it is rather a pity that the capital song in which Griffenfeld regrets that “the mine of jocularity is utterly worked out,” and the duet in which a corporal and his sweetheart arrange their own love-story in the form of a three-volume novel, should be, musically speaking, two of the poorest numbers in the piece.
The cast is exceptionally strong, even apart from the three singers already referred to. Miss Nancy M’Intosh (sic) (Christina) has of late made rapid progress and has become an actress of decided skill and charm, though her voice and singing are scarcely as good as they were when she came out. Her delivery of the fancied dialogue between herself and the statue has admirable refinement and lightness of touch. Miss Ellaline Terriss is a worthy companion for Miss Jessie Bond, and the two ladies get the ultimate degree of fun from their parts, while their singing and dancing are, of course, excellent. Miss Alice Barnett, as a stalwart, rich, and very amorous lady of irascible disposition, scores a distinct success, although her constant struggles to stifle her rage become at last a little tiresome. Once again, as in years gone by, the difference in physique between herself and Mr. Grossmith is drawn upon for a safe laugh.
The part of the jocular Governor is hardly to be reckoned among the best that Mr. Gilbert has written for Mr. Grossmith, but the actor seemed slightly nervous, and, indeed, few actors could have remained entirely unmoved by the extraordinary warmth of the welcome bestowed upon him by the audience at his first appearance. Mr. Barrington, on the other hand, is suited to perfection as the Regent, wearing his actor’s rags with a princely air, and submitting, with characteristic imperturbability, to the public homage and private disdain of Griffenfield. A touch of genuine sentiment at the moment when he declares that he is really the Regent Prince, of course to the dismay of Christina, is well given by him and Miss M’Intosh.
Messrs. Charles Kenningham and Augustin Cramer are an acceptable pair of suitors, and Mr. John Le Hay, with a wonderful voice and make-up, is a sufficiently funny Syndic. The piece is, as a matter of course, admirably mounted, Mr. Percy Anderson’s costumes being remarkably good. The local dresses are turned to the best advantage, and the gold and silver bridal crowns of the girls make the last scene very effective. The composer conducted his work, and was received, with Mr. Gilbert, with the utmost enthusiasm. At the close a speech was exacted from the manager, Mr. George Edwardes, by a most uproarious “gallery,” and an allusion to the County Council’s recent action was the signal for a hearty demonstration.
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