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The New Savoy Opera:  “Fallen Fairies.

Musical Standard vol. 32 no. 834 (Dec. 25, 1909), pp. 404-405.

The fairies have come to town in such numbers as to bewilder the sober citizen.  “Do you believe in fairies?” asks Peter Pan.  Well, they are to be seen in plenty on the London stage just at present, and seeing’s believing, as the saying is.  But there are good and bad fairies, fairies that fascinate and fairies that bore one; fairies that are pure creatures of the imagination and come with a certain charm upon them from an impossible dwelling-place, and fairies that are of the earth earthy and don’t impress us in the least.  Of the existence of fairies no sane, thinking man doubts, though the child may.  The man may see them every day; the child may believe they are shut up within the pages of a book and have no active being.  Well, it is all an open question and we may think as we may; but when fairy fare is spread for us in such profusion, as at this time, we must really make up our minds which type of fairy we consider the most convincing.

Since “Iolanthe” took the town by storm, a great section of the public has set its heart upon the Savoy type of fairy.  All the others seem characters of unsatisfying unsubstantiality in comparison; and yet unsubstantiality ought to be a virtue in a fairy.  But Gilbert’s fairies have much of the mundane interest about them and are very often only “fairy” down to the waist.  Why any of them should be fairies at all we may often wonder.  Why not “Arcadian  maidens,” or dwellers on an unknown island?  Ah, then, our author would reply, you rob me of the pleasure of giving my characters miraculous powers and take away the charm of the unexpected.

“Fallen Fairies,” the new Gilbert opera at the Savoy, is not called, it will be noticed, a “comic” opera, but “an entirely original opera.”  It certainly is difficult to place, for it is part secular cantata, light opera, and, at points, grand opera.  Sir William is much more serious in his libretto in this than in former Savoy operas.  In places he is frankly didactic, as in the lines, spoken by the Queen of the Fairies:

“Oh, let us lay this lesson to our hearts!
Let us achieve our work with humbled souls,
Free from the folly of self-righteousness.
Behold, is there so wide a gulf between
The humbled wretch who, being tempted, falls,
And that good man who rears an honoured head
Because temptation has not come to him?”

But when Lutin, a serving fairy, comes upon the scene he supplies the element of real comic opera and it is enough to say that, the part being played by Mr. Workman, the want is well supplied.  Lutin is a delightful fellow, as full of quip as Jack Point in his happier hours, and has all the appearance of having stepped out of a Shakespearean comedy.  We could do with much more of him than we get—very much more.  His acting is admirable and his singing excellent whether in patter song or ballad, or the more difficult music of the concerted pieces.  It is the first part of Gilbert’s opera that Mr. Workman has “created” and the librettist is fortunate in having so delightful an exponent of his ideas.  Mr. Workman is really the only comedian on the London stage who can sing and he uses his voice to good effect in all the musical items in which he takes part.

This opera is singular in having only three men on a stage crowded with women.  The female voices form the chorus and among them are some rich contraltos that sound at times like light baritones.  It is surprising how much effect the composer, Mr. Edward German, manages to get out of these treble-line voices.  Sullivan, it is said, refused to set the libretto, some years ago, because of the absence of men’s voices; it was certainly an experiment—as the author announced at the end of the performance on the opening  night—to do away, for the time being, with the deeper voices of men.  But if the baritones, Ethais and Phyllon, are male fairies, why could not their number be multiplied so as to form the necessary chorus voices?  But when all is so good, why ask unnecessary questions?

The music throughout the opera is quite the best music for the theatre that Mr. German has written.  It is immensely superior to his “Tom Jones,” which was too great a concession to musical comedy notions.  But this Savoy opera is on a higher plane altogether and lays one more stone in the foundation of English light opera.  The orchestration is deft and skilful throughout and is quite as interesting as the scoring of the “Merry Widows” and “Dollar Princesses” that foist themselves on the English stage.  The quality of the strings was delicious and when one closed one’s eyes there was all the sensation of hearing a Queen’s Hall orchestra in miniature.

The company is, both from the point of view of acting and singing, a thoroughly competent one.  Miss McIntosh speaks her lines of blank verse with fine appreciation of their meaning and sings delightfully.  Miss Maidie Hope puts her whole soul into her work and, amongst the ladies carries off first honours easily, though Miss Jessie Rose, with her careful and definite Savoy manner, runs her very close indeed.  The dresses are picturesque to a degree of sheer dazzlement; no expense has been spared in the mounting of the opera and the management has made a fine bid for popularity with a piece that is fragrant and refined from opening to close.  If the public know merit when they see, and hear it, they will crowd the Savoy for months to come.


Transcribed by Arthur Robinson

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