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The New Savoy Opera.
Sir W.S. Gilbert and Mr. German’s “Fallen Fairies.”

Pall Mall Gazette vol. 89 no. 13,936 (Dec, 16, 1909), p. 4.

The first question which every one will probably ask concerning the comic opera by Sir William Gilbert and Mr. Edward German produced at the Savoy last night will probably be, “What is the book like?”  It could hardly be otherwise, seeing that its author is the master of charm, wit, and lyrical felicity who gave us the libretti of “Princess Ida,” “The Gondoliers,” and the rest of the inimitable Gilbert and Sullivan operas.  And it is a real pleasure to us to be able to say that the book of “Fallen Fairies” strikes us as fully worthy of its author.  Once more – as in the old, unforgettable, Savoy days – we heard lyrics that were lyrics, jokes that were jokes, and little touches of serious feeling that were real and not tawdry and vulgar imitations.  It is true that the work did not, last night, evoke those repeated peals of laughter that were the accompaniment of most of the series which made Sir William Gilbert famous.  Underlying the greater part of it, however, was felt the presence of a humour that kept one in a state of quiet happiness, which broke now and then into laughter, but was, at other times, a feeling very rare nowadays in a playhouse, and very full of delight.  So far as what is called literary polish is concerned the book is, for the most part, equal to anything its author has given us.  His command of rhyme, metre, and lucidity is as masterly as ever; and his songs have the old tripping lilt which seems to make music of them even without notes.  In fine, Sir William Gilbert is his old self, a little mellowed by the years perhaps, but still standing quite alone, a master of his art.

The story of a Gilbert libretto never seemed to us to matter half as much as the manner of its telling; and to a certain extent the remark applies to “Fallen Fairies.”  The essential part of it, which can be told briefly, will, however, show that it is a good story.  The Fairies, in their island-valley above the clouds, anxious to allow at least two mortal men from the wicked earth below to see how blamelessly fairies live, decide to summon a couple of them.  As they put it in song: –

Man is a being all accuse
  Of every vice detestable;
To virtue blinded, he pursues
  A course that's unarrestable.
Yet if we let one man of shame
  Observe our lives immaculate,
He would (returning whence he came)
  Ecstatically ejaculate –
    “Atone, atone!
      Repent, repent!
    The pure alone
      Know true content!”
  These tidings good,
No doubt, he would
  Ecstatically ejaculate!

The chosen pair arrive – Ethais and Phyllon – and prove to be not only stalwart fellows, but comely and strangely attractive; and the Fairies fall in love with them; with the result that all sorts of wicked passions, such as hate, jealousy, and malice spring forth, and only disappear when the two who have caused all the upheaval leap back through the clouds, down to their proper homes again.  After this bitter experience, the Fairies decide that they will have nothing more to do with human love; and when two males of their own order, returning from a visit to the earth offer it, they reply, in the words of their Queen: –
                                                No, no – not that!
                                                It is a deadly snare – beware of it!
                                                Such love is for mankind, and not for us.
and on the dainty throng, happy once more in a kind of brotherly and sisterly affection, the curtain falls.  Such is the fable which Sir William Gilbert has decorated with his fancy and fun.  The Fairy Queen, who has fallen wildly in love with one of his stalwart visitors, sings to him thus, in the unmistakable Gilbertian way:

Thy features are fair and seemly
  A god among mortal men:
I'm beautiful, too, extremely
  Granting all this, what then?
The cause is beyond my ken.
    I blindly thus reply:
      “Suppose we were fated
To be separated,
    Assuredly I should die!”
      Oh, thine is the giving
Of dying or living!
    I wonder, wonder why?

And when a third Son of Earth, of homely and rustic aspect appears, and one of the Fairies declares herself enamoured even of him, by very reason of his uncomeliness, he replies: –

What do a dozen handsome men imply?
A dozen faces cast in the same mould.
A dozen mouths, all lip for lip the same,
A dozen noses, all of equal length.
But take twelve plain men, and the element
Of picturesque variety steps in.
You get at once unlooked for hill and dale,
Odd curves and unexpected points of light,
Pleasant surprises, quaintly broken lines –
All very charming, whether seen upon
The face of Nature or the face of Man.

– a piece of blank verse quite worthy of the author of “Pygmalion and Galatea.”  We do not, however, intend spoiling the pleasure of visitors by familiarising them beforehand with too much of the text.  We have only endeavoured to prove, by evidence, the quality of Sir William Gilbert’s work.

Of Mr. German’s music it is not so easy to speak after a single hearing.  Much of it is graceful, and well suited to the daintiness of the theme; and, in its more serious moments, it undoubtedly rises to considerable heights of expression.  On the other hand, much of it struck us as laboured, and not a little of it as almost commonplace.  There seemed to be everything one could ask in the way of technical mastery in the score, but very little of the indefinable thing called “inspiration,” by means of which come melodies that set the heart dancing, as it were.  Of all the songs, the one we liked most was sung by the Fairy Queen in the first act, with a charming refrain, “Oh, wondrous Love!”  Exquisitely rendered by Miss Nancy McIntosh, it was encored with a roar.  There was something of the old Savoy lilt in Mr. Workman’s ditty, “There was a gallant knight of Portugee,” of the Sullivanesque humour in the duet, “Oh, picture then our joy sublime,” for Miss Jessie Rose and Miss Maidie Hope, and of a dramatic ring in the Queen’s song, “Hark ye, sir Knight,” towards the end of the opera; and the choral and orchestral part of the score has plenty of colour.  On the whole, however, the music strikes us as technically admirable, but not particularly rich either in melody or in originality.

For a first performance the whole rendering was wonderfully smooth.  Mr. Workman is already very droll as the rustic Lutin, and will be much funnier by-and-bye; Miss McIntosh not only sings but acts most daintily; Miss Jessie Rose lends the charm of her personality and the “point” of her style to the part of the fairy, Zayda, and proves enormously and deservedly popular; Miss Maidie Hope, as another of the immortals, Darine, sings well, articulates her words perfectly, and acts with no little power in the scenes of jealousy in the second act; while Mr. Claude Flemming and Mr. Leo Sheffield are vocally, physically, and histrionically efficient as the pair of terrestrial visitants.  The opera has been given a scene which is, perhaps, at present, a little too highly-coloured; but by the time the opera has reached its 200th or 300th performance it will have improved, as will everything else.  At the end of the evening the chief players were “called” in the heartiest fashion; while the subsequent appearance of the author and composer evoked a roar which brought memories of famous nights in the same theatre most pleasantly back again.

Transcribed by Arthur Robinson

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