Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

Fallen Fairies

"The Times", Thursday, December 16, 1909.

When Mrs. Kendal was Miss Madge Robertson and Buckstone the leading comedian of the London stage, Mr.
W. S. Gilbert, as he was then, brought out the third of those fantastic comedies in which modern phraseology and turns of expression were united with blank verse of remarkable technical excellence. The Wicked World has hardly lasted in the memory of the public as long as the others; for it contains no idea that has passed into our literature, like that of The Palace of Truth, and no phrase that has attained the immortality of many sentences in the Savoy operas. How three mortal men are introduced into the pure society of Fairyland, and how, as a consequence, every sort of human passion invades the innocent cloud-kingdom, is known to all students of the English drama.

Sir William Gilbert has condensed Mr. Gilbert’s three acts into two, leaving out a good deal of unnecessary business about a ring, and a potion, and inserting “lyrical” verses with a liberal hand while retaining much of the original blank verse. In one or two instances, this causes some repetition, since the situation is first dealt with in spoken deca-syllabics and afterwards repeated in the musical lyric. No one is likely to find the reiteration tiresome, for in most cases both forms of poetry are treated with the authors own masterly skill.

Mr. Edward German’s music is graceful, and sometimes rises to real dramatic power, as in Darine’s song with the charm; it is always pleasing, and there are certain numbers like Zayda’s dance near the beginning of the second act, which, none but Mr. German could write; the scene with the mortal counterpart of Lutin and the fairies is another very individual and successful passage. Some of Selene’s music is very melodious, but her best song follows so immediately on the scene in which she has been declaiming the curse on Ethais that no artist could hope to make both equally effective; and Miss Nancy McIntosh, though her singing is as artistic as it always was, has scarcely as sonorous a voice as the music demands, and the powerful impression she undoubtedly makes in the part formerly associated with Mrs. Kendal is due to her gracious personality, and still more to her admirable delivery of the blank verse. The whole company, indeed, have so vastly improved in respect of the utterance of spoken words that it was scarcely necessary to be informed that the piece had been directed by the author.

Miss Maidie Hope, as Darine, sang and acted well, and Miss Jessie Rose is a charming Zayda, giving the proper touches of mischief. The two knights are better as mortals than as fairies, but neither has the airy grace that some of the older Savoyards would have given to the two. Mr. Workman is as effective as usual as the mortal Lutin, and the only cause for regret is that there is not more of him. He left out one of the songs allotted to him, and as all the encores which were insisted on were cut down to the smallest possible limits; the opera ended in good time.

The dresses, designed by Mr. Percy Anderson, are of very great beauty in colour, design, and in an appropriately fantastic style. The single scene is scarcely up to the Savoy mark, for it suggests the gaudy transformation-scene of ordinary pantomime, and there is no suggestion of clouds or of the view of earth which Fairyland is said to command.
Author and composer, as well as all the performers, were called and heartily cheered at the close.