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Review

The Athenaeum, no. 2226, June 25, 1870, p. 845
[reprinted in The Musical World, July 2, 1870, p. 445]

The accident of this amusing piece having been brought out at an ordinarily non-musical theatre seems to have blinded some of our contemporaries to the fact that it is, to all intents and purposes, a comic opera.  True, there is spoken dialogue, but there is also much more music in it than in the drama with songs, which we were wont to dignify by the appellation of English Opera.  'The Gentleman in Black' has the rare merit of being original.  The subject is fantastic enough to have been imagined by Hoffmann, but it is also quaint and droll enough to be worthy of its real author, Mr. Gilbert. 

Equally original are the merry strains with which Mr. Frederic Clay has brightened the story.  The themes are of that decided and tuneful character, which M. Offenbach has found universally popular, but there is no direct plagiarism.  The smart and "catching" melodies which abound are admirably adapted to be committed to memory by actors who make no pretensions to a professedly technical education; and music of this description is equally acceptable to a general audience.  A telling "subject," however, by no means precludes elaborate treatment, teste the finale to the first act, wherein a capital theme is thrown to and fro from orchestra to singers, taken up by one voice, finished by another, and is altogether so cleverly worked that the movement grows in interest until the curtain falls.  We would further note some couplets, built on an Offenbachian model, and disclosing genuine humour, and also a graceful soprano ballad, scored with admirable tact.  Mr. Clay, indeed, has evidently taken unusual pains with his orchestration, knowing probably that he would have to rely greatly on his band. 

The actors, however, acquit themselves more than creditably of their unfamiliar task, singing with such correctness of accent and general intelligence as more ambitious artists often fail to exhibit.  We welcome 'The Gentleman in Black' as an agreeable substitute for the burlesques with which we have all been long afflicted—halting verses, lamed by tedious word-torturings, joined to tunes stolen from the music-halls; and we are duly grateful to Mr. Clay, as well as to the compact little company of the Charing Cross Theatre, for setting a good example to their contemporaries. 

[A note on the Athenaeum review:  teste is Latin; when this review was reprinted in The Musical World of 2 July 1870, signed "C.C.," this was translated:  "witness the finale to the first act."]


Transcribed by Arthur Robinson.

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