|Gilbert > Plays > Princess Toto > Review from The Times
This theatre was reopened on Saturday night, under the management of Messrs. J. Hollingshead and R. Barker, with Princess Toto, a comic opera, of which the libretto is by Mr. W. S. Gilbert and the music by Mr. Frederick Clay. The piece was produced for the first time in London at the Strand in the autumn of 1876, when Miss Kate Santley appeared in the title rôle. The piece, which only ran for eight weeks, scarcely met with a succès d’estime from an audience accustomed to a more broadly humorous style of extravaganza. Since that time, however, popular taste has been cultivated for the new school of English opera which Mr. Gilbert has formed and to which this work belongs, and the gravely-acted absurdities of the piece were received on Saturday with apparently as much delight as any of the fanciful conceits the author has presented of late.
The action turns upon two infirmities of the Princess Toto. She has a shockingly bad memory, or rather, no memory at all, and she is exceptionally wilful and impulsive, even for one of her sex. When the curtain rises, her father, King Portico, and his Court are in a state of much disquietude at the non-appearance of Prince Caramel, to whom she is to be married. The bridegroom – a nice, well-behaved young man who plays the flute, does worsted work, and wears galoshes – ought to have arrived two days before, but nothing has been heard of him. While King Portico is nervously dreading that he will be made to seem ridiculous in the eyes of surrounding nations, another young Prince, to whom Princess Toto had been betrothed when a child, but who, it was supposed, had been devoured by cannibals, arrives to claim the Princess in marriage. She, rather to the delight of the King, “mixes her lovers,” and insists upon going to the altar with this young gentleman, Prince Doro.
To an audience who have only just left the affairs of everyday life outside the theatre-walls the character they are so abruptly called upon to laugh at is, perhaps, a little too suggestive of a case for Bedlam; but the fun, which has rather hung fire up to this point, now begins with the appearance of Prince Caramel and the efforts of the King’s Prime Minister, Zapeter, to break the news of the Princess Toto’s marriage so diplomatically that the jilted bridegroom “shall rather like it than otherwise.” The wily diplomat gets on famously until the Prince, who is a plain man, insists upon being told what has happened in the words of two syllables and under. “If you had let me run on in polysyllables,” says Zapeter, “I would have broken it more delicately; but you would have it in two syllables, and I am a ruined diplomatist.”
To appease the Prince’s anger Zapeter suggests that Caramel shall disguise himself as a notorious brigand named Barberini, and predicts that the forgetful Princess, whose romantic mind is fascinated by the accounts she has heard of the robber chief’s beauty and exploits, will be ready to join the band, and that the Prince when she is tired of bandit life can “have a clergyman in readiness and marry her straight off.” The advice is taken, the scheme succeeds, and in the second act the doings of the supposed robbers, really, of course, Prince Caramel and his Court in disguise “with some elderly ladies to make it respectable,” afford, as may be supposed, in Mr. Gilbert’s hands much amusement. More fun is made by the arrival of King Portico with his two Ministers, Zapeter and Jamilek, who have followed the Princess, disguised as Red Indians, in the hope of luring the romantic maiden from the brigands by offering her the novelty of a wilder life. The experiment is due to the diplomatic brain of Zapeter, who, when the King has misgivings of their ability to maintain their disguise, reassures his master and begs him to “fear nothing; the wary paleface has diligently studied the works of Fenimore Cooper, and they have made him downy. He is familiar with the method of expression of his red brother, and the wary paleface courts investigation; his tread is as the tread of the wild cat, his eye is the eye of the hawk, his jump is the jump of the opossum. Why should he tremble? The Unmitigated Blackbird has spoken. Wagh!”
The scheme succeeds; the Princess is taken to the Island of Brandy-pawnee, where, in the third act, the two princes again find her, and ultimately a happy arrangement is made.
As Princess Toto, Miss Annette Albu has a rather difficult part to play; but, if the librettist has dealt hardly with her, the composer has been kinder, and has given her two or three songs which more than anything she says or does bring the audience into sympathy with her. Of these “The World of Dreams” was most favourably received. Miss Annie Poole, who has a small part as Jelly, the Princess’s attendant, has a rather pretty barcarolle, “When you’re Afloat,” allotted to her; and of these and the concerted pieces which it is stated have been added and altered since the last presentation of the opera it may be said generally that, while they are not strikingly original in character, they are sprightly and pleasing. Mr. Alfred Bishop (Prince Caramel), Mr. Richard Temple (King Portico), and Mr. Robert Brough (Zapeter) succeed in bringing out the comic elements of the situations in which they are placed, though as much can hardly be said for M. Loredan, who appears as Prince Doro. Mr. George Temple takes the part of Jamilek. The chorus performed their part creditably, and for the rest it may be said that the piece is well mounted.
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