Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



IAN BOND: I well remember a series of correspondence I had with Frederic Lloyd in 1966 regarding both Utopia and Grand Duke in which he maintained that the former would never be revived because it was too expensive, and the latter because "it was an outright failure, and no one in their proper mind would ever bother to revive it!"

I well remember watching his face as he sat in the "royal" box at the Savoy on the 5th April 1975. He was completely unprepared for the audience reaction to The Grand Duke and I really think this was probably the first nail in his coffin. Bridgit sat there with a face like thunder - almost an expression of "how dare you like this work!" Isn't it amazing therefore that at almost every D'Oyly Carte London Last Night from then on, excerpts from The Grand Duke were given prominence (with the inevitable John Ayldon version of the Roulette song at the top of the list. It just goes to show how out of touch the management really were towards the end.

ASHLEY FRAMPTON: I loved reading this paragraph. The Grand Duke might have been a failure, but with some astute cutting of both music and dialogue I think it could work well, I feel that it is about 30 mins. too long, but what would you cut? if anything. Shame to ditch these two for the reasons that Lloyd mentions.

NEIL ELLENOFF: I quite agree. There is so much good in The Grand Duke that a play doctor could fix it. Better that D'Oyly Carte got ditched

BILL SNYDER: I guess I'll have to actually listen to this one. I only got as far as the ghastly "Pretty Lisa, fair and tasty" lyric and swore off it. But I did hear (and enjoy) the roulette song, and I use Julia Jellicoe as my alias on National Football League chat rooms.

ARTHUR ROBINSON: Give it another chance. There are a few more ghastly lyrics in it (mostly assigned to the unfortunate Lisa), and it may be an acquired taste (I didn't care much for it the first time I heard it, now it's one of my favourite G&S scores), but there's a lot of terrific music and some funny lyrics.

MARC SHEPARD: As far as its initial run, here is a list of operas that, according to Kurt Ganzl's The British Musical Theatre, premiered in 1896 and had longer initial runs than The Grand Duke's 123 performances:

So, obviously, the three hits of 1896 were The French Maid, The Geisha, and The Circus Girl. The Grand Duke did not come close to these. And, it's worth noting that all five of the above-listed operas are now almost totally forgotten, with the possible exception of The Geisha, which had a longer initial run than even The Mikado.

Can anyone doubt that the reason we talk about The Grand Duke today is because it was written by the authors of The Mikado, Pinafore, etc.? Almost every composer/author wrote things that would be of no interest whatsoever had they come from anybody else.

SAM L. CLAPP: Early on, someone mentioned that Richard D'Oyly Carte told G&S to make this Opera "fun," to cut out the social commentary upon which Utopia is based. If this is true, I can conceive that WSG felt so shackled by this restrication that he simply did not care about The Grand Duke. He just sort of churned it out, lifting business and gags from earlier plays. It really is the heaviest plot by far; perhaps that's because WSG decided to take "Gilbertianism" to its limit . . . just a thought . . .

I've always very clearly seen a lot of commentary on Sullivan in The Grand Duke. Sullivan was a broken down critter; he always did have something wrong with him "in there." He blew tons of money in Monte Carlo . . . .

The first time I heard The Grand Duke, I laughed and laughed. Here, WSG gave Sullivan these extremely hard-to-set lyrics (ugh, especially Act I finale, n'est ce pas?), and Sullivan set them in such a way that one cannot understand them (ie, Won't it be a pretty wedding . . . nearly unintelligible w/o a libretto). I've called it a war in progress . . . and it is, Blanche, it is.

ROBERT JONES: I can't believe that Gilbert lost his perfectionism. He seems to have had his usual enthusiasm toward mounting the production. He'd lost something, but certainly not interest.

And wasn't Gilbert a broken-down critter at the time? I see a lot of WSG's complaints in Rudolph.

MARC SHEPARD: Even if Gilbert was operating with "restrictions" (a characterization I've never heard before in connection with this opera), it does not account for all the sloppy workmanship that marred The Grand Duke.

My own theory for why it turned out so badly is threefold:


G&S were looking over their shoulders at the popularity of Viennese, French and other Continental operettas and/or musical comedies. They were determined to be as symphonic and as sophisticated as their competition from a new generation. They were trying to appeal to the new audience, having more or less played out their old one. HMS Pinafore might be acceptable for an historic revival, but it would not do as an example of 1890's theatre. This is a common symptom that befalls theater writers as they become chronologically older than the core of their audience.

J DERRICK McCLURE: An ageing author and an ailing composer, whose personal and professional relationship had never recovered from the carpet quarrel, had come together, in spite of the failure of their previous effort: was any comic opera ever written under worse omens? And then, in spite of real efforts on both their parts to try some new and adventurous variations on their old style, the result proved a failure with the public: is it any wonder that they were disappointed? No - I don't think we can use G and S's expressed opinions on The Grand Duke as evidence of its actual quality. Remember that Virgil's dying wish was that the Aeneid should be burnt!

ANDREW CROWTHER: I agree that The Grand Duke is well down on the list of operas. Gilbert was certainly getting prolix at this stage: he still has good ideas, but he doesn't have the old sharp edge in transforming them into art.

MARC SHEPARD: I'm also doubtful about the "what they both knew would be the last time" part. Sullivan still had three more operas in him (Beauty Stone, Rose Of Persia and Emerald Isle). If The Grand Duke had been another Mikado - or even another Yeomen or Gondoliers - I feel quite certain they'd have found a way to continue the series. It was the failure of The Grand Duke that sealed the partnership's fate.

J DERRICK McCLURE: I don't think either of them approached The Grand Duke in a spirit of optimism. (I'm sure, though, that if Sullivan had set His Excellency it would have been a brilliant success, and that might have saved the partnership - we'll never know.)

Page created 23 March 1998