Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



PHILIP STERNENBERG: The rhymes and classical allusions are very cleverly worked out, in my opinion, but only from a literary viewpoint. The lyrics are bound to go over most people's heads, and the subservient melody might actually exacerbate the problem.

Nevertheless, what I could imagine working would be pantomimes from the chorus that illustrate the lyrics, maybe cautiously overdoing some bits. Not that I'm suggesting a literal interpretation of "something like the altogether," although the prospect is Elysian!

I wonder whether the audiences of 1896 were so more thoroughly trained in ancient history that this number worked a lot better back then.

MARC SHEPHERD: In the last Grand Duke that I saw, this is exactly what the director did. I think she got as much out of the song as one humanly could. (She did cut the second verse.) However, it's still inherently third-rate material.

Also, there's a lot of G&S that assumes more knowledge of ancient history than the typical audience member has today. Even "You're Diana, I'm Apollo" from Thespis is reasonably sophisticated in that regard (though a much better lyric than "At the outset I may mention").

EUGENIA HORN: "Victorians" were kind of fond (especially in the early and midpart of the era) about classical allusions (it probably slopped over from the Napoleonic/Regency era which practically tried to "recreate" classical Greek art and culture). In the lyrics of this song it appears that Gilbert is satirizing the mania for the Greek references thrown about all over the place in art and theatre and elsewhere. Really, there are lines in there about Bacchus/Dionysus, revels and dancing. It's quite likely more than one person connected it with Orpheus In The Underworld by Offenbach which ends with "The Infernal Gallop" better known as the "CanCan".

It makes more sense if one realizes how many kings (Louis XIV "the Sun King", Napoleon I, etc.) were really into comparing themselves with Greek Gods. And lots of operas, ballets, and plays were based on classical mythology which sometimes overlapped with the royalties "hobby". (Leopold I of Belgium appeared as "Apollo" in the Congress of Vienna "horse ballet"; this was before Belgium, and he was just an unknown, really cute German prince from a small duchy who "fit the part", but he following in the "footsteps" of Louis XIV who appeared in ballets with one very famous picture recording his appearance as "Apollo".)

If there's one thing this particular opera appears to suffer from, it's that it appears to rely on some conventions peculiar to that era which have been largely forgotten. (And the rather "rambling" plotline/libretto which could have been more "streamlined", but that was noticed already.)

I don't think it's totally irrelevant, but it would be fun to set in a time period that was obviously into the Greek fad like the Napoleonic era with the ladies already wearing "Grecian drapery" and toss in overtones of the "theatrical" courts of the time (Napoleon I, George IV (actually "Regency"), the Congress of Vienna, etc.) Jane Austen's "in" right now anyway.

Actually, Duke Ernst III's (of SaxeCoburg Saalfeld (aka Ernst I of SaxeCoburg Gotha)) court would be fun . . .

DAVID DUFFEY: It is a very clever verse. Would have been good as a Bab Ballad. In performance it is dreary beyond all expressing.

PAUL McSHANE: Well, I agree with David completely about it making a great Bab Ballad, and mostly about its place in the opera. Trouble is, the classical allusions are irrelevant to the plot, and hearing them in the theatre (as distinct from reading them, perhaps with an encyclopedia at one's side) for the first, second or umpteenth time, is no way to understand exactly what Ludwig is saying.

Additionally, the "steady 'cram'" bit is (just) OK the first time, but boring when reprised after each verse. And finally, as I may have mentioned before, this is another of those numbers where Sullivan - perhaps to his credit - said, in effect "this is Gilbert being clever, so I'll just sit back and give him an umpitypom tune in the background, so the audience can concentrate on his words".

ROBERT JONES: Yes, I don't believe that the 1890's audience was so erudite that anyone understood every reference in the song. But how wonderful to diskiver that, after thoroughly enjoying a song, you can go and read it and be entertained anew.

I disagree that the classical references are irrelevant. The Greek theme may not advance the plot, but the premise is delightfully absurd and I don't think its continuation belabours the point. After all, they look ridiculous: they may as well sound ridiculous.

GERRY HOWE: Kenneth Sandford, talking at his "coffee and conversation" at Buxton, 1996. "I had to get my son to tell me how to pronounce the Greek words". According to a friend of mine, who is a G&S enthusiast and a classical scholar, he got it 100% right.

Page created 23 March 1998