Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



J. DERRICK McCLURE: I'm sure a lot of us know John Wolfson's book Final Curtain, a study of the writing, production and disappearance of Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke. Has anybody ever tried to do anything with several songs which were written but never set? To me one of the most puzzling things about this opera is that at least three complete numbers, all from Act 2 and all relating to the theme of Ludwig's conjugal complications, were jettisoned entirely, though Sullivan could have done marvels with them and they'd have added a lot to the comic development of the plot and characters. A quartet for Ludwig and his first three brides, ending with a verse in which he admits "I'm not, perhaps, as clever a chap - As I supposed I was!", a duet for the Prince and Princess, giving those underdeveloped characters an opportunity, and a quarrelsome quartet for the four brides: what possessed Gilbert to abandon those splendid ideas?

ROBERT JONES: This cut is unfortunate, because Rudolph needs as much exposure as he can get in the second act. What a shame the scene between him and Ernest never came about. I don't envy producers who strive to achieve the narrative balance that Gilbert was unable to achieve. It's interesting that "Well, you're a pretty . . ." remained in the overture even after the song was cut.

On a relevant note, I didn't realise that Gilbert continued to edit the piece in Sullivan's absence. Was that a liberty, or had Sullivan already washed his hands of it?

MARC SHEPARD: It makes sense when you look at the chronology. Shortly after The Grand Duke premiered, Sullivan left the country for Monte Carlo. All of the post-premiere cuts were Gilbert's doing alone. Gilbert, of course, could not redo an overture on his own, so no changes were made there. By the time Sullivan got back, it would have been clear that the opera was a failure, so there could have been no possible point in altering the overture.

My understanding is that Sullivan was sick of the whole mess and essentially left it in Gilbert's hands to do whatever he pleased. It is significant, however, that none of Gilbert's musical changes were reflected in the vocal score.


J DERRICK McCLURE: According to Wolfson's book, Final Curtain, Gilbert originally intended the parts of Rudolph, the Prince and the Princess to be played by George Grossmith, Jessie Bond and Richard Temple; and when none of these could appear and the parts had to be given to much less experienced performers, he cut them drastically down and compensated by building up the parts of Ludwig and Julia. That could explain the issue I raised earlier - the cutting of (among other things) a duet for the Prince and Princess and a quartet for the four brides (including the Princess).

MICHAEL WALTERS: There is no documentary evidence that Gilbert ever asked these actors to appear or that they refused. Wolfson's hypothesis is based on his misreading and misinterpretation of a draft cast list in his plot books, dating from a stage when The Grand Duke was at a very early stage of planning, and the story bore very little relation to the story as we now know it. Furthermore, the actors who played the roles in question were not inexperienced, as Wolfson claims. In fact, many of the cast changes discussed by Wolfson, existed only in his own imagination.

J DERRICK McCLURE: If there's no documentary evidence for this, are we to understand that Wolfson simply made it up and printed it as fact? Surely he must have based it on some evidence?

And one thing there is certainly evidence for is this - the manager (Ernest) was originally going to be Barrington's part - that is, Barrington would not have been the lead, still less on stage practically throughout the opera, but what he usually had been - an important secondary character. And Rosina Brandram was going to be his fiancee - at least, so Sullivan hoped. Presumably, in the plot as originally plotted, the comedian (Ludwig) would have been the tenor hero. Which would have made far, far more dramatic sense than the story we now have: a lightweight tenor deposing first his imposing, dignified manager (shades of Ralph) and then his monarch!

The Grand Duke as we have it is probably very unlike The Grand Duke as it was originally conceived. To my mind, the fact that it is as good as it is, even if that is far from as good as it might have been, is a big point in its favour under the circumstances.

THEODORE C RICE: There is a letter, quoted in Alan James' book, written by D'Oyly Carte to Gilbert, after the relatively short run of Utopia: "There is no doubt in my mind that what the public wants is 'fun' and little else." The text continues with a letter from ASS to WSG in August 1895, regarding the plot of the new opera (The Grand Duke): " . . . I have studied the plot very carefully, and like it even more than I did when I heard it first on Thursday. It comes out as clear and bright as possible. I shall be very pleased to set it . . . and have written to Carte to tell him so."

Without citing any reference, James makes the statement, "It appears that Gilbert knew that The Grand Duke would be his last effort in collaboration with Sullivan." Later: "A great deal of rewriting occurred after rehearsals had commenced. Once Grossmith had decided to leave the company it seems that Gilbert decided to cut down the part of Rudolph to a minor role, for it is clear that he had originally written the part specifically for Grossmith to play."

Jessie Bond also withdrew, citing her coming marriage as the reason, and infuriated Gilbert as well as Sullivan, for she writes that, ". . . neither he nor Arthur Sullivan ever sent me a wedding present."

Gilbert evidently looked upon this departure as, at least, a moral breach of faith, when he made Julia Jellicoe abandon her engagement to Ernest, and as a professional obligation, become the Grand Duchess, instead. James sees a pointed and deliberate reference to the matter in the Notary's words: "Though marriage contracts, or whate'er you call 'em - are very solemn, Dramatic contracts (which you all adore so) are even more so."

J. DERRICK McCLURE: I know there's a letter from Sullivan to Gilbert suggesting Brandram for "The wife of the manager." Now that surely proves that the manager was not originally going to be the tenor hero. I'm not certain that the letter mentions Barrington as the manager; but he'd surely be the obvious partner for Brandram, the veteran contralto.

MARC SHEPHERD: If you look at the timing of Grossmith's "departure," you'll conclude that James's (i.e. Wolfson's) chronology is incorrect. His Excellency, which was the last Gilbert play to involve Grossmith, closed in 1894. The Grand Duke did not open till 1896.

BRUCE I. MILLER: It appears Grossmith was approached by Richard D'Oyly Carte to rejoin the Savoy Theatre company at about the time James suggests he "left" the company. He may be mixing up the facts here.

Page created 23 March 1998