Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



Bruce I. Miller: Well, David, you can rejoice, because the role of Strephon is -- a BASS role! It was written for Richard Temple, the company's bass. One would hardly consider Strephon underwritten, could one? (Temple did have a high F, and Strephon does have an F or two to touch, but there is no denying the fact that Strephon was conceived for a bass voice). D'OC tradition for many years changed the role to be sung by a baritone, and it can be done that way, but that was the authors' conception.

Tom Shepard: But it really isn't, no matter what were G&S's original intentions. The range and the tessitura are clearly baritonal.

Bruce I. Miller: I suspect Sullivan was hedging his bets (he certainly knew about that from his gambling clubs).

We have to remember that Sullivan was writing for specific members of his company; vocal ranges were clearly tied to these people. There were some optional high notes in some of Strephon's music, some of which got incorrectly transferred to the vocal scores. But a decent bass *can* sing Strephon's part.

The fact that the hero of Iolanthe was not written for a tenor is no doubt the result of the experiences they had had with the likes the infamous Hugh Talbot. It also may well have been an experiment on the part of both authors to see if they could successfully write the hero's part for a lower voice. Evidently they reached the conclusion it didn't work all that well, because they never did it again. Sullivan wrote it so a bass could sing the role, but in the future it could be sung, as you suggest by a baritone.

But Richard Temple's tone quality, as revealed by his extant recordings, were securely bass-like, not baritonal. The effect on stage must surely have been that Strephon was a bass role, when Temple was singing it.

William Florescu : If one looks at Strephon, whatever the G and S conception was, it is wrong for any bass I know - He is a young man in love with Phyllis, and his much is lighter than Pish-Tush's -(and even there, with a low f). I would love to talk to any director who has cast a true bass a Strephon, and know how it turned out.

Bruce I. Miller: Too bad you can't have a chat with W. S. Gilbert - his version turned out pretty well when he cast a true bass. And he probably knew something about how the opera was supposed to go.

Casting a young swain with a booming bass voice -remember, Strephon's upper half is immortal - must have caused quite an effect.

Nick Sales: Bruce: as one who undoubtedly has more knowledge on these matters than I, can you answer this one? The optional high "G" in "None Shall Part Us" - it is offered as an option on "MINE the heart within ...." - was this note given as an option in the first published score? Sullivan's autograph score? Did Temple possess such a note? Did he use it?

Personally, I always feel cheated when I don't hear it - but ditto with the bottom G two octaves below at the end of the quintet "The prospect's not so bad". It grieves me that, for instance Alan Styler (all hail) treats us to a top G as Cox on the 1960? recording of Cox & Box, but doesn't do so as Strephon in the duet.

So - from whence cometh that optional top G in the duet?

Bruce I. Miller: Sullivan no doubt preferred the G as a melody note. I suggested before that perhaps Sullivan was hedging his bets, and he foresaw that someone in the future, other than Temple, might be able to sing it even if, with the original artist, the note might not have been secure.

Bruce I. Miller: I can't imagine that G or S would have gone with Temple if they didn't believe he was right for the part. Sullivan, as is well documented, wrote his music specifically tailored for each principal singer he worked with (a major exception being Princess Ida, for Lillian Russell was fired and Leonora Braham took it over midway through final preparations). I think that many of us have grown up for so long with the "D'Oyly Carte standard" of performance that we forget just how far they strayed at times from the originals.

I have no trouble at all envisioning Richard Temple in this role. If we accept that Strephon's upper half is supernatural, how better to illustrate this with such a voice?

Perhaps you didn't see an earlier post of mine in which I suggested Sullivan had hedged his bets by writing the role in such a way that some future Strephon could be a baritone. I've never been as heavily doctrinaire on this issue as you seem to believe. I do believe , however, that if a bass in this role was acceptable to G & S there must have been a good reason, and it behooves us to try to figure out *why* they thought it was acceptable, rather than suggest that they really didn't know what they were doing.

William Florescu: I didn't say nor imply that they didn't know what they were doing - I simply said that because they did it, is no reason to do it now - and a composer writing for specific voices is not any guide sometimes either - And I think that Strephon has more to do with color of the voice than range anyway....a lyric baritone seems to go more along with the character - and I'm not too concerned with what they did then if I'm casting it now.

Charles Schlotter: In re: The Strephon as a bass thread:

We know that, surprising at it may seem, Temple sang the role in the first production. Did he also sing it in revivals during the lives of G&/orS. As far as we know, what were the vocal characteristics of his immediate successors?

Marc Shepherd: Yes, it is undeniable that G&S conceived Strephon as a bass role. More than that, in the late c19 and early c20, Henry Lytton played Strephon in repertory with such roles as Dick Deadeye and The Mikado. So, even 20 years later, they were still thinking of Strephon as a bass. (Today, we think of Lytton as a patter baritone, but earlier in his career he played every type of role except for tenors.)

I don't know whether the "Strephon as bass" experiment succeeded or not. Someone said they never tried it again, but in RUDDIGORE they allotted the romantic hero part to the patter baritone. (Bruce I. Miller: Wasn't Dauntless (a tenor) the romantic hero in Ruddigore? Robin is more of a comic hero.) Marc Shepherd: I suspect, as Bruce Miller says, that the Hugh Talbot experience led to underwritten tenor parts in PATIENCE and IOLANTHE. But, after that, they reverted to the stock operatic formula.

It is worth noting that at least one first-night critic complained that Strephon was a more suitable role for a tenor, but of the dozens of reviews that the production received, I'm not sure this is significant. I don't know if anyone has yet said that they have seen Strephon done by a true bass. The thought intrigues me. As a bass myself, I've sung Private Willis a number of times, but would love a crack at Strephon (I can even manage a high G on occasion). Has anyone tried casting it this way (or at least heard a few basses try it on in auditions?). Any basses out there who have sung it even in concert? I'd love to know what your experiences were. Our group won't do Iolanthe for several years so I have some time to get them used to the idea (and lose 30 pounds).

William Jones: (took a side trip into Sam Ramey.)

Tom Shepard: Back to Strephon: for me the point is NOT whether he was intended, even somehow foisted on Richard Temple: this is history and it's possible that there were other prevailing reasons for giving Temple this role because the most important thing, to my mind, is that Strephon has to sound young, and Willis has to sound somewhat staid. It therefore makes the most sense to give the voice with most gravity to Willis, or, in irony, to Mountararat. But certainly not to Strephon: he is young and carefree and bright. If you saddle him with a true bass voice, then where does that leave the "heavier" roles?

Tom Groves: Willis needs to be a bass with solid low notes for the Fal-Lals and the quartet (sorry, I don't have the score with me). Didn't Sullivan (or Gilbert) request that he be the biggest voice with the smallest body (or some such thing)? You really need the contrast between him and Mountararat- I've heard it sung by baritones and it doesn't work. I sang through Strephon's music last night and found it not to much of a stretch. The danger, as you rightly point out, is to not "bass it up" so you sound like the Commendatore in Don G. A light tough is required. BTW, did I also read that you worked with Jerry Hadley? He's an old friend of mine - I sang Dulcamara to his Nemorino and Erie Mill's Adina years ago, so why am I stuck working in an ad agency!

Bruce I. Miller: It's hard to imagine that Strephon was "foisted" upon Richard Temple; I can't imagine he was anything but elated to have the role. As to sounding "young", I don't think his recordings, made about 20 years after he essayed Strephon, give us a clear idea of what he sounded like in 1882 (I hope not, anyway). I've heard basses create a sufficiently youthful sound, when presented with one of those comparatively rare occasions to do so.

Don't forget also that Rutland Barrington, who played Mountararat, was a very light (almost tenorish) baritone, and while I'm not sure we know what Manners sounded like, he probably was a significant contrast to Temple. He looks, in fact, quite youthful in the standard production photographs. Temple, on the other hand, was "inclined to be stout, in moderation."

Again, I think you have to give Gilbert some credit for knowing what he was doing. Temple got good reviews as Strephon.

Charles Schlotter: We know that, surprising at it may seem, Temple sang the role in the first production. Did he also sing it in revivals during the lives of G&/orS. As far as we know, what were the vocal characteristics of his immediate successors?

Marc Shepherd: Unfortunately, IOLANTHE had no revival in Sullivan's lifetime; its first revival was a run of 113 performances from December 7, 1901 through March 29, 1902. I don't know whether Gilbert supervised this revival, though I would presume he did.

In the 1901-2 revival, Henry Lytton played Strephon. The first revival in which Rollins & Witts indicate he played a principal role was the 1897 YEOMEN, and in this production he played Shadbolt. In 1989, he played Giuseppe in a GONDOLIERS revival, the Judge in TRIAL and Dr. Daly in SORCERER. In 1899, he played the Judge in TRIAL and the Captain in PINAFORE. In 1900, he played the Major-General in PIRATES and Grosvenor in PATIENCE. These roles are all over the map, so we can see that, at this point, the D'Oyly Carte company did not have the rigidity of casting that they adopted later on.

In the 1908-9 repertory season at the Savoy, which Gilbert supervised, Lytton was again Strephon. His other roles that season were The Mikado, Dick Deadeye, the Pirate King and Giuseppe. All of these roles, except Giuseppe, are considered bass roles today.

From roughly 1892, D'Oyly Carte played IOLANTHE in the provinces, in repertory with other works. Shown below is how Strephon was cast in the leading (or, later on, only) repertory company over the years.

YearsArtist's NameOther roles played in the same season
1892-4Tom RedmondCorcoran, Pir. King, Mikado, Luiz/Giuseppe
1895-6Tom RedmondBouncer, Sir Marmaduke, Capt. Corcoran, Pir. King, Arac, Mikado, Meryll, Giuseppe
1897Tom Redmond Pooh-Bah, Shadbolt
Powis Pinder 1st Yeoman, Antonio, Sir Edward Corcoran
1898 - Sept., 1901 Albert Kavanagh Counsel/Usher, Marmaduke, Boatswain/Captain, Samuel/Pir. King, Calverley, Florian, Pish-Tush, Lieutenant, Luiz, Mr. Goldbury
Oct., 1901 - June, 1904 G. Villiers Arnold Samuel, Major/Grosvenor, Florian, Pish-Tush, Lieutenant, Luiz
July, 1904 - 1907 Albert Kavanagh Counsel, Boatswain, Pir. King, Calverley, Arac, Mikado, Meryll/Lieutenant, Giuseppe
1908 Leo Sheffield Counsel, Boatswain, Samuel, Grosvenor, Arac, Pish-Tush, Meryll, Luiz
1909 - March, 1914 Sydney Granville Counsel, Boatswain, Samuel, Calverley, Arac, Pish-Tush, Lieutenant, Luiz

We see from this that, in most cases, the artists playing Strephon were also playing some, or perhaps even a majority, of roles we now consider bass roles. However, there was no stock casting. For example, through the middle of the 1904 season, G. Villiers Arnold played Strephon in repertory with roles we think of today as light baritones. Mid-year, Albert Kavanagh rejoined the company and played Strephon mostly in conjunction with roles we think of today as bass roles.

Bruce I. Miller: We know that, surprising at it may seem, Temple sang the role in the first production. Did he also sing it in revivals during the lives of G&/orS. As far as we know, what were the vocal characteristics of his immediate successors?

Iolanthe was not revived in London until shortly after Sullivan's death; however, it has been noted earlier that Henry Lytton played Strephon in the same general time period as he played Pirate King, suggesting that D'OC found it acceptable to have the same artist playing both roles. I don't recall offhand who played Strephon in the 1901 revival, but it would be interesting to have someone supply that information - was it Lytton? David Duffey: Yes

Charles Schlotter: Many thanks to Marc Shepherd for his comprehensive reply to my question about other early Strephons. I certainly agree that: " this point [1901], the D'Oyly Carte company did not have the rigidity of casting that they adopted later on. "

I suppose I should have guessed Lytton was the Strephon since he and his wife actually recorded "None Shall Part Us" at about that time. (Michael P. Walters: Actually, that wouldn't necessarily have followed, since she did not sing Phyllis, but Iolanthe. Phyllis's music is clearly far too high for her.) Charles Schlotter: On that record, he certainly sounds more like a light baritonal than bass. Compared with Temple, not exactly the darkest bass on records, he sounds much lighter.

The other names familiar to me from records, namely Leo Sheffield and Sydney Granville, wound up doing the Pooh-Bah parts. I can hardly imagine somebody today casting a Lytton type of singer as the Mikado or Pirate King, yet these were Gilbert's own productions. Had The Company made complete recordings of the operettas in say 1908 with real Savoy casts under Gilbert's supervision, we might have very different casting notions.

David Duffey: Subject: A mother ... very curious

One of the better spoonerisms - boiled spratt - suits Strephon perfectly; but I blame Iolanthe - or rather Gilbert.

Iolanthe/Strephon is one of only two mother/son relationships in the canon. Gilbert had personal unfortunate experience of that relationship which resulted in his rather perverted treatment of it. Luiz/Inez where the son is unhesitatingly abandoned to traitors and the surrogate sold into impoverished service, and the sickly-sweet idealized Iolanthe, who chooses to live eternally in damp discomfort to devote herself exclusively to her son, even to well beyond the age when he should be looking after himself. The result? A boiled spratt.

Arthur Robinson: It seems to me Strephon has a bit in common with none other than Achilles, who has always seemed to me a boiled sprat. Achilles sat out several thousand lines of the ILIAD sulking in his tent ("the incredible sulk") about Agamemnon's taking his concubine--not so much because he loved her, but because it hurt his pride. Not that Strephon was like that; but:

As Achilles makes moan, his immortal mother, who lives underwater, appears to comfort him and encourage him to defy the powerful Agamemnon.

Sound familiar?

(Achilles, though, is far more boiled than Strephon. He actually, as I recall, whines to his mother about losing his concubine, and the upshot is that she will get Zeus to make the Greeks lose some battles--incidentally causing the deaths of many other Greeks, supposedly Achilles' countrymen--just to show Agamemnon.)

Updated 28 November 1997