Patience


   

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INTRODUCTION

Adapted from the book "Tit-Willow or Notes and Jottings on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas" by Guy H. and Claude A. Walmisley (Privately Printed, Undated)


"PATIENCE, or Bunthorne's Bride", was produced at the Opera Comique on 23 April, 1881, but was subsequently moved over on 10 October of the same year to D'Oyly Carte's new theatre at the Savoy, where electricity had been installed for the first time. In all his operas, with the exception of "Trial by Jury" and "The Sorcerer", Gilbert followed the old tradition of having alternative titles--the second title indicating the subject of the play. In "Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride", however, there is yet another example of the
author's love of a joke, for Bunthorne, alone of all the chief male characters, is the only one who fails to find a bride.

Another example is to be found in the Colonel's song: "If you want a receipt for that popular mystery, known to the world as a Heavy Dragoon . . .", in which Gilbert mentions the "wit of Macaulay, who wrote of Queen Anne. . . ." Macaulay, the eminent historian is commonly reputed to have undertaken his "History" in order to write of this, his favourite, period; but he never reached it.

When Gilbert first sketched out the plot of the opera, he intended to use, as a basis, the story of "the Rival Curates" as it is told in his amusing collection of poems, "The Bab Ballads", but he soon began to realize that an opera based on such foundations would not be in good taste: "I do not feel happy about it", he wrote to Sullivan, "I mistrust the clerical element. I feel hampered by the restrictions which the nature of the subject places upon my freedom of action, and I want to revert to my old idea of rivalry between two aesthetic fanatics". He therefore altered the libretto, and the rival curates became rival poets, one of whom is Reginald Bunthorne.

Act I opens with a scene of wistful young ladies dressed in aesthetic draperies grouped around the exterior of Castle Bunthorne, playing on lutes and mandolins etc., and looking extremely woebegone as they sing:"Twenty love-sick maidens we . . ."; all of them being rivals for the affections of the "fleshly poet" Bunthorne, who remains coldly insensible to their protestations of love. While commiserating with each other the elderly Lady Jane enters and informs them that Bunthorne is not so insensible to love as they imagine, and to their astonishment she points out that he is wildy in love with Patience, the village milkmaid, who openly admits that love is, to her, a sealed book.

Patience appears and sings a delightful solo, "I cannot tell what this love may be that cometh to all, but not to me". She then announces that the 35th Dragoon Guards, to whom the ladies had all been engaged a year ago, have halted in the village. But they are now no longer interested in the Dragoons as they have lost their hearts to Bunthorne, and they go off to find him. Patience also leaves.

As a complete contrast, the officers of the Dragoon Guards, in magnificent uniforms, march smartly on, followed by the Colonel who sings the song referred to above: "If you want a receipt . . .", in which a number of well known and lesser-known names are mentioned. All references to them will be found under the Notes.

The young Duke, a brother officer, walks on followed shortly afterwards by Bunthorne with the ladies trailing after him. He is composing a poem and pays no attention to the Dragoons, neither do the ladies, much to the officers' annoyance; eventually he reads out his poem and wanders off, still followed by the twenty love-sick maidens. Later he returns and confesses to Patience that he is an aesthetic sham and is deeply in love with her; but as she does not return his feelings he sadly leaves her. However his place is soon taken by Archibald Grosvenor, an "Idyllic poet" of great beauty, who proves to be the pretty child with whom Patience used to play when both were very young.

After their departure Bunthorne returns, crowned with roses and hung about with garlands, and puts himself up to be raffled for by the ladies, but just before the draw takes place Patience hurries on and prevents it, explaining that she has changed her mind and is willing to marry Bunthorne after all. To console themselves the girls embrace the Dragoons, but when Grosvenor appears they leave the soldiers and flock round him, greatly to the indignation of Bunthorne who sees in him a hated rival, and the Act closes with the Dragoons repeating their song deploring the fact that the girls prefer a literary, rather than a military, man.
In Act II Lady Jane is seen in a glade, leaning on a violoncello on which she presently accompanies herself. As she leaves, Grosvenor enters followed by the maidens but, like Bunthorne in Act I, he pays no attention to them; later, however, he explains to the girls that he can never love them as his heart is fixed elsewhere, and to emphasise the fact he sings a delightful song telling them the fable of the Magnet and the Churn. Soon Bunthorne appears, accompanied by the faithful Lady Jane who promises to try and help him win back the favours he has lost to his rival Grosvenor.

However, not to be outdone by the two Poets, the Duke, the Colonel and the Major abandon their uniforms and appear in strange aesthetic garb in order, as they hope, to impress the love-sick maidens and so regain their affections.

The Lady Angela and the Lady Saphir are delighted at the officers' gallant attempt to prove their conversion to the principle of Aesthetic Art, and they then try to decide, in an amusing Quintet, "If Saphir I choose to marry", set to a fascinating accompaniment in 6/8 time, who will take whom in marriage as there are three officers and only two girls; eventually they dance off with their problem still unsolved.

The two Poets meet face to face and after an argument Grosvenor agrees to give up being an aesthete and become "a commonplace young man," both in appearance and costume, in order to leave the field open to Bunthorne who then hopes that the love-sick maidens will once again follow him as before.

But Patience deserts the aesthetic Bunthorne for Grosvenor who now appears dressed in ordinary clothes; the Duke chooses the elderly Lady Jane as his bride; the Colonel selects Saphir and the Major takes Angela. Meanwhile the chorus of maidens follow Grosvenor's example and giving up their aestheticism they become "prettily pattering, cheerily chattering, every-day young girls" and pair off with the Dragoons. Bunthorne, as already stated, is the only man in the piece who is left without a bride.

This opera satirizes very strongly the aesthetic craze in general, and Oscar Wilde in particular, notably in that now famous line, "if you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand". Mrs. Langtry (1852-1929) the actress, known as the Jersey Lily, afterwards Lady de Bathe, and possibly the most beautiful woman of her day, always contended that this was a most unjust aspersion on Wilde, for before he had achieved celebrity he invariably brought her flowers, but as he could not then afford elaborate bouquets he used to buy a single, but beautiful, lily, and would walk down Piccadilly carrying the solitary bloom.

Bunthorne was made up to represent Whistler (1834-1903), the famous American-English painter and etcher, with his eye glass, lock of white hair, moustache and imperial, though contemporaries saw in him a wild caricature of the poet Swinburne (1837-1909). Whistler was associated in the public mind with the aesthetes who caused so much amusement to our forefathers. But it is remarkable that nowadays many people think that the"fleshly poet" Reginald Bunthorne is meant to represent Oscar Wilde, though at the time of the production, apparently, he was understood to be portrayed by the rival poet Archibald Grosvenor, for in those days Wilde would have been about twenty five years old and was not then the portly figure he became ten years later. But within a few years he grew so much like Bunthorne that most people imagined Bunthorne had been drawn in his likeness. "A case of nature imitating art", as a Press critic put it.

Oscar Wilde, an acknowledged wit and dramatist, became famous as the leader of aestheticism in England during the "eighties" and is also well-known as a writer of poems and plays. He was born in Dublin in 1856 and, after a brilliant but chequered career, died in poverty of cerebral meningitis at the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris on 30 November, 1900. The dialogue of "Patience" is witty throughout and the music full of richness. The opera was a great success, a number of people being turned away from the theatre almost every night. "Patience" ran, in all, for 578 performances.

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