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Review of the original production from The Daily News
Monday, 25 April 1881
 
OPERA COMIQUE THEATRE

The new joint production of Mr. Arthur Sullivan and Mr. W. S: Gilbert was brought out here on Saturday evening. The great and prolonged success which has attended the previous instances of this collaboration, including Trial by Jury, The Sorcerer, H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Pirates of Penzance, naturally led to a widespread public interest in the new effort of so distinguished a composer and so eminent a literary humorist, and, accordingly, the pretty theatre in the Strand was crowded in every part.

The title of the new piece is Patience; or Bunthorne's Bride. The first act takes place outside Castle Bunthorne. Young ladies are grouped about playing on lutes, mandolins, &c., all being "in the last stage of despair," for love of Reginald Bunthorne, a "fleshly poet." The opening chorus, "Twenty love sick maidens we" (set to a charming melodic phrase, which recurs several times elsewhere, always with welcome effect), is followed by solos for Ladies Angela and Ella, and choral passages, ending with the refrain, "Ah, miserie," bewailing the hopelessness of their love for the poet who, it is stated, is enamoured of Patience, a dairy maid. She enters and sings a recitative and song expressive of her insensibility to the tender passion, and announces the arrival of the 35th Dragoon; Guards in the village; the Lady Saphir exclaims "They are fleshly men, of full habit;” Lady Angela avowing that they no longer care for Dragoon Guards, "A year ago they were very well in our eyes, but since then our tastes have been etherealized, our perceptions exalted." A chorus of, Dragoons, and a capital, song for Colonel Calverley, full of allusions to eminent individuals, whose names are strung together in humorous rhyme – some smart dialogue, a song for Lieutenant the Duke of Dunstable, and a chorus by the aesthetic ladies who look coldly on the soldiers, lead to a chorus of Dragoons in the rapid patter style. Meantime, Bunthorne, the poet has entered and rhapsodises apart absorbed in composition. Exhausted with the mental strain, he falls into the arms of the Colonel, exclaiming, "I am better now, the poem is finished, and my soul had gone out into it. That was all. It is nothing worth mentioning; it occurs three times a day." At the request of the ladies, Bunthorne recites his poem, the title of which is "Oh, Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!" and describes poetic woes, all

  Which he knows
Can be set right with calomel.

The Colonel remarking that the æsthetic ladies seem to forget that they are engaged to the Dragoons, the Lady Saphir replies, "It can never be. You are not Empyrean. You are not Della Cruscan. You are not even Early English. Oh! be Early English ere it is too late" – the Lady Jane remarking, "Red and yellow! Primary colours! Oh, South Kensington. … There is a cobwebby grey velvet, with a tender bloom like cold gravy, which made Florentine fourteenth century, trimmed with Venetian leather and Spanish altar lace, and surmounted with something Japanese – it matters not what – would at least be Early English!" The Colonel sings a song in reference to his uniform, one verse of which runs:
I said, when I first put it on,

"It is plain to the veriest dunce
  "That every beauty
"Will feel it her duty
"To yield to its glamour at once.
  "But the peripatetics
"Of long-haired æsthetics
"Are very much more to their taste –
  "Which I never counted upon
"When I first put this uniform on!"

In a recitative Bunthorne (alone) owns that he is "an æsthetic sham," the following song including a capital satire on "mediæval affectation," the receipt for which is:–

You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms and plant them everywhere.
You must lie upon the daisies and discourse in novel phrases of your complicated state of mind,
The meaning doesn't matter if it’s only idle chatter of a transcendental kind.
  And every one will say.
As you walk your mystic way,
"If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me,
Why, what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be."

An amusing scene follows between Bunthorne and Patience, who does not understand, and is frightened at, his poetry, and rejects his suit, the unsophisticated dairy maid having never loved any one but her great-aunt and a little boy, the companion of her childhood. A discussion on the tender passion ensues between the dairy maid and Lady Angela, who sing a duet on the subject of Cupid. The entry of Archibald Grosvenor, an "idyllic poet," leads to a duet for him and Patience, and her recognition of the "little boy" of former years who has continued to love her "with a Florentine fourteenth-century frenzy for full fifteen years." Some amusing dialogue, and a duet between these characters, some choral music for the Dragoons, and a solo for the Duke, lead to a patter-song for Bunthorne, who puts himself up to be raffled for; but the æsthetic ladies suddenly resume their attachment to the soldiers, and as suddenly leave them, being fascinated by the appearance of the idyllic poet, with which climax the curtain falls. In this resumé of the first act we have said enough to indicate the peculiar humour of the piece and its intended satire of the so-called æsthetic school, and may therefore briefly dismiss the remaining second act.

This occurs in a glade, Jane being discovered leaning on a violoncello (contrabasso?). In a recitative (supposed to include her own accompaniment) she bewails the ravages of Time on her beauty –

Reduced with rouge, lip salve, and pearly grey,
To "make up" for lost time, as best she may!

Her following song ending thus –

Stouter than I used to be,
  Still more corpulent grow I –
There will be too much of me
  In the coming by and bye?

The idyllic poet now enters, followed by admiring maidens, each playing on an archaic instrument, and begging him to recite some of his poetry, which he does by declaiming

Gentle Jane was as good as gold,
She always did as she was told.
She never spoke when her mouth was full,
Or caught blue-bottles their legs to pull;
Or spilt plum jean or her nice new frock,
Or put white mice in the eight-day clock,
Or vivisected her last new doll,
Or fostered a passion for alcohol,
And when she grew up she was given in marriage,
To a first-class earl who keeps his carriage!

This is followed by another recital:

Teasing Tom was a very bad boy
A great big squirt was his favourite toy;
He put live shrimps in his father's boots,
And sewed up the sleeves of his Sunday suits. (&c.)

The poet rejects the love of the æsthetic maidens, his affections being placed on Patience, who, however, has been taught that love is a duty that must be self-sacrificing, there being no sacrifice in loving a perfect man. She accordingly now becomes enamoured of Bunthorne, and leaves the other fellows despairing. A scene follows for these two and Jane, who incites the Fleshly poet to quarrel with the Idyllic one. Then comes a capital comic trio for the Duke, the Colonel, and the Major, who have doffed their uniforms, and are dressed and made up in the æsthetic style, looking like figures cut out of a Pre-Raphaelite picture and vivified. The constrained attitudes, distorted positions, and grotesque gestures of the three, and the quaint music which they sing, produced a richly humorous effect. The aesthetic ladies admire these military men, and in the end all the soldiers find a partner; Grosvenor pairs off with Patience, and Bunthorne with Jane; this lady, however, immediately rejecting the Fleshly poet in favour of the Duke, who makes her an offer on the ground that she is the only one of the ladies "who has the misfortune to be distinctly plain."

As may be inferred from what has been said, the piece is full of pungent humour, smart allusions, grotesque rhymes, and playful ridicule of the so-called æsthetic school, while – as in its author's previous productions of the kind – there is throughout the reflection of literary culture, with the absence of anything approaching to coarseness or vulgarity. As in the case of the late Mr. Planchés exquisite burlesques at the Olympia theatre, so visitors to the Opera Comique may go with the double certainty of being thoroughly amused and not in any way offended. A little condensation, especially in the first act, will improve the general effect. A note in the opera-book informs us that it was finished in November last – that is before æstheticism had been so abundantly satirized as it has since been.

Mr. Sullivan's music does not generally aim at caricaturing any particular school or style, and is therefore all the more agreeable, as ridicule is less attainable through this medium than by literary agency, and if realised by musical means would not be generally appreciable. The composer's settings of the lyrical portions of Mr. Gilbert's witty satire are, in nearly every case, bright and melodious, and many of the numbers will undoubtedly be widely in request as soon as published. The vocal pieces are too many to admit of specific enumeration, but we may particularly name Patience's song, "I cannot tell what this love may be"; her pleasing ballad, "Love is a plaintive song"; the graceful duet, "Long years ago," for this character and Angela; the piquant duet, "Prithee, pretty maiden," for Patience and Grosvenor (encored), and Jane's sentimental song, "Silvered is the raven hair," preceded by a mock-heroic recitative, in which the old-fashioned conventionalism of Italian opera – the accompaniment consisting of chords scraped on the violoncellos and basses – is very amusingly imitated. The song was encored. Other effective solo pieces, depending more on stage situation, were the Colonel's song, "If you want a receipt" (encored), that for Bunthorne, "If you're anxious," with recitative quaintly accompanied by detached chords (the song encored), and Grosvenor's song, "A magnet" (encored); the duet for Bunthorne and Jane, "So go to him," and that for the two poets, "When I go out of door," each of these having also been encored. Among the best concerted pieces are some charming strains for the chorus of rapturous maidens – especially the movements “In a melancholy train," and “Let the merry cymbals;" some bold choral music for the dragoons; a charming unaccompanied sestette, "I hear the soft note" (encored), a highly dramatic climax (tutti), at the close of the first act (encored), the capital trio already referred to, and a tuneful quintet in the second act. The sentiment and grace of most of Mr. Sullivan's music give additional zest to the quaintness and humour of other portions, and there is little doubt that the combination of these qualities with the merits of Mr. Gilbert's book will secure a success as great as any that has hitherto resulted from the same co-operation.

The performance was excellent throughout. Miss Leonora Braham, as Patience, sang with brightness of voice and refinement of style, and acted with unaffected naïveté and grace, Miss Jessie Bond was a charming Lady Angela, Misses J. Gwynne and Fortescue having respectively, as the Ladies Saphir and Ella, contributed much to the attractiveness of the principal group of “rapturous maidens," which was completed by Miss Alice Barnett, who sustained the character of the strong-minded Lady Jane with thorough appreciation of its musical and dramatic humour. The pair of poets – Bunthorne and Grosvenor – found worthy representatives in Mr. G. Grossmith and Mr. Rutland Barrington, the comic grimness of the first having been admirably contrasted by the mild simplicity of the other. Mr. Richard Temple, as the Colonel, looked, sang, and acted well as did the representatives of the other Dragoon officers, Mr. F. Thornton as the Major, and Mr. D. Lely as the. Lieutenant Duke. An efficient orchestra and a particularly good chorus (male and female) gave effect in the details in these respects. The costumes are rich and varied; the two scenes have been well painted by Mr. J. O'Connor, and the stage arrangements generally are excellent. The piece has been rehearsed and produced under the personal superintendence of the author and the composer, the latter having conducted the performance. Applause and laughter were constantly alternated throughout the evening. The principal performers were called forward at the end of the first act and, with Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan, at the close of the work.


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