Review of the opening night
London, Sunday Night.
"Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride," was produced at the Opera Comique Theatre, last night. Although this the latest of the operettas by Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan has excited more public attention than many far more important dramatic or musical works, and although it bids fair, for a short time at anyrate, to become the talk of the town, it must not be forgotten that the piece is at best but a burlesque upon a state of society and a code of manners which many declare do not exist. The youthful Mr. Oscar Wilde, the admitted high priest of what is called æstheticism, was present in the stalls of the Opera Comique last night; but although a public audience were thereby enabled to see in the flesh the individual upon whose type so much satire has been heaped, the exaggerated poses and angular contortions which have been imagined by the fertile brains of Messrs. Burnand and Du Maurier were not observable. We all know the "Maudle" and the "Postlethwaite" of Punch, and their counterparts of the "Inner Sister-hood" among the so-called "intense" subjects of the gentler sex. The æsthetic ladies are familiar to us in the pages of Punch, and on the stage by their sage-green loose robes, by the puffs at their sleeves, and by their angular knees and exaggerated poses, but it is only the truth to say they are almost unknown in society.
Nevertheless, a splendid audience assembled to witness the elaborate satire on manners which many aver do not exist at all. The stalls had been almost entirely given away to the principal critics of the press and to the authors or the management, so that some of the best company was in the balcony. Mr. Gilbert directed the stage arrangements in person, and with perhaps the exception of Mr. Dion Boucicault, no former stage manager exists. Mr. Gilbert likewise designed the æsthetic costumes, while Mr. Arthur Sullivan conducted the orchestra in person.
The idea only of "Patience" is derived from Mr. Gilbert's "Bab Ballad," of the “Rival Curates"; that is to say, the new opera is founded on the jealousies of two lady-killers, the locale and personages being, however, entirely changed. When the scene opens (after an overture, which foreshadows some of the principal melodies), twenty love-sick maidens, who declare they are "lovesick against their will", and that "twenty years hence they will be twenty love-sick maidens still”, sing a chorus in unison. The maidens are clad in exaggerated æsthetic costumes, and play on lutes and mandolines, striking the æsthetic attitudes well known to readers of Punch. They sing "Oh, Miserie!" One of the æsthetics, who is clad in a "nocturne" of peacock green and black, is an elderly dame named the Lady Jane, and who subsequently plays an important part in the piece, states she caught the fleshly poet "in the dairy, eating fresh butter with a table spoon," and she adds demurely, "to-day he is not well." The dairymaid, Patience, next enters, clad in silks and satins, and she sings a pretty ballad, in which she declares her innocence of love.
Hitherto the story has been dull, but it is now enlivened by the arrival of officers of Dragoon Guards, clad in æsthistic (sic) uniform, and whose colonel sings a patter song full of Gibertian wit, in which he describes how a heavy dragoon is made. A Duke has enlisted with the Dragoons solely because he could not brook the adulation which an income of £1000 a-day brought him; and when the soldiers express incredulity, he expatiates on their fondness for toffee, and shows how even a dragoon can have too much toffee. This clears the stage for Mr. George Grossmith, the fleshly poet, who enters clad in a suit of tightly fitting amber velvet and followed by the æsthetic damsels. Here the admiring chorus of the damsels, the indignant chorus of the dragoons deprived of their sweethearts, and the aside confession of the poet, are very cleverly intermingled. The poet recites the work he has just written, in which he declares that life is halloed (sic), because its ills can be set right by colocynth and calomel. A rattling song by the Colonel in praise of the dragoons is followed by a mock dramatic recitation and solo, in which the poet discloses his hypocrisy. He declares –
May superinduce the opinion that:
A dialogue between the poet and Patience ensues, in which the youth discloses his love for the maiden, who rejects him. In vain the poet quotes: –
The dairymaid declares she knows not love. In a beautiful duet in the Bellini style she, however, discloses to an æsthetic lady that in her cradle she loved a boy of four, and the boy speedily entered in the shape of a grown man; the idyllic poet, Grosvenor, who (to most mortals) is an æsthetic so incomparably beautiful that it is his hard fate to induce love in others. The duet between the idyllic poet with its refrain, "Hey Willow Waly, O," was encored. The dialogue between the two is rather tame, and the the alternative fun of "I have loved you with a Florentine fourteenth century frenzy for full fifteen years" seemed somewhat forced. The fleshly poet in a patter song puts himself himself up to raffle, and after a charming unaccompanied sextet, which contains some of Mr. Sullivan's best part writing, and which was encored, the act closes with a broad burlesque of an Italian operatic finale strongly parodying a scene in “Lucia de Lammermoor."
The second and last act opens with a ballad, sung by the elderly maiden on the banks of a lake, and to which she accompanies herself on a huge violoncello. On this the idyllic poet enters and sings a capital skit or nursery rhyme showing that "Gentle Jane" was as good as gold, and did as she was told, and did not catch blue bottles –
On the other band, "Teasing Tom" was a bad boy who put live shrimps in his father's boots, and dropped hot pennies down his sisters back.
A very beautiful song of the fable of the magnet which tried to attract the silver charm (sic) was likewise sung by Mr. Rutland Barrington as Grosvenor, and was encored. The fleshly poet seems to get tired of the dairymaid, who sings a truly Sullvanian ballad on love, and this is followed by an amusing duet, in which the fleshly resolves to do battle with the idyllic poet. The three officers of dragoons now enter clad in æsthetic garments, and bearing lillies and sunflowers in their hands; their song and burlesqued attitudes, and their subsequent interview with the æsthetic ladies, furnishing some of the most scathing satire in the piece. In an Offenbachian quintet the Duke rejects the ladies, and the most amusing scene of the opera follows, in which the idyllic poet, on the threat that the fleshly poet will curse him, promises to be practical. The melody is almost identical with that of John Wellington Wells in the "Sorcerer," and those who know the older operetta will be able to imagine the shouts of laughter with which the following lines were received: – [No lines are quoted in the original article. – Ed.]
The fleshly poet will continue æsthetic:
And lastly, the now practical poet will become
The asthetic ladies, however, all became practical, the Duke marries the eldest æsthetic, the practical poet marries the dairy-maid, the dragoons pair off with the rest, and as the curtain falls the æsthetic is left alone. The æsthetic business grows rather wearisome towards the close, and the audience shortly after eleven begin to hiss down the encores.
Mr. Gilbert's libretto is, indeed, the very nature of the subject, liable to monotony, and at subsequent performances it will probably be subjected to the needful offices of the pruning knife. Mr. Sullivan's score contains some of the best music he has written in operetta, and although he shows a tendency to repeat former successes, he seems to be, whether in ballads, Offenbachian music, or patter songs always at his best. His orchestration is distinguished for refinement and grace, and for those delicate touches by which an able musician can invest even a small theatrical orchestra with interest.
No praise can be too high for the admirable way in which the play is mounted and performed, and even down to the supernumeraries every action and gesture has been fixed by Mr. Gilbert, and by means of much drilling and rehearsal the business of the stage goes without a hitch. With the exception of Mr. Lyell or Lelli, who is rather a weak-voiced Duke, every character seems to fit its exponent like a glove, and Miss Leonora Braham as Patience, Miss Alice Barnett as Lady Jane, and Messrs. Grossmith and Barrington as the fleshly and idyllic poets respectively, amply deserved the congratulations they received from the audience.
At the end of the opera Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan came hand in hand before the curtain, and were received with a roar of welcome. There is, indeed no doubt about the present success of "Patience," but as the opera relates solely to one of the supposed foibles of the day, how long that success will last is a question for the future.
It may be added that the score will be published in a week or two by Messrs Chappell & Co., and that this will destroy the American copyright. "Patience" will, of course be heard in America, probably at the Standard Theatre, New York in the autumn, but it is understood that Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's next production will be an opera written specially for the American stage, and to produce which they will cross the Atlantic towards the end of the year.
N.B. The text of this article has been edited to remove some of the more obvious errors.
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