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Review of the First Night from The Morning Post
Monday, 25 April 1881
 
OPERA COMIQUE

In all the works in which Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan have hitherto united their talents the sarcasm, which plays a distinct part in the design and construction, has been levelled generally. With a mitrailleuse form of aim, the charges have been so read and have hit nobody. The ingenious outside wits have soon found out that some particular person or thing is intended to be alluded to and thereby reformed, and have credited the authors with a sagacity and purpose which was strange to none more so than themselves. In “Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride,” the last result of their combination, the authors have, for the first time, a distinct and special aim. They design to bring into ridicule the admirers of the fleshly school of poetry and of so-called æstheticism in art. In the pursuit of this design the author of the book has collected all the catch words, phrases, and fantastical expressions supposed to be made use of in ordinary methods of address and conversation by the adherents of this form of sickening absurdity, and has constructed a very amusing and very clever book.

As in nearly all cases before, Mr. Gilbert has worked in some of his first efforts in the “Bab Ballads,” and has also employed an abundance of material of his own and of others. The “Æsthetics” are the invention of Punch, and they have been held up to ridicule before in plays still before the public. This renders it necessary for the managers to say that “the libretto of this opera was completed in November last,” probably in order that the quidnuncs may have no ground on which to place the mare’s nests which are certain to be found by some one or other of them. Whether it be original or copied in its ideas or details need not in the least trouble those who are desirous of indulging in a good, wholesome, healthy, hearty laugh aroused by the performance or the mere perusal of the book, to leave the music at present out of the question.

Mr. Gilbert has exceeded himself in this, his last stage labour, and many of his lines will pass into proverb. Not because they are catch words, as in the “Pinafore” and elsewhere, but because they are words which “catch the fancy, and set it dancing.” It may be that the ridicule the piece engenders will kill the objects which form its subjects, and so “Patience” may not be destined to a long career. While it lasts it is certain to be attractive, the whole thing is so “supremely Philistine.” Mr. Gilbert’s book will probably of necessity have the effect of giving rise to a dictionary of æstheticisms, with copious references to the great lights of the school. His audiences are not likely to be equally au fait at the cant of the school as himself, and it is scarcely probable that they should be, considering that he must have taken great care to read up everything that had a direct or a remote reference to the subject.

The music every one can understand and enjoy. Many of those who hear it will be shocked to find that Mr. Sullivan has in many cases parodied his own songs; others will enjoy the quiet satire which he has made upon himself, and take it as a mark of the thorough earnestness with which he has entered into his work. Some of the melodies are perfect gems of idea, and all will commend him for the happy manner in which he has done his share of the opera throughout, but particularly for the way in which he has written tunes or rhythms for the two poets to sing.

These poets, represented by Messrs. Grossmith and Barrington, like the generality of the class they temporarily represent, are unhappily unendowed by nature with the gift called a voice. Mr. Sullivan has so written their parts that they seem to be singing when in reality the band is doing all the work and their share is complete when they have spoken their words “through the music.” For the rest, Messrs. Temple, Thornton, and Durward Lely, as the officers of the Dragoon Guards, sing commendably, and the Lady Angela (Miss Jessie Bond), the Lady Saphir (Miss J. Gwynne), the Lady Ella (Miss Fortescue), and above all the Lady Jane (Miss Emma [sic] Barnett), a modern symphony in black and peacock green, as long, fierce, persistent, and almost as amorphous as the piece of music after which she may be called, could not be better represented. Miss Barnett accompanying herself in recitative in the Handelian fashion on a small double bass of the old Italian type was a thing to be seen and remembered for ever. The grace and simplicity with which Miss Leonora Braham played Patience had a great effect in securing the enjoyment the piece afforded. Her sweet voice and well-ordered style of singing enabled her to give the best version possible of the very beautiful music Mr. Sullivan has written for the part.

The chorus was very good. It was formed by Rapturous Maidens, in their æsthetic garments and with their antique musical instruments, and the officers of the Dragoon Guards, habited accurately, though a little theatrically. The scoring is delightful, the composer seeming to have given as much pains to the meaning to be attached to his band parts as to his melodies. Thoroughly to appreciate “Patience” it must be seen several times in order that a little special attention may be given to the several parts with reference to the whole. Then the whole may be enjoyed.

The opera begins with an overture anticipating the melodies in the work, and when the curtain rises twenty love-sick maidens, habited in quaint draperies of subdued hues, are grouped in various emotional attitudes about the stage. They are all in love with Bunthorne, while he loves none but Patience, who – as she tells the love-lorn – since her infant days does not know what love means. The 35th Dragoon Guards have halted in the village. These officers find out even that their former loves are smitten with æstheticism. Bunthorne, in the agonies of composition, enters with the sighing train of “damozels” at his heels, and recites the poem “Hollow, hollow, hollow,” which is the result of his long labour, and the maidens fall into raptures and despise their old sweethearts because their costumes are composed of primary colours. “O, South Kensington.” Bunthorne confesses himself, when alone, to be a sham, and his mediævalism affectation.” Meantime another poet graces the scene, the Poet of the Idyll, Grosvenor, whose hideous destiny is to be madly loved by every woman who sets eyes on him. He is the baby lover of Patience, when they meet after all these years once more “they plight their troth,” but as love should be unselfish, she is attracted by that which should repel her and repelled by that which should attract her. The chief officers of the Dragoons become votaries of the new art, and “enamoured of lilies,” strike impressive but uncomfortable attitudes. The whole of the damsels, except Jane, having forsaken Bunthorne, he is anxious to regain his power. The rivals meet; Grosvenor is induced under the terrible threat of “a nephew’s curse” to “cut his hair, to wear a suit of dittos,” in short to become

“A every day young man,
  A commonplace type
With a stick and a pipe
And a half-bred black and tan,”

after the manner of the exchange told in the “Ballad of the Rival Curates.” As the ladies are bound to follow him they become transformed into “prettily pattering, cheerily chattering, everyday young girls.” The officers, the Colonel, the Duke, and the Major, each select their brides, Grosvenor takes Patience, and Jane, because of her ugliness, is chosen by the Duke, for all the other ladies have all the personal beauty necessary to make a woman happy. Bunthorne has to be contented with a tulip or a lily and

“Greatly pleased with one another,
  To get married we decide;
Each of us will wed the other,
  Nobody be Bunthorne’s bride.”

Much more might be said about the wit of the book, and the drollery of many of the expressions, as well as of the charm of the music, and the spirit into which all engaged enter into their work. But this will be practically needless, for everybody will go and see “Patience,” even though they may be disappointed in not beholding “Bunthorne’s Bride.”


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