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OPERA COMIQUE
Saturday April 23rd,
An entirely New and Original Æsthetic Opera, in Two Acts, entitled
"PATIENCE; or, Bunthorne's Bride."  
Written by W.S. Gilbert. Composed by Arthur Sullivan.

From The Era (London, England), Saturday, April 30, 1881; Issue 2223.

REGINALD BUNTHORNE Mr. George Grossmith
ARCHIBALD GROSVENOR Mr. Rutland Barrington
MR. BUNTHORNE'S SOLICITOR Mr. G. Bowley
COLONEL CALVERLEY Mr. Richard Temple
MAJOR MURGATROYD Mr. Frank Thornton
LIEUT. THE DUKE OF DUNSTABLE Mr. Durward Lely
THE LADY ANGELA Miss Jessie Bond
THE LADY SAPHIR Miss Julia Gwynne
THE LADY ELLA Miss Fortescue
THE LADY JANE Miss Alice Barnett
PATIENCE Miss Leonora Braham

For months, it was known that Mr. W.S. Gilbert and Mr. Arthur Sullivan were engaged upon a new comic opera, and it was also a matter of notoriety that they intended, dramatically and musically, to employ their delightful satire against the æsthetic whimsicality of the day. Mr. Burnand has already done so with extraordinary success in his new comedy at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, and it was, perhaps, to prevent an impression getting abroad that Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan owed any inspiration to that agreeable piece that an announcement was made to the effect that the libretto of the new comic opera was finished November last. Those who visited the Opera Comique on Saturday last were speedily convinced that the composer and author of Patience; or, Bunthorne's Bride had followed their own lines and had worked out their own ideas.

To quiz the follies of the new æsthetic school was a legitimate, and, we may add, a useful task, for nothing tends so readily as satire to destroy false taste and to uproot affectation. It was laughable indeed to see Maudle looking at his rival on the stage, and Postlethwait grinning at his counterfeit presentment in the opera. But Mr. Gilbert has employed his satire with remarkably good taste. There is no direct personality in the subject or in the characters introduced. They are types of a class, and are, therefore, at greater liberty to ridicule greater absurdities than they would be if dressed up in absolute imitation of any particular representatives of æsthetic tastes. Lest any lover of the artistic principles included in æsthetic laws should imagine that the higher theories upon the subject will suffer by caricature in this new opera, we may as well state off-hand that the dashing satires of Mr. Gilbert are not levelled at æsthetic tastes, but at those who make them ridiculous by their vanity, ignorance, and affectation.

The æsthetic doctrine is not a new thing. Those who have studied the past social life of Germany will remember how Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, Schlegel, and others, nearly a century ago, discussed with the deepest earnestness lofty ideas of art, which had been bequeathed to them by Greece centuries before. The shafts of Mr. Gilbert are levelled, then, not against a movement which undoubtedly has helped to raise and refine the popular taste; but he strikes home, and with merciless force, against folly and affectation, and we believe that beyond the agreeable task of supplying an extremely amusing form of entertainment, Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan will achieve some real good.

Opening with a superb scene, the Exterior of Castle Bunthorne, painted by Mr. John O'Connor with remarkable skill, and introducing some charming effects, one of those quaint medieval structures in which the modern æsthetic poet delights, we see a score of "love-lorn damozels" arrayed in the draperies most approved by the modern school. They play on lutes, mandolins, &c., and all are in the last stage of despair. They sigh as if with their latest breath, and they are led by the Lady Angela, the Lady Saphir, and the Lady Ella. Their ditty, a mournful one, is all of love, and its refrain is "Ah, Miserie." "All our love is all for one" they chant dolefully, when Lady Jane, an æsthetic maiden of "massive" proportions, reminds them that their infatuation is idle. The fleshly poet Bunthorne is secretly in love, and with no æsthetic maiden. He adores Patience, the village milkmaid. Patience at this juncture appears, and looks with wonder at the rejected fair ones. She rejoices that love has never entered her breast, for those who are smitten always appear unwell, while she is the picture of blooming health. She asks what love is of the majestic Lady Jane, who looks down from an altitude of six feet upon the plump little milkmaid, and tells her that "Love is a transcendtality of delirium – an acute accentuation of suprernest ecstacy - which the earthly might easily mistake for indigestion. But it is not indigestion –  it is æsthetic transfiguration!"

All this is worse than Greek to the milkmaid, who informs them that the 35th Dragoons are coming. The Lady Saphir turns up her æsthetic nose. "They are fleshly men of full habit," she says. "But, bless me," retorts Patience, "you were all in love with them a year ago." "My poor child," is the response, "our tastes have been etherealised, our perceptions exalted," and off they go to sing their morning carol to the fleshly poet Reginald Bunthorne, and then a score of the Dragoons appear, headed by their Colonel and Major, while they are also speedily joined by the Duke of Dunstable, who has become so wearied of popular adulation because he is a Duke that he gladly joins the army as a Lieutenant in the hope that he may be treated as a human being, and a commonplace one. The Dragoons have come anticipating a warm reception from the ladies they left last year, and the Colonel, extolling the merits of the military, sings –

If you want a receipt for this soldier-like paragon,
  Get at the wealth of the Czar (if you can) –
The family pride of a Spaniard from Aragon –
  Force of Mephisto pronouncing a ban –
A smack of Lord Waterford, reckless and rollicky –
  Swagger of Roderick, heading his clan –
The keen penetration of Paddington Pollaky –
  Grace of an Odalisque on a divan –
The genius strategic of Caesar or Hannibal –
  Skill of Sir Garnet in thrashing a cannibal –
Flavour of Hamlet – the Stranger, a touch of him –
  Little of Manfred (but not very much of him) –
Beadle of Burlington – Richardson’s show –
  Mister Micawber and Madame Tussaud!
 
  Take of these elements all that is fusible,
Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible,
    Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

Greatly to their disgust they find the ladies ignore them altogether, and turn with lovesick looks to Bunthorne, who comes from the castle pretending to be absorbed in poetic composition. But Bunthorne is a dreadful æsthetic sham and he confesses it. But he has idealized them all, even the Amazonian Lady Jane, who declares that she is "soulfully intense" – that she "despairs droopingly." Suddenly Bunthorne is filled with deep agitation. He has just completed a poem, and his "soul has gone out into it." The poem is awaited with quivering eagerness by all the lovelorn ones, and Bunthorne reads it for their edification. It is entitled "Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!"

What time the poet hath hymned
The writhing maid, lithe-limbed,
  Quivering on amaranthine asphodel,
How can he paint her woes,
Knowing, as well he knows,
  That all can be set right with calomel?
     
When from the poet's plinth
The amorous colocynth
  Yearns for the aloe, faint with rapturous thrills,
How can he hymn their throes
Knowing, as well he knows,
  That they are only uncompounded pills?
     
Is it, and can it be,
Nature hath this decree,
  Nothing poetic in the world shall dwell?
Or that in all her works
Something poetic lurks
    Even in colocynth and calomel?
I cannot tell.

This is hardly more absurd than some of the effusions of the modern bards. "How purely fragrant!" "How earnestly precious!" say the ladies, but the commonplace Duke says it seems to him nonsense. The ladies object also that the uniforms of Dragoons are not at all æsthetic, and Lady Jane suggests that they ought to be "a cobwebby grey velvet, with tender bloom like cold gravy, which made Florentine fourteenth century, trimmed with Venetian leather and Spanish Altar lace, and surmounted with something Japanese," would be better; but the ladies depart, and Bunthorne confesses that he has no love for languid lilies, that he cares not for dirty greens, nor does he pine for anything Japanese. He declares that he feels uncomfortable in "stained glass attitudes." His manner brightens when Patience comes.

He assures her if she can regard him with affection she shall see him quite frolicsome, and he will, to please her, cut his hair. Patience, however, does not understand what love is until Lady Angela tells her, "True love refines, purifies, elevates, exalts, and chastens. It is the one romantic feature in a chaos of materialism, the one unselfish emotion in the whirlpool of grasping greed." Patience does not remember at first that she ever loved anybody but her aunt, but presently recollections awaken of a little boy she used to play with, and in the person of Archibald Grosvenor, the idyllic poet, Patience recognises the playmate of her childhood, who at once falls in love with her as Bunthorne has already done. A pretty madrigal for two voices is one of the most graceful musical items in the opera. Archibald Grosvenor tells her that, besides being an idyllic poet, he is a perfect specimen of what a human being should be, "incomparably beautiful in body and mind," when Patience declares that it is impossible for her to love him as the passion could not be an unselfish one, and they part for the time, while Bunthorne, covered with a garland of roses, is led forth by the æsthetic ladies; but his influence is over.

The idyllic poet cuts out the fleshy poet, and the æsthetic ladies turn to his rival. To make the situation still more ridiculous, Bunthorne allows himself to be raffled for, when Patience comes forward to sacrifice herself upon the altar of duty  and consents to be his bride, and while the Dragoons are enjoying the hope that the æsthetic ladies will now turn back to them, to their horror they discover that the idyllic poet has supplanted them, and in the midst of a laughable scene the curtain falls upon the first act, which has lasted one hour and forty minutes. Here, we think, if any compression is made, will be the opportunity.

The second act opens with a scena for the Amazon Lady Jane, which will be accepted as one of the drollest and most original songs in the opera. It is a most whimsical caricature of the style of music in vogue in æsthetic circles. Lady Jane follows Bunthorne everywhere, and will let him have no peace. Equally comic is the scene where the Colonel, the Major, and the Duke, in the faint hope of winning their favourites back, adopt the æsthetic style, and put themselves into most ridiculous attitudes. The ladies are not unmoved. They admit that, if not "supremely" successful, they "are quite too all-but". Meanwhile Bunthorne discovers that Patience has a lingering affection for her old playmate, who has made great amusement for the audience by the specimens he gives of the æsthetic idyllic school. Mr. Gilbert has written a laughable caricature of the sort of stuff praised by "Society". This is one of them: -

Gentle Jane was as good as gold,
She always did as she was told;

  She never spoke when her mouth was full,
Or caught bluebottles their legs to pull,
Or spilt plum jam on 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!

The idyllic poet remains in favour for a time, but, acting upon the advice of Lady Jane, Bunthorne resolves to defy him; and Grosvenor, acting under the compulsion of Bunthorne's threat, gives up all æsthetic ideas, and appears as a commonplace young man in a suit of tweed, with his hair arranged in the style of a linendraper's shopman. The languishing maidens, sooner than lose him, instantly change their costumes, and in place of the ideal garments they have been wearing, they flutter across the stage in every possible combination of inharmonious colours. The rawest yellows, reds, and blues, and the most extravagant modern fashions are adopted. But their devotion is of no avail, for the pretty milkmaid, finding he has sunk down into a commonplace young man, no longer hesitates, but bestows her affection upon him, the wretched Bunthorne declaring he is "crushed again". Meanwhile the Duke appears, and is anxious to choose a partner. The host of pretty maidens comes forward, but the Duke says he feels bound to choose a lady who is "distinctly plain," and the ponderous Lady Jane falls into his arms, being only too ready to discard Bunthorne for a Duke. Thus, in reality, there is no such thing as "Bunthorne's Bride." This is another of Mr. Gilbert's comic surprises. He must go back to his æsthetics and worship a tulip or lily, for none of the ladies who petted him will now have aught to say to him. The Colonel and the Major pair off with Lady Angela and Lady Saphir, and the Lady Ella is contented with a solicitor. There is much sly humour in this, for we suspect in real life that some of the most æsthetic ladies would not refuse very commonplace offers.

The curtain fell amidst hearty applause, and Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Sullivan were called to the footlights, and congratulated most emphatically upon their success. The libretto is certainly funny, and, although there will not be found, perhaps, such striking passages as in the Pinafore, the current of drollery and whimsical allusion runs through the entire opera, and the author never for a moment loses sight of his primary idea, which is to ridicule the absurdities, the cant, and the sham enthusiasm of those who merely pretend to be æsthetic to gain notoriety or to affect superiority.

The music set by Mr. Arthur Sullivan is just the kind we might expect from such a fluent and tuneful composer. The first chorus of languid æsthetic maidens, with its refrain "Ah Miserie" is admirably written and was sung with great affect by a well-trained chorus. The song for Patience, "I cannot tell what this love may be," is elegant. The song of the Dragoon is really a "patter song" of a familiar but agreeable type. The Colonel's song "When I first put this uniform on," has a good bold melody, and the air will, we think, be popular. The madrigal sung by Patience and Grosvenor, "Prithee pretty maiden," was greatly admired. There is a plaintive old world style about it which reminds the hearer of the tunes popular a century ago. Its quaintness is the especial charm, and we predict it will be liked better even than it was on the first night. Nothing could be better than the song of Lady Jane at the opening of the second act. It is as solemn as an oratorio air of Handel set to utterly ridiculous words. The æsthetic trio for the Colonel, the Duke, and the Major is also very clever, one of the best things in the opera; and the quintet that follows is also well written and sparkling. The instrumentation is full of graceful passages, and conducted by the composer the band did ample justice to them. The general rendering of the opera was excellent. All entered thoroughly into the spirit of the piece, and the chief performers were very successful indeed.

Mr. George Grossmith, in representing the "Fleshly Poet", was quite in his element. He invocated the character with a grotesque drollery amusing in the extreme, and sang the songs with utmost appreciation of their quaintness. His recitation of the poem, written as an example of the "fleshly school," was also admirable; and the manner in which Bunthorne turns from sham idealism, which he has assumed for the sake of notoriety, to the genial simplicity of a homely passion for the milkmaid, was thoroughly artistic. The mock dignity of Bunthorne, when lording it over the idyllic poet, was also very amusing. Mr. Grossmith's costume and make-up as the æsthetic bard also deserved hearty commendation.

Mr. Rutland Barrington was well suited in the character of the Idyllic Poet. The simpering, twaddling style of the writers of this school, and the affectation of making mere nursery jingle ideal, and pretending it to belong to high art and is æsthetic, enabled Mr. Barrington to get some good fun out of the part. Mr. Richard Temple, as the Colonel of the Dragoons, was very animated and amusing, and he rattled off the patter songs – not easy for a bass voice – with a great deal of spirit. Mr. Frank Thornton was a good representative of the Major, being very droll in the "angular" trio; and Mr. Durward Lely sang gracefully the music allotted to the Duke. The drollest situation for these gentlemen was the trio in which they are represented as turning æsthetic for the purpose of conciliating the ladies. The angular attitudes, the contortions of visage, and the whimsical music made up a very effective combination which evoked peals of laughter.

Miss Leonora Braham, long a favourite with Mr. and Mrs. German Reed's company, appeared for the first time at this theatre, and rendered the pretty milkmaid uncommonly interesting. The unconscious look and vacant manner of the simple girl, who is ignorant what love is, could hardly have been better assumed, and Miss Braham sang the music with great fluency and in graceful style, especially in the madrigal for Patience and Grosvenor. Miss Braham may be warmly congratulated upon her success. She was quite an ideal milkmaid.

Miss Alice Barnett as the Lady Jane may be sincerely complimented upon the talent she displayed. Her majestic figure produced a very striking effect, and her singing of the burlesque sentimental song with violoncello obbligato, in the second act, could hardly have been surpassed. Miss Julia Gwynne, Miss Jessie Bond, and Miss Fortescue, as the Lady Angela [sic], the Lady Saphir, and the Lady Ella, all acquitted themselves admirably.  The scenery and dresses were everything that could be desired. Judging by the reception of the opera on the first night, we anticipate that no change will be required in the bill of the Opera Comique during the present year.



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