Paul McShane wrote [Section 2.5 above]: I don't particularly like "Ah, leave me not to pine (oak? elm? maple?)", although I can understand that others may go into raptures about this duet. Aaron Hunt replied: One of my favorite Pirate productions had to its credit one of my sisters as the Mabel. Admittedly, I was and am prejudiced. Poor wandering thing, she looks like Farah Fawcett before Ryan and the drugs and the burning bed episode, and sings like Beverly Sills before that wobble worry, and the Frederick was young and thin and handsome with a terrific voice as well. The duet started with typical operetta "McDonald/Eddy" poses in relatively quick succession, leaving time between each position for a quick chuckle. The recitative before the waltz grew "serious" and more "real", and the final section was choreographed in a big King and I waltz that swept the stage during the entire section, ending with Fred spinning up and off right, Mabel down and left to footlights, floating unison b-flats, poor talentful things. OK, I'm the proud brother, but this was a magical moment for me, when Gilbert and Sullivan "conspire" to suspend their audience between silliness and real emotion. How many forms really let us ride that delightful fence? And this extended duet is a real example of the suspension, which it seems some of us don't really care for. Oh, baby, suspend me again, and let me laugh with tears in my eyes! Don't take the romance out of Act II!
Gene Leonardi replied to this: I thoroughly agree with Aaron Hunt's post in which he expresses his admiration for "Ah, leave me not to pine." As he said,
"this was a magical moment for me when Gilbert and Sullivan "conspire" to suspend their audience between silliness and real emotion."
Aaron, that is also one of the most felicitous and apt turns of phrase that I have read in quite a while. My compliments.
Now, to proceed. This is going to be one of those "reminds me of" posts which certainly cannot be proven, but are, hopefully, enjoyable.
The Pirates/Meyerbeer connection:
Example One: Pirates Act II. "A Ruined Chapel by Moonlight." An earlier post referred to "Gilbert's Robert, in Robert the Devil." Meyerbeer's Robert Le Diable featured a famous "Infamous" scene in a "cloister by moonlight" in which rather naughty nuns engage in un-nunlike revels. (Guess you would've had to have been there to appreciate it;-) OK, this instance alone might have been coincidence, but bear with me.
Example Two: I have been listening to the Joan Sutherland recording of Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. Another famous operatic scene is that in Act II of Huguenots where Queen Marguerite de Valois and her maidens languish by the banks of a "murmuring river". This offers the corps de ballet ample opportunity to cavort in the water attired in pleasing "diaphanous robes." In what passes for "comic relief" the young page Urbain keeps trying to "witness their proceedings" and keeps getting rebuffed. When the handsome young Raoul appears on the scene he is brought in blindfolded so that decorum may (hopefully!) be restored. To me this scene is the inspiration for the daughter's "rocky mountain" entrance in Pirates. Doesn't Kate, after all, express their desires "to be queens, and make decrees" in a spot "far away" from the prying eyes of "mortal men"?
Example Three: Les Huguenots also contains the fourth act duet between Raoul and Valentine which is considered by some to be Meyerbeer's finest work and a milestone in operatic history. The Protestant Raoul is fatally in love with the Catholic Valentine. She has just married (alas) the Count de Nevers, a Catholic nobleman. Raoul has found out that there is a plot "This very night" to massacre the Protestants. If he leaves to reveal the plot, Valentine's father and husband are sure to die. If he stays, he will probably be able to escape being killed. Of course, all his friends will die.
Talk about your basic conflict between "love and duty." Our Frederic, "at duty's call" has already revealed enough to put Mabel's dad in jeopardy. Where, oh where, does his allegiance lie? In Huguenots there's no contest. Duty calls Raoul and he leaves, "leaping from the balcony." Our Frederic also "rushes to window and leaps out." I believe "Leave me not to pine" takes some of its weight as a homage to this very duet in Les Huguenots and that the original audience would have taken a happy note of it. We today can enjoy it as a first rate example of Aaron's "pleasurable suspensions" and a truly moving moment worthy of the best singing actors.
Arthur Robinson replied: Another parallel to Frederic's nice dilemma about duty: in Corneille's Le Cid, the hero's father gets slapped in the face by the heroine's father, so it is the hero's duty to kill his fiancee's father to avenge the slap. (This always seemed to me somewhat excessive for a slap. What would he have done if his fiancee's father had chewed off part of an ear?) It's been 24 years since I read the play, but I have a vague recollection (I'm too lazy to check it) that the hero visits the heroine after killing her kin (actually this sounds more West Side Story), and that this scene ends with the hero leaping out the window. (Let's hope it wasn't a high-rise.) I guess to appreciate Gilbert's spoof about duty, we have to know the contemporary plays which treated this sort of thing seriously. (Richard Dauntless's dedication to duty is another spoof, but of course Richard is hypocritical and self-serving, while Frederic is, as I believe someone described him, a well-meaning goop.)
Steve Lichtenstein asked: I wonder if anyone has ever taken official notice of this fact (if not, maybe someone can make a doctoral thesis out of it!): Sullivan clearly had "La Traviata" in mind when he was writing "Poor Wandering One." This fact was brought to my attention a few months ago when I was accompanying a rehearsal for an amateur chorus. The ladies were learning the backup chorus for this number, and after the rehearsal one of the tenors approached me at the keyboard. He said this was the first time he'd ever heard "Poor Wandering One," and the thing that struck him right away was the similarity to Traviata. I, who had lived with both numbers for so many years, had never noticed the similarity he was talking about. I was of course already aware of the solo cadenzas in both Mabel's number and in "Sempre libera," which are almost precisely the same, but has anyone on the list ever noticed this: The phrase which starts on the chorus's second entrance ("Take heart, fair days will shine) and ending with Mabel's "Take any heart, take mine" (immediately preceding the cadenza) follows the general melodic and harmonic shape of "Amami, Alfredo, amami quant'io t'amo... Addio!" from Act 2 of Traviata. Except for the fact that they are in different keys and different meters, the two numbers could almost be performed simultaneously for those 16 or so bars with no clashes until the very end. Mabel's phrase ends with C/B-flat/E-flat, Violetta's with D-flat/C/F (Violetta ends in a minor key since she's unhappy, Mabel's in an operetta, so she ends in major. Also, her father is a Major-General!). This is undoubtedly not a coincidence. Sullivan knew what he was doing, all right. After all, what does "La Traviata" mean? "The Woman Gone Astray!" (Poor Wandering One, though thou hast surely strayed...) In Pirates, of course, the hero is "Il Traviato"!
Derrick McClure replied: What an intriguing point that is about Traviata. The verb "traviare," of which "traviata" is the feminine past participle, means "to lead astray", and when used reflexively, "to wander, lose the way, go astray". I bet - though to my shame I've never taken the obvious course of going and looking it up! - that it's the word used in the Parable of the Lost Sheep in the Italian version of the Bible. And hasn't Mabel's song got an oddly (for Gilbert) evangelical ring: "Though thou hast surely strayed, Take heart of grace..." - ? Did Gilbert by sheer coincidence write a lyric which could suggest the sense of the word "traviata" and Sullivan give the appropriate musical response? Did they actually decide jointly on the proceeding? "There's an unbounded field of speculation! And Marc Shepherd: To this wonderful thread I would add that the >>entire opera<< reeks of Verdian echoes. For example, "Come, friends, who plough the sea" bears a strong resemblance to the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore.
And Chris Webster observed: My very first posting to Savoynet concerned the similarity between Traviata and Poor Wandering One, I had picked up in particular on the similarity of the cadenza, without going into the technical details of the music - I would if I could, but I am not able. As this was posted before I was fully conversant with my system (not that I am now) I lost this original posting. If anyone has it in their archives I should be quite pleased to receive a copy for my own archives. One thing that I wrote of was a tape that I had edited together. You see, we have a recording of Valerie Masterson singing Poor Wandering One in English from the 68 Pirates, and we also have a Valerie Masterson recording of Traviata sung in English from the early 80's (conducted by Mackerras) with the translated Sempre Libra sung in the same key as PWO. This made it a perfect combination for editing the two songs together - same voice, same key, same language. When I originally did this it was using analogue equipment and the edits were a little uneven, but nevertheless it still worked very well musically. I think over the next few days I will work on this again with the digital editor on my PC, which should produce some good results. If anyone is interested in hearing this I should then be able to send a .WAV file of it to them, although it may take a little time to download and it will be in 8 bit mono to save memory. After all it is just a bit of fun, but it does show the similarities in the music quite well.
Louis Wernick noted: It IS true that the music in Pirates is unusually operatic, for example the kind of music given the "Pirate King" in some of his well-known but surprisingly short interjections, as:
"Although our dark career"
"With base deceit you worked"
"We yield at once".
In the earlier surviving works, of which Trial, Pinafore and Pirates are examples, it may be possible that Sullivan was bent on parodying operatic musical forms before he went on to develop his own "operetta style" - think of previous postings on the sextet from Trial. However, the standing joke in Pirates seems to be a bit more subtle. Indeed, its legions of fans who will buy tickets to performances even though they are not G&S "aficionados" per se, may pick this out as they enjoy performances. This is the sort of humor which Richard Strauss used in the next century in his comedy Rosenkavalier. That is, Faninal, upon whom the patent of nobility the ink is not yet dry, is concerned about showing off whatever reportable assets he has, marrying his daughter well, and appeasing the nobility, while the more established old rich, such as the Italian Count Octavian Rofrano or the very Austrian nobleman Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau behave however they please without being subject to the sanctions of law. Indeed, when the police are called to arrest Ochs for misdemeanors in a local tavern, the Princess Werdenberg comes along and simply tells the police to forget it. It is quite possible that general audiences (who do not regularly attend G&S operas) pick this up quite easily and think the joke is about the established old rich vs. what we call in twentieth century America "nouveau riche".
Page created 28 April 1998