Ida > 1954 Revival > Illustrated
London News Review
"Search throughout the panorama for a sign of royal Gama." We have been searching for a long time. It is, indeed, fifteen years since the last professional revival of Princess Ida; or, Castle Adamant. Very properly, it returns to the Savoy Theatre itself, and in a new scenic display of swoop-and-whirl-and-curlicue in which James Wade, the designer, keeps Ida from any specific time or place. This is, as it should be, a gay-go-up, gay-go-down world from the back of beyond: it is a pity that its costumes are sometimes more garish than becoming.
A colleague began his review by saying that few people bother today about The Princess, Tennyson's poem on which Gilbert based the dramatic parody from which Princess Ida is derived. Timidly now, I raise a finger. I still read the poem, and not only for its unmatched lyrics, "The splendour falls," "Tears, idle tears," "Now sleeps the crimson petal." Certainly the substance of the tale does not matter, the business of Ida, that determined feminist, and her women's academy. Even so, many lines cling to the memory, not least of them the young Prince's
There are also unconsciously comic phrases:
Agreed, The Princess is not for all markets today; but it does remain an endearing poem, the work of a maker of the shining, melodious phrase. It has for me the charm of some half-forgotten, but agreeable, "folly" temple discovered at the end of a forest ride, "in the green gleam of dewy-tassel'd trees," or seen round the bend of a seldom-trodden path. Gilbert, in what he called his "respectful perversion" (1870), flattened the poem into a blank-verse jest that has some still amusing lines, but which must have seemed very much funnier at a time when The Princess was generally read, and the Laureate was in residence at Farringford or Aldworth. Its first hearers at the Olympic Theatre, remembering the Tennysonian catechism of Psyche:
and so on, would have appreciated Hilarion's
The lyrics of Princess Ida were, of course, new. Listening to them at the Savoy the other night, I realised again that our young librettists, revue wits, post-war phenomena, will have to go far before they can outdo the old master at whom it is fashionable to mock. Gama's "If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am," is a model of its kind. In another mood, Hilarion's "Whom thou hast chained must wear his chain" — the first verse, at any rate — is something exceptional in light opera. And, at the Savoy, now, the numbers for Gama's sons. Arac, Guron, and Scynthius, are as engagingly mock-pompous as ever: "We are warriors three," "For a month to dwell", and the mock-Handelian "This helmet I suppose," with the removal of helmets, cuirasses, and brassets.
Even if we cannot mark this present revival alpha plus, I am sure that Ida will soon fit again into the repertory as though it had never been dropped. In the middle reaches of the Savoy though it is, it can make much modern work (and by writers who gibe at Gilbert and Sullivan) seem tame and pallid. Not every Savoy-lover takes down his Tennyson before going to Ida. Let me suggest that your pleasure will be fortified if you glance at both the poem and the original (and not too respectful) "perversion". One passage remains more or less word-for-word in all three, the Princess's closing lines:
I wish that, at the Savoy, they were spoken better.
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