Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

PRINCESS IDA DISCUSSION


The Plot (continued)

1.3 -Tactical Error?
1.4 - Act Division
1.4.1 - Vocal Scores

1.3 -Tactical Error?

Marc Shepherd: I agree with the person who cited the dialogue as a major liability; it's just not up to the level of the rest of the piece. I also think that Gilbert made a major tactical error in producing an opera in which the Savoy's two greatest stars, Grossmith and Barrington, had relatively minor parts. Michael Walters has often pointed out to me that Gama simply couldn't be a larger role without disrupting the dramatic balance of the piece. I agree with this, but it doesn't change the fact that it's a structure that keeps the two best comedians waiting in the green room most of the time.

Gordon Pascoe: The Princess Ida discussion has put new life into these tired old limbs. Just as it always does whenever I hear its glorious music and lyrics.

I agree with those who have stated that the dialogue is a liability, but not, as Marc feels, a major one. However, his happy utterance that "it's just not up to the level of the rest of the piece" seems spot on.

Regarding the tactical error of giving the two great stars Grossmith and Barrington relatively minor parts I'm not so sure.

(a) While in Gilbert's day, and in the oily Doily era of "stars", this may have been true, but time should have blunted this effect and modern audiences couldn't care less!

(b) I find it refreshing that in Ida we have a vehicle where the so-called formulae is partly rested. Assigning some of the comic material to The Soldiers Three, the Heroic Trio (two tenors having fun? wow!), with Melissa and Psyche is a very pleasant change - particularly if they have some comedic talent (and they ought to, else someone has blundered).

We really cannot exist on a steady diet of toffee. In moderation it is a capital thing. But Mikado for breakfast, Pinafore for tea, and Pirates for supper? Under those circumstances even the finest toffee might become monotonous, blasphemous as this might seem. Of course, those who are offered toffee only occasionally (as the Vancouver Opera is currently doing) will be delighted to reap the rewards(!) of a well known brand-name. For me, having the similar comic-lead string with Wells/Sir JP/MG/LC (broken, perhaps, only by Bunthorne) reduced to the 2.5 songs for Gama suggests that while Gilbert alued the tried and true he was also capable of more variety than he is sometimes given credit for!

There is enough of Gama to enjoy him, but not too too much of the same. Sort of sets up Ko-Ko, methinks, and the others. Dare I suggest that if oily Doily in the period after 1946 had been more true to the repertory nature of the canon more people might have come to regard Sorcerer, Utopia, and Princess Ida etc as a brand-name? I believe this might have been a little bit more the case before 1939. And the failure to do this (and rest up Martyn Green, Peter Pratt and John Reed from endless Mikado's) may have been one of the reasons for their demise.

Daniel Kravetz: Gordon Pascoe's comments have given me an idea I haven't thought of before. Princess Ida is an opera that will never win widespread public favor because there isn't enough for King Gama to do and many audience members go to G&S expecting the "principal comedian" to entertain them with zany antics galore, providing comic relief to the humdrum boy-meets-girl stuff. The emphasis on Ko-Ko and Sir Joseph as clowns and nobody else knowing how to play comedy contributed, in my view, to the downfall of the old D'OC and the same sort of thing prevented the operas with different characterizations by the patter singer from being viable at the box office. Makes sense to me.

Nick Sales: Spoken like a true comic baritone, Dan!

Seriously, to suggest the foregoing as the reason for Ida's failure/unpopularity is a little like me (as a tenor) arguing that Grand Duke is/was a failure because there isn't a tenor role worth a row of beans ...

... not that I mightn't argue that in certain circumstances and after a certain amount of (ahem!) alcoholic refreshment! ...


1.4 - Act Division

David Craven: One of the principal problems in Ida is the audience perception that it is too long . . . this is brought about by the fact that there are usually two intermissions. The problem is that if you use the traditional Act division scheme, inserting a single intermission after either Act 1 or Act 2 results in either too long a first act or too long a first act. One of the (relatively few) positives out of the director's concept for the Oberlin Ida at last year's festival was the division of Ida into five acts. (Of course this was a moot point as the director decided to present the opera with no intermissions. . . . one of many very strange and very destructive choices by the director.) The division would have the advantage of being able to place the intermission between either Acts 2 and 3 or 3 and 4, depending on the timing, and presenting the other acts as scenes.

Janice Dallas: Sudbury Savoyards had two intermissions while we presented our open curtain "set change" performance. The first was kept as short as possible (10 minutes or less) and the second was much longer. We have a problem with an insufficiency of toilets in the auditorium we use, and that can sometimes cause us to hold the show a bit longer at intermission.

Robert Jones: Wasn't the original structure referred to as "Introduction", "Act I" and "Act II"? In which case the interval would come before the last act, which would certainly make the first "half" very long. By the way, my vocal score, a rather rough Chappell edition, says "Introduction" instead of "Overture". Could this be related, or did the editor not know what "overture" means? (It is a very rough edition).

Marc Shepherd: I think you're confusing two things. Princess Ida was originally described as an opera in a "prologue and two acts," with the present Act I being the prologue.

Robert Jones: I actually wrote "prologue" first and changed it to "introduction" after looking at the VS. I was quite right about there being confusion, but it's apparently all mine.


1.4.1 - Vocal Scores

Marc Shepherd: It seems the overture has always been captioned "Introduction" in the vocal score. I sincerely doubt that this was caused by the editor not knowing the meaning of the word "overture." Rather, I suspect this was Sullivan's own appellation, as this movement doesn't fit the model of any of the other Savoy Opera overtures.

Robert Jones: Yes, good point.

Marc Shepherd: When you describe the edition as "very rough," I can only assume you mean that the printing is extremely muddy. This is because, until the 1970s, all Chappell Ida vocal scores were printed from the original 1884 plates. They finally did a new edition in the '70s, but from your description I assume you don't have this.

Robert Jones: No, it must be the '70s edition I have. It's not rough in that it's illegible, it just seems to have a "Teaching Little Fingers to Play" look about it. Words often don't line up with notes, hyphenation is intermittent, there are markings of "silence" just in case you don't know what a full-bar rest is. It is aesthetically unpleasing to the eye. Rough.

Philip Sternenberg: Yes, Robert, that does sound like the 1970s edition. Aestheticism aside, I like it a lot better than its predecessor. I don't have to squint to read it. Unfortunately, though, it introduced a few new errors.

An oddity about both scores is that neither ever employs a repeat sign, even though there are many opportunities for its use. It makes much thicker scores than necessary.

Marc, I know what you mean about 1884 plates, but I'm not completely convinced. I haven't seen it for nearly 20 years, but the first Ida score I ever saw was a library copy that differed significantly from the version current in the 1960s. It referred to "Prologue," "Act I," and "Act II."

"I built upon a rock" came before "Whene'er I spoke" and was extended to include a nonvocal section that presumably accompanied the women's re-entrance and would have no place if Gama's song precedes Ida's. A few more subtle differences were present, such as "A man however well-behaved." I photocopied "Come, mighty Must" (since at the time that was my first acquaintance with its music) and the page with the nonvocal I mentioned in the last sentence, so that's all I have to compare against the newer small-type score, but there seem to be such things as spacing differences within the staffs.

I wonder whether (a) major alterations were made to the original plates, (b) some numbers were completely reset, or (c) the entire score was reset at the time the "Copyright 1911" edition was made. Option (c) doesn't seem logical in light of the better type styles in use by 1911. I'm guessing (b) right now, but I'd have to have both scores in front of me to make a better judgment, and I have neither.

Marc Shepherd: Well, I wouldn't bet my life on it, but I am fairly sure there was only one set of plates until the new edition in the 1970s. All of the Savoy Operas had changes after the first issue of the vocal score. I am aware of the variants Phil describes above, and these generally would not be sufficient to merit a new edition; Chappell would merely alter the existing plates, or reset specific pages if the changes were radical enough. This seems to have been their practice for all of the operas.

Bruce I. Miller: There were "Savoy" editions done in the 20th century, using the old plates but making numerous revisions to conform with D'Oyly carte performing practice. These were not, of course, done with the concurrence of the author or composer. Thus, some of Kalmus reprints of the older editions are closer to the original sources than these 20th century revised editions, despite of their appearance of having used old plates as their basis.



Updated 10 May 1998