Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

PRINCESS IDA DISCUSSION

Music and Songs (continued)

5.6 - Please You, Do Not Hurt Us!
5.7 - Sullivan's String Of Pearls

5.6 - Please You, Do Not Hurt Us!

Andrew Crowther: I can't think of the opening of Act 3, in which Ida's troops turn all girly and precious, without wincing.

Daniel Kravetz: I find "Please you, do not hurt us!" to be a delightful, charming, touching moment, displaying an honesty in direct contrast to the posturing that goes on throughout most of the opera. It takes great courage to admit that one is afraid, and here the girls admit to themselves that some (most?) ideals aren't worth the spilling of blood - one's own or other peoples', and not everyone is cut out for solving problems by brute force. This isn't a gender thing, either - you could expect something similar from the boys in All Quiet On The Western Front or Lord Of The Flies, for example.

Rica Mendes: Hear, hear. Might I also point out that Melissa does regain her composure, and brings the group back by pointing out that it "would be in error, to admit (their) terror, so in Ida's name, boldly we exclaim". In other words, the admission of fear is merely an aside, as is done in many theatrical pieces by all sorts of brave characters before a battle/duel/fight, but the hero/ine/s bring back to mind what they are fighting for. But it merely shows us that they are human.

The other thing to keep in mind is that none of these women have, presumably, been training in warfare of any kind other than mental. They are about to face an army of big, hulking, shaved apes. They are out-weaponed, out-numbered and out-matched physically. I think that in this situation, any brave hero would get the jitters.

Nick Sales: The discussion of "Please you do not hurt us" has reminded me of my favourite moment on an Ida recording. The 196? (with Potter, Palmer etc.) which has a young Valerie Masterson as Melissa.

She of course has no problem with the top G on "boldly we exclaim", but listen to the ending of this chorus - a glorious high "C" by Melissa. Now, anyone know of another Melissa who could (or would) do that?

Sam L. Clapp: No! Most others pay attention to the written music . . . ah, the spurious C . . .

Marc Shepherd: This recording dates from 1965. In stage productions of the time, VM was playing Psyche, along with other soprano parts like Mabel, Elsie and Casilda. For the recording, which Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted, Elizabeth Harwood was brought in to play Ida. The regular Ida of the time, Ann Hood, was "demoted" to Psyche, and VM was "demoted" to Melissa. I am sure she never played this role on stage.

I certainly have no problem with the interpolated high C. There are many such interpolations that are standard in G&S, and as this was a common operatic practice of the day, I doubt Sullivan would have objected.


5.7 - Sullivan's String Of Pearls

Nick Sales: I'm sure I read or heard somewhere the music for Act II of Ida referred to as "Sullivan's String Of Pearls". I was just sitting here at my desk working (not), and it struck me for the nth time just how appropriate that term is. I would have loved to have been in the first night audience for Ida. I fancy I might have been slightly disappointed with Gilbert's use of blank verse, but I know had I died at the end of Act II, my existence would have indeed been an idyll.

"Towards The Empyrean Heights" - The violin accompaniment to the "If you'd climb the helicon" passage is borne of genius. Sublime. 'nuff said.

Philip Sternenberg: It's so ingenious, it starts out as the Bell Trio! Check the measures right before where Psyche starts to sing. Except for one slight alteration in rhythm, the notes are identical to "Never mind the why and wherefore, Love can" before they veer off into something original.

"Mighty Maiden" - Perfectly suited to the words, and in context, just perfect.

"Minerva/O Goddess Wise" - I Kid you not, as I typed those words just now, I got a shiver down my spine. I rate this as one of the most beautiful pieces of music Sullivan wrote. A corny adjective, but perfect. That top B-flat? To die for. Reduces me to a quivering heap of jelly every time, even when sung badly. Sung well - out for the count.

Louis Wernick: I would include the song "Minerva/O Goddess Wise" as my favorite number in the show.

"Come, Mighty Must" - Oh dear. the only exception. However, as it's hardly ever included (thank God), I shall pretend to be blissfully unaware of its existence.

Louis Wernick: I have heard altos of reputation do "Come, Mighty Must" with glory.

Robert Jones: I've often wondered what might make "Come, mighty must" work. I've just reread it and I find it quite clever, so my conclusion is that the music doesn't suit the words at all, apart from the fact that the music is inherently weak.

"Gently, Gently/They Intend To Send" - Running out of adjectives already here. One of my clear G&S favourites. An absolute delight to sing in, whichever of the 3 you have (I've been lucky enough to sing all 3). The best close harmony singing in the canon for my money. The last section (partic. the last-but last but one chord)? Jelly again.

"I Am A Maiden" - Wonderful opportunity for comedy. Hard work to sing, (partic Cyril), but great fun, and a guaranteed show-stopper.

"The World Is But A Broken Toy" - Is there a more sublime, superbly crafted, musical gem in the canon? If there is, it must be in Thespis. Given 5 musicians, this piece is simply a dream. Taken at a pedestrian pace (yes, I know it's not supposed to, but what the hell, indulge yourself) the harmonies etc. reveal themselves to be even more wonderful. If angels can sing, this is what they sing.

Robert Jones: I must disagree with you here because you attempted to use words to describe a sublime experience which transcends language and, indeed, thought. In other words, I agree with you, only more so.

Sarah Mankowski: The rendition on the Lamplighters CD, A Song To Sing, O, sung by Claire Kelm, simply surpasses all of Nick's adjectives.

"A Lady Fair" - Great stuff. Gilbert at his best, methinks. The harmony between the four at the end is wonderful. By this stage, the audience should be being battered into submission by Sullivan's brilliance.

Robert Jones: I enjoy the chorus, but the verses are a bit "pedestrian".

"The Woman Of The Wisest Wit" - Not, perhaps up to the standard of its neighbours, but, hey, that's hardly fair, is it? Still a rollicking good sing, and the multi-harmony is lovely, even if it does tend to get lost among the frenzied dancing.

Robert Jones: I must disagree once more, on different grounds. I find this one of the most enjoyable of the rollicking, bouncy quintets/quartets/trios which delightfully grace G&S second (or third) acts. Even when I hear it in Whatsisname's pineapple thingy I jump for joy.

"Now Wouldn't You like" - Not a personal favourite, though it has always seemed to be "much admired".

Robert Jones: Some nice bitchiness going on, but musically it's rather dull. "Much admired" by whom?

"Merrily Ring The Luncheon Bell" - As with "mighty maiden", I feel this is the hors d'oevres for what follows. Cyril is just starting to get going.

Robert Jones: I love the lyrics. The music is a little stodgy, but possibly that's the style as opposed to my own tastes.

"Would You Know" - In my humble opinion, as a tenor, the best tenor song in the canon, as long as it's not rushed. Sullivan gives it to you on a plate, and only death can prevent you being a success with it. Also, the only place in the canon where the tenor gets to overact as much as the comic baritone and get away with it!

Neil Ellenoff: I read somewhere that this was as close as Gilbert got to passion.

Robert Jones: Not being much of a singer in any range, I wouldn't go so far as you in my evaluation of this song. I enjoy listening to it, but it's a bugger to play on the piano.

Finale Act II - Sorry. Words fail me. Even if I had the narrative/descriptive powers of all the great writers in history rolled into one, I could not adequately express my feelings for this passage. Oh, there is just one thing - "Whom thou hast chained" kills stone dead the theory that you don't need a tenor playing Hilarion.

Robert Jones: Words fail me also, except to chime in with my own love of "Whom thou hast chained", and, of course, the brilliant, martial "To yield at once".

William H. Trotter, Jr.: My favorite number form the opera is the Act II finale.

My least favorite Princess Ida number (not counting "Come, Mighty Must" which is virtually always cut) is Ida's third act solo "I Built Upon A Rock."

Ed Glazier: It is my understanding that the designation "string of pearls" refers not to all of Ida's second act, but just to the following sequence of numbers. Unfortunately, I can't quote a source for this designation.

Ralph MacPhail: I don't know if he was the first to use the expression "A string of pearls" for [some of] the Act II numbers of Princess Ida, but H. M. Walbrook, in Gilbert & Sullivan Opera: A History and A Comment (London: F. V. White & Co. Ltd., 1922) entitled his Chapter IX "A String of Pearls," and this chapter deals with Princess Ida.



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