Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

PRINCESS IDA DISCUSSION

Music and Songs (concluded)

5.8 - Act III
5.8.1 - The Finale

5.8 - Act III

Robert Jones: Nick, you seem to have stopped there. Will you include Act III in your next correspondence?

Nick Sales: As demanded by my adoring public (OK, my Australian public (OK, just by Robert Jones)), here is my very humble appreciation of the genius of G&S as it pertains to the third act of Ida.

"Death To The Invader/Please You" - I like this. A lot. The transmogrification from Warrior-Rabbit-Warrior is wonderful, if played straight (i.e. as intended). A fine example, it seems to me, of Sullivan and Gilbert's genius matching each other. A creature from outer space, on hearing this, would assume that words and music had been written by the same genius. (Reminds me of an anecdote - tell you later). I do feel that it loses much of its effectiveness if your Melissa can't get up to the high 'G' on "boldly we exCLAIM" - the lower notes suggested as a compromise have always struck me as a dreadful "cop-out".

Robert Jones: "Down with the Flowers of" - oops, sorry, "Death to the invaders" is beautifully dramatic, and the ensuing contrast is (as someone else mentioned) a good insight into the weaknesses of outward confidence.

Nick Sales: [Neatly side-stepping the "placement" debate, I shall deal with the following two numbers in the order they were originally presented.]

"Whene'er I Spoke" - It has been suggested recently on this forum that the music for this number is not perhaps perfectly suited to Gama and his mood. If this were purely a solo for Gama, I would probably agree. HOWEVER, there is the matter of the Girl's chorus. I always find the contrast between their singing and mood and that of Gama to be delightful. In addition, I love Sullivan's orchestration of "played Wagner imperfectly". It's almost as if Gama's being made to sing this damned happy tune to further compound his misery. I love it!

Robert Jones: Gama's Big Song . . . This is straight comic irony without subtlety, a perfect combination of words and music. It also provides an excellent buffer between the opening chorus and:

"I Built Upon A Rock" - This piece has, I feel, always suffered in that it has the misfortune to be in the same opera as "Minerva". Consequently it is seldom performed out of context, and is not as widely known and loved. However, that makes it all the more special when heard in context. I defy anyone not to be moved by Ida's feelings as expressed so wonderfully by Mr. Sullivan, particularly for me in the brass parts. If this song doesn't move you, you're either dead or you sing bass.

Paul McShane: Or else (like me), both.

Robert Jones: "I built upon a rock", which is musically and lyrically almost as sublime as "Broken toy".

Tom Shepard: Concerning placement: I still feel that Ida's "I Built Upon a Rock" makes more sense when it follows Gama's song.

Jackie Richards: When I played Princess Ida, I strongly felt that "I Built Upon a Rock" made more sense sung before Gama's entry as all her women had just deserted her. However, I wish I had sung it after Gama's song to give my voice enough of a rest after singing the Act II finale ( as you all know, a real belter to be sung over a full chorus giving their all).

"When Anger Spreads His Wing" - Yippeee! Wunderbar etc. etc. I absolutely love the four part harmony at the beginning, and the jaunty middle section, and the fandabedozie double chorus.

Oh, and the harmonies of the last six bars or so (from the rall. to the end) ring my bell every time.

Paul McShane: I quite agree. And it was clever of Mackerras to plunk it into Pineapple Poll, too.

Robert Jones: "When anger spreads his wing" shows the author and composer at their very best. Gilbert's words are brilliant and hilarious. Sullivan's music is not only equal to the task, he goes on to incorporate a magnificent choral counterpoint, blending the Handelian staidness(?) with the modern rompy-pomp-pomp. Yes, words appear to have failed me here, as well.

"This Helmet, I Suppose" - Is it a handelian parody? Satire? Who cares. It's very easy on the ears, and fits Gilbert's very clever words very nicely indeed, thank you. I know I shall never be able to listen to or see this item again without recalling David Duffey's "stabbed hand" anecdote". (see part 3.3) For what it's worth, I'm sure the middle section wasn't intended to be sung by a different moron, it's just Sir Arthur being clever and making it have a ABA form (there's a posh musical term for that, but being the very 'umblest, I can't recall it. binary? tertiary? aviary?)

Robert Jones: The Strip-tease . . . This is a magnificent piece of music and comedy. Sullivan is being his most Handelian in excellent contrast to the silliness of the situation. It's no wonder the fops win against such immense idiots.

"Music For The Fight" - Hmmm. Ahh. Well. Yes. Not a personal favourite of mine. It is forever tainted for me by the memory of the time I nearly castrated Guron with a particularly heavy and unwielding steel broadsword. Not one of either Gilbert or Sullivan's better numbers, although I'd have to say that Gilbert seems to me to be the greater offender.

Actually, thinking about it, I firmly believe that all this discussion about the location/setting of Ida (the opera) would be much more clear cut had Gilbert not needed a rhyme with "IronMONGERY". So there.

Paul McShane: Or maybe, if Gilbert hadn't needed a rhyme for "Hungary", we would never have had "This helmet, I suppose"!

Finale - I must confess that I have always found this finale a little disappointing. I can see that it fits in perfectly with the mood that Gilbert has created following the fight, and of course we expect a reprise. It doesn't stop me wishing he hadn't done, though, and I always feel it's a bit deflating. I have heard sopranos go up to a top 'b' on "Sway of" prior to the last "love", but this jars a bit, for me at least. - maybe that's why I love the Act II finale of Utopia so much - because it's different!

Robert Jones: I have little to say about the closing triolets, violets, or whatever. It's a pretty tune, but not particularly rousing, compared to more inventive finales.

Nick Sales: Thank you for bearing with me. Oh, and Robert - you will tell me if there's an act IV, won't you?

Robert Jones: And a charming installment it is, too. I was actually hoping you would have sung it instead of written it, but the limitations of email being what they are . . . At the risk of further bolstering your tenor ego, I must admit that I agree with everything you wrote, including the bits I didn't read.

And yes, there is a largely unknown fourth act. It was called "The Mikado". It's a bit of a disappointment, so I wouldn't bother with it if I were you.


5.8.1 - The Finale

Larry T. Garvin: A few commentators have written that, though Ida's score is generally one of Sullivan's best (with which I heartily concur), the finale is a bit weak. Certainly it lacks the energy of most of the finales, whether the energy is joyous or rather fierce (as, I think, is Yeomen's finale). The romantic prettiness of Ida can seem a trifle faded in that context.

Two groups with which I've done shows have revised the Ida finale, ending it with a reprise of "Then jump for joy and gaily bound" after the vocal part of the finale as written (and a vocal/orchestral segue, the details of which need not concern us). This is, I realize, far from an orthodox answer, and one certainly inconsistent with the intent of the framers, as it were. It also changes the tone of the finale quite a bit, which may not fit with one's view of the show. Still, the revision was received fairly well in both venues.

(FWIW, I had nothing to do with either decision, and I remain firmly on the fence about the wisdom, if any, of such a revision.)

In that vein, what about the Ida overture? Its structure is a bit irregular, consisting of the quick introduction and the slow section - but lacking the fast development section characteristic of Sullivan's overtures. Perhaps his illness prevented him from completing it, instead just fashioning a connection to the opening chorus. I recall hearing an attempted completion of the overture on an old UMGASS recording - not very good, I fear. Has anyone tried finishing it? Is it at all worth doing?

(I add, in a feeble attempt at self-defense, that I am normally the strictest of strict constructionists about Sullivan's scores. I merely throw these out for discussion. Having donned a somewhat ratty flameproof suit, I close.)

Larry Byler: Baker Peeples (I believe, someone from Lamplighters will correct me if not) added a typical Sullivan "fast section" for Lamplighters performances. Fading memory says it was based around "Gently gently", but it may have been "For a month to dwell". Neither GSSSJ nor Stanford Savoyards have tried this, to my knowledge.

Ronald Orenstein: The only time I did Ida, many years ago, we segued into a reprise of "For a month to dwell" with new words ("Now Hilarion's bride / has at last complied" etc). I must say, though, that I do not like this. I prefer the finale as written, which (sensitively staged) can be the apotheosis if the relationship between Hilarion and Ida and the reconciliation of male and female, and as a result much more emotionally satisfying than more jollity (which could, I suppose, be saved for the curtain call).

Larry Byler: The last two GSSSJ performances of Ida (including the now-infamous Chicago mob version) opted for an upbeat ending, segueing from the chorus following Hilarion's solo verse directly to a reprise of (one verse of) "Now hearken to our strict command" (up a half-step to match the previous E major material), using slightly altered lyrics ("Hilarion and the Princess are here, give them a cheer". . .).

Marc Shepard: Larry Garvin asked about revising the Ida Act III finale and the overture. I've never seen a production in which either of these changes was made, but I'm not in favor of them.

I don't believe the brevity of the overture is attributable to Sullivan's poor health. After all, it would have been a simple matter for him to assign the overture to an assistant, as he so often did. The Ida overture is in Sullivan's own hand, so I think we may safely assume that this is how he wanted the opera to begin.

Likewise, it seems clear that the finale ultimo came out the way the authors wanted it. On such an important point as how the opera ends, I feel sure Gilbert would have objected if he thought a quiet ending inappropriate. Also, Dan Kravetz is right that "With joy abiding" should not be taken at the lugubrious tempo some conductors adopt.

I was discussing Ida with someone recently, who wondered why so many people seem intent on fighting the sentiments inherent in the work. Why not stage it as a real romance? At an Ida I saw last week, the director had a bishop enter in the finale to pronounce the nuptials. The staging was utterly botched, but it suggested to me an idea perfectly suited to the music.

Daniel Kravetz: The finale "With joy abiding" is considered weak because it is a reprise of "Expressive glances," a number which is often taken at a sort of tempo di lullaby. It shouldn't be, though. That sparkling bit of macho posturing requires a briskly moving quasi pizzicato pace to prevent the words from being stretched out too limply ("Ex . . . pres . . . sive . . . GLAAAAANNNNN-CES . . . shall . . . be . . . our . . . zzzzzzzzz . . . . . ." Oops, fell asleep already!). If they do it right the first time, it will be welcomed joyously as the sign-off tune, trust me.

Gene Leonardi: This is just to add a little more to Dan Kravetz's defense of "with joy abiding" as an apt choice for Ida's finale. I think it's a first rate choice for other reasons which are not, perhaps, so immediately apparent.

I think it's the closest thing we have to an "apotheosis" finale in the canon and it's a very subtle answer to "expressive glances" from the first act. As so often happens in G&S, Sullivan's music is so strong that it takes some attention away from Gilbert's words, which are really cynicism personified. I feel that Hilarion and his friends are starting off on their quest more for reasons of injured pride than anything else, and the chorus, including the women (who should know better!) are egging them on. They admit it very blatantly:

On sweet urbanity, tho' mere inanity, to touch their vanity we will rely!

If Sullivan's music weren't so exquisite, I think we would find this all rather unpleasant.

I don't remember who said this earlier but the excellent point was made that Ida and Hilarion are characters who actually undergo real change during the course of the show and "with joy abiding" is the result. What do we hear:

It were profanity for poor humanity to treat as vanity the sway of Love.

I can understand the temptation to try to "jazz up" Ida's ending because this is certainly not a relentlessly upbeat ending, but I think any additions would be unwise. Ida and Hilarion, and by extension most everyone else, have a chance to come across as real people who have made some real mistakes and this does not need to be cluttered up with any gratuitous merriment.

J. Derrick McClure: On at least three occasions, I've seen Idas where somebody has thought fit to tack on a reprise, with slightly altered words, at the very end: "Now hearken to my strict command . . . Hilarion and the Princess here, Give them a cheer, give them a cheer - "With voice sincere we'll give them a cheer . . . (etc)" or "Merrily ring the wedding bell . . . Happiness is here to dwell . . . (etc)" or - best of all as far as the words were concerned - "Now Hilarion's bride has at length complied Without conditions to our requisitions, Let us celebrate this happy state With a banquet and with dancing And with gaiety and prancing To the ding-dong-dell of the merry wedding bell While the fireworks go bang-bang!" Unfortunately, not one of them worked. My reaction is that the radiantly beautiful ending Sullivan wrote not only doesn't need anything to follow it - to drag in a more rousing, stirring number as a follow-up completely ruins the intended tone of the finale. Leave it as it is!

Rica Mendes: I think this ending can be interpreted several ways:

1) The music is calm as the "shrew" is "tamed" - not the way that I see it, but I could see how and why a director would

2) The reprise shows great maturity in the three men and, I think, they finally learn that men don't have to be macho thugs, but they can allow themselves to soften a bit.

3) This is a very romantic moment - Ida has just allowed herself to fall in love with a man and Hilarion's life has just been spared and they both have finally learned what love is all about. As opposed to Yeomen, where Point dies/"collapses", Elsie and Fairfax are united etc, in Ida we are not 100% certain of what is going to really happen - is it going to be a truly happy ending: Will Hilarion take what he learned and live it through? Will Ida be truly content in the world with Hilarion? Will the two monarchs find peace?

There are many more questions about the future of these men and women than in the other operas. Plus, they are all on the verge of very different lives than what they had known for most of their lives. The text itself shows how uncertain the futures are.

Therefore, I don't think that the finale should be an "um-pah-pah" number like in the other operas. It is a much more fragile ending plot-wise and I don't think that Sullivan wanted us to forget that.

Bruce I. Miller: This was an opinion I once shared; but then I saw a production by the Simsbury Light Opera in Connecticut and found their performance both fully satisfying and convincing. The problem is that the music, if not performed adequately, can seem weak. In the instance of both the orchestral introduction and the Finale ultimo, the weight of effectiveness falls almost entirely on the shoulders of the music department.

If I were to stage Ida, I would ask for [slow and stately] choreography, coupled with special lighting, which would highlight to stunning effect the reconciliatory music and theme of the finale.



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