|Princess Ida > > First Night Review
GILBERT AND SULLIVAN'S NEW OPERA.
The new comic opera by Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan was produced at the Savoy Theatre, London, on Saturday night, for the first time. A Sunday contemporary says: – Those who remember the "whimsical allegory" fashioned at the Olympic some fourteen years ago out of Tennyson's poem, "The Princess," will scarcely need to be told how admirably it is fitted to form the frame work of a characteristic Gilbert-Sullivan production. They will even be prepared to learn that in the "book" few important changes have been found necessary, and that where the letter is altered the spirit remains the same. This spirit is perhaps best indicated in the author's own description of his work as a "respectful perversion" of the original on which it is founded.
"Princess Ida; or, Castle Adamant," represents no vulgar attempt to parody the story whose influence on its fair listeners, according to the poet, "Had ever seemed to wrestle with burlesque." Rather does it snatch the sort of mock heroic gigantesque which gave Tennyson's work its fanciful and dainty constituency. How easily and with what tuneful charms Sir Arthur Sullivan's music echoes the utterances of a mood like this may readily be guessed. The composer finds here something more than quaint whimsicality and cynic humour to inspire him, for in this tale of Ida and her lover, perverted though it be, there is a suggestion of tender, serious romance, which Mr. Gilbert has happily not quite destroyed.
The piece is now re-arranged in a prologue and two acts, and it may be suggested that relatively the first act is a little too long. The prologue, however, which is brief and to the point, is full of spirit. It introduces us to the pavilion of King Hildebrand's palace, where, from a swinging chorus, we learn that Hildebrand's son, Hilarion, is awaiting the arrival of Princess Ida, his destined bride ever since her birth. Ida is the daughter of the deformed and crabbed King Gama, a monarch who, on his arrival, describes his unlovable traits in a characteristic ditty, allotted to Mr. Grossmith, Gama says of himself:–
But King Gama has not brought with him his daughter, and so the kindly intentions of the courtiers prettily grouped round King Hildebrand and Florian are frustrated. The Princess, it appears, scorns all thought of marriage, and "rules a women's University with full a hundred girls to learn of her." Hilarion, however, with his friends Cyril and Florian, declines altogether to regard the matter with seriousness. In a delightfully melodious trio, they airily describe their intended storming of Castle Adamant by "Expressive Glances," and confidently assert their ability to justify their intrusion within the Princess Ida's exclusively female domains. With their departure on their bold mission, whilst Gama and his gallant sons are ignominiously marched off to their dungeon, the prologue ends.
The act which follows, and contains the gist of the piece both as to comedy and to musical illustration, quite carries out the promise which has been given. With little of the repetition and over-elaboration of cynical humour which have sometimes injured the dramatic effect of Mr. Gilbert's librettos, there is set forth the story of the Prince's adventures in the little kingdom of the beautiful misanthropes. A most beautiful stage picture is disclosed when the curtain draws up, and reveals the bevy of girl graduates grouped in the garden of Castle Adamant at the feet of Lady Psyche. After the maidens, with Psyche at their head, have carolled forth their opinion that "Man is Nature's sole mistake," the Lady Blanche reads out the list of punishments, whereby Sacharissa is expelled for her introduction of men in the shape of a set of chessmen, and Chloe loses three terms for sketching a perambulator.
The arrival of the Princess as once causes her scholars to break out with a chorus hailing her as "Mighty Maiden with a Mission," to which she responds with an aria invoking with most earnest eloquence the goddess Minerva. The Lady Blanche, who is troubled with metaphysical difficulty about the "Is" and "Might be," and "Inevitable Must," has a song, "Come, Mighty Must," the humour of which rather misses fire by reason of the recondite nature of the subject satirised. No such fate, however, befalls the Prince's vivacious description of the ambitious designs of the lady students; and there was no refusing the demand for a repetition of the merry ditty which ends –
Many numbers in this act deserve detailed comment. Amongst them may be mentioned the quartette, "The world is but a broken toy;" the Lady Psyche's sprightly song, "The Ape and the Lady;" the quintette which follows, and – best perhaps of all – the charming duet "Now, wouldn't you like to rule the roast?" between Melissa and Lady Blanche. Then, of course, comes the dreadful drinking song, and the jovial lilt of its refrain, "Kiss me, kiss me," might well shock its prudish hearers. The angry departure of Princess Ida, her fall into the stream, and rescue by Hilarion (not very well managed, by the way), the arrest of Hilarion and his comrades by the stalwart daughters of the plough, and the demand of King Hildebrand for his son's release all come into this act.
For the last therefore little remains but the showy spectacle of the girl graduates in their armour, and the combat between the three prisoners and the three brothers of Ida. This latter is preceded by a practical joke quite in the happiest vein of composer and author – the singing of a martial song in the Handel manner by the mail clad warriors, while they prepare themselves for battle by taking off their armour. The incongruity of words and music is capitally brought out by Mr. Temple, who, however, like Mr. Grossmith and Mr. Barrington, has here comparatively few opportunities for distinction.
Much of the musical onus of the performance falls upon Mr. Bracy, a new comer, who bears himself gracefully as Hilarion, and uses his rather thin tenor voice with practised skill. Hilarion's comrades are played by Messrs. Lely and Ryley. The ponderous Hildebrand of Mr. Barrington contrasts most effectively with the malignant impishness of Mr. Grossmith's Gama, and neither actor misses any point that is to be made. Miss Braham as the princess sings and acts so well that she soon makes us forget how little she looks the part of Princess Ida. Ladies Blanche and Psyche are played with plenty of spirit by Miss Brandon [sic] and Miss Jessie Bond.*
The success of the opera was never for a moment in doubt on Saturday night, and Sir Arthur Sullivan's music, whilst more ambitious in many of its elements than in his other comic operas, seems sure of gaining speedy popularity. The composer himself conducted the singularly smooth performance, and at its close acknowledged with Mr. Gilbert the unanimously favourable verdict of the audience.
* The reviewer is in error here. Kate Chard played Lady Psyche and Jessie Bond played Melissa.
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