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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Princess Ida

Daily News (London, England), Monday, January 7, 1884; Issue 11773.


After a successful run of more than a year, Mr. W.S. Gilbert's and Sir Arthur Sullivan's Iolanthe has been replaced by a new piece in which the same distinguished author and composer have again been happily associated. It is some years since the gentleman last named manifested, in works of a smaller calibre, that vein of refined musical humour which he afterwards developed to a greater extent and on a larger scale. From the composer of the grand oratorio The Light of the World, The Martyr of Antioch, and other works of sacred interest, music so bright, sparkling, and piquant as that of the pieces produced at the Opera Comique and Savoy Theatres could scarcely have been expected. These were The Sorcerer (1877), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1880), and Patience (1881), at the Opera Comique; the last having transferred to Mr. D'Oyly Carte's new Savoy Theatre, where Iolanthe was brought out — as already said — rather more than a year ago. In all these Sir Arthur Sullivan has had the advantage of the co-operation of Mr. Gilbert as author of the books. Such a collaboration is as happy a combination as that of the French librettist Scribe with the French composer Auber, which resulted in the production of operas whose wit and charm cannot be surpassed. Since the time of Mr. Planché English burlesque has scarcely assumed so refined a tone and such literary value as at the hands of Mr. Gilbert, who can be intensely funny without being silly, comically satiric without being cruel, and pungently humorous without being coarse. These qualities and his power of word-play have long ago been proved in the "Bab Ballads," and scarcely any one has excelled their author in the command over intellectual mirth. He might well say:

Satire's my weapon, but I'm too discreet
To run amuck and tilt at all I meet,

and we may well say of the pieces produced by the coadjutors now referred to:

A careless song, with a little nonsense in it now and then
Does not misbecome a monarch.

The term "careless," however, as generally understood, is not applicable here, both words and music being the results of deliberate thought and artistic finish.

The new piece produced on Saturday evening is entitled Princess Ida; or, Castle Adamant, and is largely founded on a previous work of Mr. Gilbert's brought out at the Olympic Theatre in 1870. This, however, was not specially musical, neither was it a burlesque or a travestie, but was described as a "respectful perversion of Mr. Tennyson's poem," a claim having been (justly) made for it as "an attempt to reform a much abused branch of dramatic entertainment, not only by the selection of a high-class work for its subject, but by treating it with refinement and elegance." Following the precedent of that piece, Mr. Gilbert styles his new book "a respectful operatic perversion of Tennyson's 'Princess,'" which it truly is, rather than a burlesque in the usual acceptation of the term. The author has again adopted the style of pungent yet genial sarcasm and artistic caricature, which he wields so admirably. It may readily be supposed that Mr. Gilbert has turned his opportunities to good account, his book abounding in pleasantries and humorous exaggerations, replete with amusement and free from offence.

The work consists of a prologue and two acts. The introductory portion takes place in a pavilion attached to the palace of King Hildebrand, who is expecting the arrival of King Gama with his daughter Ida, betrothed in infancy to Prince Hilarion, Hildebrand's son. The Prince sings a ballad announcing that he was betrothed to Ida when she was a twelvemonth old and he twice her age. Gama arrives — a splenetic, decrepit, old man, who sings a song in which occur such phrases as "I'm a genuine philanthropist," "I do all the good I can," "Yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man." Gama has not brought the Princess, who, he explains, has retired, with her lady colleagues, from all male society to Castle Adamant, being —

  So particular,
She'll scarcely suffer Dr. Watts's hymns —
And all the animals she owns are "hers"!

Hildebrand orders Gama's arrest, and Prince Hilarion and his friend Cyril and Florian determine to invade the ladies' community disguised as female students.

The first act takes us to the gardens of Castle Adamant, with the lady graduates seated in groups. Here the Lady Psyche (Professor of Humanities) discourses on the inferiority of man, The Lady Blanche (Professor of Abstract Science) then announces the list of expulsions, among which is Sacharissa, who has dared to introduce a set of chessmen. The Princess enters, and, after an address to Minerva, utters a humorous discourse on the inferiority of man. On the disappearance of the ladies, Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian enter and satirise the Women's College in a song.

A scene with the Princess follows, the three intruders disguised in the academic robes, being admitted as members of the college. After some amusing dialogue, their discovery follows, the Prince and Florian being recognised by Psyche, who proves to be the latter's sister. Their secret is kept, however, Lady Blanche and her daughter Melissa being admitted to it — the finding of a cigar case having been condemning evidence. An al fresco luncheon is served to all the ladies, Blanche protesting that hunger is "highly indelicate," and urging all to "subdue their appetites," Cyril rejoining —

Cursed with an appetite keen I am,
And I'll subdue it with cold roast lamb!

He not only eats, but drinks to the point od intoxication, singing a rollicking song that leads to the general discovery of the intruding trio. The Princess recognises HIlarion, and retreats precipitately, stumbling and falling into the adjacent river, whence she is rescued by her lover. The strong-minded Princess, however, is inflexible, and the Prince and his friends are arrested by the attendant "daughters of the plough," This incident is followed by the attack on Adamant Castle by King Hildebrand and his soldiers. The King reminds the Princess of her betrothal to his son. The release of the Prince after a specified interval is demanded, the Princess, however, remaining obdurate, and the act closes with a climax of excitement and defiance.

The scene of the second and last act displays the outer walls and courtyard of Castle Adamant, with the assembled ladies armed with battle axes. Ida enters and exhorts her disheartened followers to resistance, but without effect. She gives way to despair, when the arrival of her father and brothers is announced, her order for their admittance being given coupled with the admission:

  In this emergency
Even one's brothers may be turned to use!

Gama enters with a message from Hildebrand, being released temporarily for this purpose. The grumbling nature of the Princess's father is indicated by his statement —

  I dare not face
That devilish monarch's black malignity!
He tortures me with torments worse than death,
I haven't anything to grumble at!
He finds out what particular meats I love,
And gives me them. The very choicest wines,
The costliest robes – the richest rooms are mine.
He suffers none to thwart my simplest plan,
And gives strict orders none should contradict me!
He's made my life a curse!

HIs song, which follows, is so richly humorous as to justify being quoted entire:

  Whene'er I spoke
Sarcastic joke
    Replete with malice spiteful,
  This people mild
Politely smil'd,
    And voted me delightful!
  Now, when a wight
Sits up all night
    Ill-natur'd jokes devising,
  And all his wiles
Are met with smiles
    It's hard, there's no disguising!
Oh, don't the days seem lank and long
When all goes right and nothing goes wrong,
And isn't your life extremely flat
With nothing whatever to grumble at!

  When German bands
From music stands
    Play'd Wagner imperfectly —
  I bade them go —
They didn't say no,
    But off they went directly!
  The organ boys
They stopp'd their noise,
    With readiness surprising
  And grinning herds
Of hurdy-gurds
    Retired apologising!
Oh, don't the days seem lank and long
When all goes right and nothing goes wrong,
And isn't your life extremely flat
With nothing whatever to grumble at!

  I offer'd gold
In sums untold
    To all who'd contradict me —
  I said I'd pay
A pound a day
    To anyone who kick'd me —
  I brib'd with toys
Great vulgar boys
    To utter something spiteful,
  But, bless you, no!
They would be so
    Confoundedly politeful!
In short, these aggravating lads,
They tickle my tastes, they feed my fads,
They give me this and they give me that,
And I've nothing whatever to grumble at!

The entry of HIldebrand's soldiers is followed by a contest between Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian, and the knights Arac, Guron, and Scynthius. The knights — sons of King Gama — are defeated and wounded; compassion urges the ladies to their help, the Princess's scheme of isolation breaks down, and she is united to Hilarion, his companions also finding partners in Psyche and Melissa, the drama ending with a joyful climax. Thus the theatrical version, Like the Laureates's poem enforces the moral:

Man for the field, and woman for the hearth,
Man for the sword, and for the needle she;
Man with the head, and woman with the heart,
Man to command and woman to obey,
All else confusion.

The music which Sir Arthur Sullivan has composed for Princess Ida is quite equal to that which he has produced in any former instance of the kind. Where humorous, it is full of life and spirit without being strained or exaggerated, and where sentimental it is earnest and expressive and replete with melodic charm. The prologue opens with a bright and tuneful chorus, "Search throughout the panorama," flowing and genial in melody. Hildebrand's song, with chorus, "Now hearken," is well marked in its rhythmical phrases, and very suitable to the despotic character of the monarch. Hilarion's solo, "Ida was a twelvemonth old," is a good specimen of the sentimental ballad. The song for Arac, "We are warriors three" (in which the other two knights participate), is richly comic, in accordance with the grotesqueness of the characters. Gama's song, "If you give me your attention" (some of the words of which have been quoted above), is another capital piece of comic music. The next noticeable number is a trio, "Expressive glances," for Hilarion and his two friends (with chorus), in which the three voices are happily blended in flowing strains — a clever trio following for the three armour-clad knights, in which the patter style of the music is happily suited to the exaggerated stage strut of their action.

The first act is introduced by another charming chorus of female voices, "Towards the empyrean heights," in which the beautiful melodic vocal phrases are well contrasted by delicate orchestral details. We may next point to the Princess's aria, "At this my call," which is full of tender expression; the words of Lady Blanche's philosophical song "Come, mighty Must!" being coupled with music that is genuinely earnest. Two vivacious trios, "Gently, gently," and "I am a maiden," sung by Hilarion and his friends; a pleasing quartet of calm and gracious character, "The world is but a broken toy," for them and the Princess; Psyche's humorous song, "The Ape and the lady;" a very graceful duet, "Now wouldn't you like" (with a touch of antique stateliness) for Melissa and Blanche; some pretty music, in pastoral style, for female chorus of "Daughters of the PLough" bearing the luncheon provisions; the inebriated Cyril's rollicking song "Would you know;" and a very animated and dramatically wrought finale for chorus and solo voices, in a series of well contrasted movements, constitute a large amount of musical interest in the first act.

The second and closing division of the work is shorter than the preceding act, which would be improved by some slight compression. The principal musical pieces in the last act are: the charming pathetic lament of the Princess, "I built upon a rock," the lively patter song for Gama (the words quoted above), a bold chorus of soldiers, and the finale, forming an effective climax to the opera. The music throughout is worthy of the composer's high reputation, and will probably exceed in popularity any of his previous productions of its class.

The performance was in every respect of that general excellence which might be expected from the careful previous superintendence by author and composer in the arrangement of all details, including those of the stage action of the principals and the grouping of the subordinates.

Miss Leonora Braham is a charming Princess Ida, singing her music with fresh quality of voice, truthful intonation, and refined style. Among many commendable points in her acting may be specified her excellent delivery of the Princess's address to the ladies of the college (in the first act), which was extremely well declaimed. The characters of Psyche and Melissa are enacted with much grace, respectively by Misses Chard and J. Bond; Miss Brandram being an excellent representative of the prim sententious Lady Blanche.

Mr. G. Grossmith, as King Gama, gives an excellent picture of the decrepit, senile, and splenetic old man, with crouching gait and querulous voice, and sings his music with true perception of its humour. The characters of Hilarion and his friends Cyril and Florian are thoroughly well filled by Mr. H Bracy, Mr. D. Lely, and Mr. Ryley, both as to acting and singing. Mr. Lely gave the song in the luncheon scene with admirable discretion — sufficiently indicating inebriation without any approach to coarseness. This was one of the many encores of the evening. Mr. Rutland Barrington acts and sings impressively as King Hildebrand, and the three knights find worthy representatives in Messrs. R. Temple, Lugg, and W. Gray, who caricature the melodramatic style with great effect. The subordinate parts of the girl graduates — Sacharissa, Chloe, and Ada — are adequately filled by Misses S. Grey, Heathcote, and Twyman.

A compact and well-selected orchestra gives effect to the important instrumental details, the lady choristers singing their music with a freshness and purity of vocal quality and good intonation rarely heard from a stage chorus. The costumes are rich in splendour and contrast, and the scenery is worthy of the other accessories. The representation of the gardens of Castle Adamant, by Mr. Hawes Craven, is especially beautiful; very good also being the scene of the Prologue and that of the last act by Mr. Emden. The opera was unequivocally a great success, and is undoubtedly destined to have a long career. Some delays (unavoidable on a first night) called forth noisy but good humoured protests from the audience in the upper part of the theatre; but a repetition of the performance will doubtless ensure closer stage action.

The composer conducted the performance, and he and the author and Mr. D'Oyly Carte, the lessee, were called on the stage at the conclusion of the opera, and enthusiastically applauded.

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