|Princess Ida > > First Night Review
GILBERT AND SULLIVAN'S NEW OPERA.
London, Saturday Night.
At one time in the course .of this evening, when before a brilliant house the "Princess Ida" was produced at the Savoy Theatre, it seemed likely that Sir Arthur Sullivan would be compelled to resign his baton to Mr. Alf Cellier. It was obvious that the popular musician was unwell, but it was not known until some of his friends saw him during the entre'acte that he was suffering from a painful malady, and that with true British pluck, and after undergoing an injection of morphia he had insisted on fulfilling his promise and conducting the first performance of his new opera. It is satisfactory that his strength held out until the final fall of the curtain, when in the applause of an audience which had been less than usually enthusiastic, he enjoyed the rewards of victory — for the credit of the success of the "Princess Ida" belongs in a greater degree than ever to Sir Arthur Sullivan.
No one who came to the theatre to-night expected that the libretto of the new "operatic perversion" of the poet-laureate "Medley" would be an almost word for word revival of the "Whimsical Allegory" written by Mr. Gilbert four years after he had commenced his stage career, and produced under the Liston management at the Olympic in 1870. The lyrics of the version performed at the Savoy to-night are, it is true, entirely new, and Sir ArthurSullivan's original music replaces such things as the "laughing song" from "Manon Lescaut," songs from Offenbach's "La Perichole," "Marriage aux Lanternes," and "Pont des Soupirs;" and comic songs and burlesques of Rossini and others. But the construction of Mr. Gilbert's two pieces is practically identical, and whole pages of brilliant dialogue have been. transferred from the 1870 version to that of tonight. The experiment is a bold one, for the delicate satire of "Princess Ida" appeals to culture rather than to the multitude.
The adaptation of Tennyson's "Princess" opens in a pavilion attached to King Hildebrand's palace, where gaily-dressed courtiers, awaiting the arrival of King Gama, sing an opening chorus written in the true spirit of opera comique. By-and-by enters King Hildebrand himself, clad in a magnificent suit of blue velvet, with golden armour and helmet, and accompanied by his son's friends, Cyril and Florian. This song is a taking galop in the Offenbach style, with choral refrain. His son Hilarion, in a feeble ballad, then describes how he was at the age of two betrothed twenty years ago to the Princess Ida, then twelve months old. The baby bride wept, and he thought "These brides are all alike; they cry at marrying me." But, he adds "How much more cause they'd have to cry if it were broken off." With the arrival of Gama's three martial sons, clad in heavy, clanking armour true Gilbertism begins. In a, song and chorus one son declaims —
And they all shake their heads solemnly when the eldest declares —
This piece is most admirably accompanied by a pretty figure for flutes, with little flourishes of cornets playing rather an important part in it.
Hitherto "Princess Ida" had been rather dull, and the gallery began to express their opinion of matters by calling upon the three men in armour for a "hornpipe." King Gama, however, soon follows his sons, and Mr. Grossmith, in an admirable make-up as the ill-shapen and hump-shouldered monarch — "the worst of nature's blunders" — at once plunges into a patter song after the style of the Lord Chancellors song in "Iolanthe." Gama is a disagreeable king, a landed philanthropist —
The war of words between the two kings, taken intact from Mr. Gilbert's 1870 comedy, follows, and Gama announces that his daughter, the Princess Ida, has retired to Castle Adamant, where "she rules a, woman's university with full a hundred girls, who learn of her." No males are allowed within those walls, "except letter mails. She'll scarcely suffer Dr. Watt's hymns, and all the animals she owns are hers." In a trio, lightly accompanied, but in melodious dance rhythm, the three young men declare they will storm the maiden's bowers. Gama and his sons are held as hostages, and with an Offenbachian concerted piece the prologue ends. The scene just before the curtain falls is a splendid specimen of Mr. Gilbert's stage management. In front are the three stalwart sons in heavy armour, their arms folded, defying the king. Men at arms are drawn up in array, the circle is fringed with gaily dressed ladies of the Court, while far away in the distance is Mr. Henry Emden's beautiful picture of lake, woodland, and mountain scenery in the country beyond. The audience were so pleased that they insisted upon the repetition of the finale.
The first act proper opens in the Castle Gardens, with a river and rustic bridge and the turrets of Castle Adamant in the distance. While reclining on the greensward the "sweet girl graduates" sing a very pretty two-part chorus for female voices, interspersed with solos. Lady Psyche, clad in her doctor's robes, delivers a lecture, the text being the the worthlessness of man, and the graduates repeat in chorus —
The Lady Blanche reads the list of punishments. One young lady is expelled because she dared "to bring a set of chessmen here;" while another will lose three terms for drawing "a sketch of a perambulator — a double perambulator, shameless girl!" In a simple but pretty unisonal chorus the maidens hail the Princess, who sings an apostrophe to Minerva, distinguished for the purity of its melody, and for a treatment of the trombones which, without any suspicion of imitation, somewhat recalls a similar passage in one of Wagner's operas. A lengthy denunciation of man, in measured blank verse, travestying the style of the Laureate, and taken intact from the 1870 comedy, is admirably delivered by Miss Leonora Braham.
But if the movement of the supremacy of woman fail —
The stage left clear, King Hildebrand's son and his two companions come bounding over the wall. They dance about the grass, and sing a song anent the lady man-haters, ending —
Finding the graduates' robes, which the damsels have left behind, they put them on, and, assuming the demeanour of women, waltz and sing a trio in the pure opera comique style, and with a highly effective accompaniment, of which a rapid figure for the strings is the chief feature. The Princess enters and accosts them, and they declare they are three well-born maids who wish to join the university. Asked to swear whether they will give the fulness of their love to the hundred maidens, they willingly do so, and further undertake they "will not marry any man," and that they "much prefer the maids." As in Boccaccio's tale, they are however soon discovered, first by Florian's sister, and afterwards by two of the other ladies. The music of this long scene includes some couplets — "The Ape and the Lady for Lady Psyche; a quintet, in which the youthful Melissa confesses to the men, "You're everything you ought to be, and nothing that you oughtn't, O!" and a charming duet, "Now, wouldn't you like?" for Melissa and her mother. This duet will probably prove the most popular number of the work. The last century flavour, which is one of its chief characteristics is gained partly by old-fashioned words, and partly by its form of an old-fangled dance, accompanied in rococo style chiefly by the strings. It was received with an uproarious demand for an encore.
The whole party now return, and stalwart women, the "daughters of the plough" of the Laureate's poem, lay luncheon on the grass. Cyril sings a sort of drinking song, and the three men are discovered. The Princess retires across the bridge, falls into the water — a stage effect very clumsily managed — and is rescued by Hilarion. The three men are arrested, and an elaborate finale ensues. It opens with a ladies' chorus, followed by a shop song, which should be eliminated, and a full ensemble. Hildebrand and his army enter, and the King sings a sort of patter song, followed by a whimsical trio in Mr. Gilbert's best style. It is sung by the three armed captives in unison, and with mock cheerfulness:–
The Princess resolves to defend the castle, and, with an imposing and long-wrought concerted piece in the grand-opera style, the act ends.
The last act opens in the courtyard of the castle, where the ladies, with helmets on their heads, glittering battle-axes in their hands, and silver chain armour over their frocks, sing a martial chorus, lapsing comically into the verse —
The piece drags somewhat as the Princess, calling over the muster roll, finds her army in a state of fright. Her song, "Built upon a Rock," too, is feeble, and is apparently written with the music shop in view. Gama is brought in, and he appeals to his daughter in a patter song. The gates are opened, the girls mount the battlements, the soldiers rush in, and the two choruses of women and warriors are cleverly intermingled. The affair is to be settled by duel between the three men on each side, and Arac, in an admirable burlesque of the Handelian style, and one of the best numbers of the opera, entreats his brothers to relieve themselves of their armour. The lovers, of course, win, and use hilarious argument —
The Princess yields, and with a chorus and a little speech from "The Princess" (in which Tennyson's words are happily quoted) —
the opera ends.
The audience, which except at intervals had been far from enthusiastic throughout the evening, called lustily first for the artists Misses Braham, Brandram, Chard, and Bond; Messrs Barrington, Bracy, Lely, Ryley, Temple, Lugg, Gray, and Grossmith; then for Sir Arthur Sullivan and Mr. W.S. Gilbert; and lastly for Mr. D'Oyly Carte.
Whether, like the rest of the series, "Princess Ida" will run a twelvemonth, it is impossible to say. Against the libretto inay be urged its familiarity, and the fact that it attacks no legitimate absurdity, and that it attained little or no success in 1870. On the other hand, the music is far higher in aim than anything Sir Arthur Sullivan has yet given in comic opera, and the stage show is far more elaborate than it hitherto has been. The tableaux were perfectly arranged, and even each super seemed to act an independent part. The Poet-Laureate and the Prime Minister were both expected, but Mr. Gladstone had left London, and Mr. Tennyson was not present. Miss Fortescue and Lord Garmoyle occupied a grand tier box.
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