|Princess Ida > > First Night Review
THE SAVOY. — The most recent example of that form of comic opera, which is fairly claimed by Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan as their own invention, was introduced at Mr. D'Oyly Carte's new theatre,. on Saturday last, with a success which, at least as regards the music, equals that of any one of its precursors. " The Princess" of Alfred Tennyson, a "medley," as the author styles it (yet what a delighiful medley!), had passed into a classic before the adventurous hand of Mr. W. S. Gilbert laid hold of it. His "respectful perversion" of the poem was originally produced at the Olympic Theatre in January, 1870.
The new work at the Savoy only differs in its nomenclature from the "whimsical allegory" of the Olympic through the addition of the word "operatic" prefixed to the original title, and the substitution, probably in deference to the composer of the complex phrase "per-version" (mark the hyphen) for the outspoken and less sophistical "perversion" of thirteen years ago. In so far as the Peripetia is concerned, there are but few discrepancies to note.
In the musician the dramatist (not for the first time) has fully found his match, and each successive number of the piece was enthusiastically received from the rise to the fall of the curtain. Sir Arthur Sullivan has under perfect control two of the essential requisites for achieving success in the operatic sphere. He can write with equal fluency and effect for voices and instruments; his orchestration, independently of its wealth of device and felicitous colouring, being invariably a support rather than an impediment to his singers. Further experience thus gained in a lighter field rather aids than enfeebles his exertions when his genius impels him to soar into the loftiest sphere of Art, and in the oratorio, the symphony, and what is accepted as Grand Opera, his vocal part writing is immaculate. He has yet, with all these gifts, to transform himself into a bonâ fide representative of English music quand même, but he is young enough still to strive for such an enviable position, and has talent enough honourably to sustain it. All this is observable in Princess Ida, as in a good many of his previous compositions.
The scenery, dresses, and grouping of the new piece left, to use the hackneyed phrase, "nothing to desire." The scenery, especially that representing the charming grounds of Castle Adamant, elicited warm expressions of delight.
But Mr. Gilbert, it must be confessed, was scarcely up to his usual level. The dialogue was less incisive than on previous occasions, the satirical remarks on the relations between men and women seemed to be re-echoed from previous librettos by the same gifted hand, and the metaphysics of Lady Blanche were decidedly weariful.
Mr. Grossmith, who is such a prime favourite, had a rather unthankful Thersites-like part as King Gama. Gama's three swashbuckler sons were really funny. Of Mr. Rutland Barrington, too, as King Hilarion [sic], it may be said (in the words of Mr. Gilbert himself) that "he did nothing in particular, and did it very well." Of all the male characters, the three young men, Prince Hilarion and his companions Cyril and Florian, gave the most pleasure. In all they did — singing, dancing, or speaking, Messrs. Bracy, and Durward Lely were capital.
Though her stature is smaller than beseems Baron D'Eyncourt's heroine, Miss Braham was a fascinating Princess Ida; Miss Jessie Bond had but little to do, but was as usual pleasant and vivacious; Miss Brandram disguised her face with uncompromising thoroughness in order to represent the severe old spinster [sic] Lady Blanche, and played the part so well that we did not miss the massive Miss Barnett, who would naturally have played the part; and, lastly, we must say a good word for Miss Kate Chard, a new comer, who has a pleasant face, a lively manner, and who sang a very pretty song about Darwinism (the words are in the conventional Gilbertian satirical style) with remarkable archness and intelligence.
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