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"THE PRINCESS IDA"
MR. GILBERT and Sir Arthur Sullivan have inflicted on the critic the cruel torture devised by King Hildebrand for King Gama —
In the music, the words, the singing, the admirable scenery, the grouping and drill of the chorus, and in the splendid costumes, there is "nothing whatever to grumble at," or very little. A Gilbertian operetta must be criticised, of course, according to its own genre. As the laws of epic are derived from the works of Homer, the laws of this particular and novel sort of piece must be deduced from a study of the joint productions of Gilbert and Sullivan. We expect "the humour of it" to be topsy-turvy. Now, the Princess of the Laureate lives in a noble and poetical world of topsy-turvy, a medley of all ages and styles and fancies. How was the genius of comic inversion to deal with what is already inverted? Mr. Gilbert might conceivably have shown us a university of men as shy and maidenlike as Milton in his Cambridge days, invaded by a daring Princess with her two companions. The objections to that scheme (which is not absolutely without comic elements) are numerous and obvious. Mr. Gilbert has, therefore, followed pretty closely the plot of the original. A good deal of his blank verse dialogue has been heard before in an older "Princess" of his, played at the Olympic years ago. On the whole, the blank verse is not the strong point of the libretto. The audience was not much tickled by puns on "males" and "letter-mails," on "his sting" and "his tongue." It would be uncritical to ask for much human feeling or poetry, or even such humour as that of the Bailiff of the "Cloches of Corneville," from an operetta of Mr. Gilbert's. These qualities count for little in his Fairyland, where (as in the Elf-land of Thomas of Ercildoune) the lovely fairies are hollow and heartless masks. There is, however, plenty of broadly human humour in Cyril's careless tavern catch "Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, kiss me," and Mr. Gilbert almost touches the level of the English lyrics of the seventeenth century in Hilarion's song —
There is much lyrical feeling, too, in the song of the Princess, when all her women fail her, and all her plans are broken: "I built upon a rock," and so forth. The nature of the play makes it impossible to show why or how Ida falls in love at last with the Prince; and the Tennysonian lines which she quotes about "those dark gates across the wild" strike — perhaps are meant to strike — a strange jarring note at the end of the merriment. As to the patter of the livelier lyrics, the "revel of rhymes" — rhymes single, double, treble — it is such verse as only the author of the "Bab Ballads" can write, and he only when at his best.
We have scarcely space to do more than indicate the chief situations in a plot already familiar, for the most part, to the lovers of poetry. In the Prologue the curtain rises on a gorgeously attired chorus, in dresses more or less old English of King Hal's time, who look out from King Hildebrand's palace on a rather Dolomitic mountain scene. They are waiting for King Gama. with Ida, his daughter, Hilarion's bride. Hilarion's pretended reminiscences of the wedding when he was only two are not very funny, but the three monstrous brothers of Ida, Arac, Guron, and Scynthius, in their elaborate plate armour, wit their sweeping double handled swords, and their consciousness of stupidity, are very funny indeed. Mr. Grossmith is a wonderful Gama — cunning, keen, grey, worn with cares of State, and intolerably bitter of speech. Mr. Grossmith would apparently make an admirable Louis XI. It is almost a pity to see him employ his powers on the sarcastic chaff and feigned distress of Gama, who proclaims himself to be —
It is also a pity, though inevitable, that the crooked monarch only appears in the prologue and the second act. The prologue is a little long, perhaps, the best things in it (next to Mr. Grossmith's part) are the sword dance of the brothers and the duet of the keen Gama and the stolid King HIldebrand (Mr. Rutland Barrington), "Most politely, most politely." Finally Gama and the brethren are seized as hostages for Ida, and Prince Hilarion with his friends announce lyrically their intention to storm the lady's university.
The first act opens with a lecture given by Lady Psyche to a chorus of undergraduates in round caps and silk and brocade gowns. Even a doctor of music in all his glory cannot compare with the least of these. The chaff about ladies' colleges is rather outworn, and the metaphysics of the very comic Blanche (Miss Brandram) are less amusing than Mr. Lewis Carrol's feminine Hegelianisms in "Phantasmagoria." Lady Psyche has learned her classics at Ouida's feet, or Mr. Malaprop's. She sings about "crossing the Helicon," probably half mindful that the Rubicon was a river and quite forgetful that Helicon ((can the Helmund enter into the muddle? is a hill. The Castle Adamant in the background is a satire on Oxford's pointed "new buildings;" the river flows hard by. When the Princess (Miss Braham) appears she is bridal costume and gay in white satin and a crown, not an academic costume at all. She argues that —
Then she goes on:–
Though not "grand, epic, homicidal," Miss Braham looked and sang extremely well throughout, and was rewarded by colossal bouquets, which nearly fell into the footlights. When the students have retires, the three adventurers enter, have some lively fooling, and dress in academic robes left behind by the ladies. Cyril (Mr. Durward Lely) has a rattling part, to which he quit does justice. They are very informally matriculated by the Princess, and luncheon is brought by the tall blond "daughters of the plough" — huge and comely girls, clad in leopard skins. The "recognition" by Psyche and Blanche (aided by the discovery of a cigar-case) follows, as in "The Princess;" and there is a very funny and bright duet between Melissa and Lady Blanche. We have already praised Cyril's drinking song, but little can be said for the "header" which leaves Hilarion and the rescued Princess quite dry. Where is realism? The castle is stormed by Hildebrand's men, and the curtain falls on a very brilliant tableau.
The second act is mainly remarkable for the fine scene, the courtyard of the castle, and for the brilliant Amazonian mail armour of the girls, transformed into warriors. But they all refuse to fight, and there is a combat between the brothers and the Princes. The big brothers, who have hitherto tempered valour with discretion, throw off their armour before beginning, with a most diverting song, and prepare to avenge the wrongs which Gama has described in heartrending words, "I haven't anything to grumble at." In this scene Mr. Grossmith was quite tragical. In the battle the brothers lay aside the double-handed swords, and the fencing (with straight cut-and-thrust blades) was not very good. The brethren are vanquished, all ends well, and Gama is left making love to Lady Blanche, funnier than ever in her armour. So much for a piece in which everything conspired to organize a great success. An enthusiastic burst of applause followed the falling of the curtain and Sir Arthur Sullivan, Mr. Gilbert, and Mr. D'Oyly Carte, the enterprising manager of the theatre, bowed their thanks for these well-earned plaudits — plaudits that will be heard every night for many months to come.
The "Princess Ida" is full of melody, and will take a high rank among Sir Arthur sullivan's music. In the prologue occurs an exquisite trio —
Another trio between the three knights Arac, Guron, Scynthius has a delightfully martial ring. It is impossible to mention the many beautiful numbers in the first act. The first chorus, "Towards the Empyrean heights," is an admirable bit of scoring. The entrance of the Princess, who is received by a charming chorus, "Mighty maiden with a mission," is marked by a fine number, an invocation to Minerva, which forms the introduction to the whole opera. We give the first eight bars of the admirable drinking song given by Cyril, with a most taking refrain —
The trio which occurs when Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian scale the college wall —
possesses a charming second motif, of which we give the following:–
The subject is used elsewhere in the opera. Another trio in the act between Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian, with the refrain —
is taken from an old Spanish dance, elaborately worked out as an accompaniment to the 'cellos and basses:–
Among the other numbers in this act there are a beautiful quarter between the Princess, Hilarion, and his two friends, "The world is but a hollow [sic] toy;" "The Ape and the Lady," sung by the Lady Psyche; and the melodious duet between Melissa and the Lady Blanche —
In the second act King Gama has a song which Mr. Grossmith gives with admirable point and humour, and the song sung by the Princess, "I built upon a rock," is extremely pretty.
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