|Princess Ida > > First Night Review
LAST NIGHT'S THEATRICALS.
"A many, many years ago," speaking in a theatrical measure of time; Mr. W.S. Gilbert wrote a species of serious burlesque upon Tennyson's delightful poem of "The Princess." The piece was interpreted (for a burlesque) in somewhat serious style by its dramatis personæ; and (for a burlesque) somewhat seriously received by its Olympic audience. The fairy tale of "Iolanthe" having had its run, "and a good run too," was last night at the Savoy Theatre replaced by another Gilbertian version of the Poet Laureate's poem, bearing the title of "Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant," and described as a "respectful operatic perversion;" a denomination which boasts the charm of novelty, and leaves a good deal of its meaning open to the imagination.
Speaking generally, except that its lyrics are new, the "Princess Ida" is virtually the Olympic "Princess" which first saw the light in 1870, as the plot in both cases pretty closely follows that of the present. In this prologue King Hildebrand, Prince Hilarion, and the Prince's friends, Cyril and Florian, are awaiting the arrival of the betrothed of Hilarion, the Princess Ida, her father, and three brothers. The Princess is, however, conspicuous by her absence at the place of rendezvous, having shut herself up in Castle Adamant, where women's rights prevail, inasmuch as the only males within its walls are letter mails – a, joke of Mr. Gilbert's, by the way, that sounds better than it reads. To punish the behaviour of the lady, the regal papa and his sons are cast into prison, whilst the other trio of males intimate their intent of penetrating into Castle Adamant.
Act I. shows us the garden of the castle, a perfectly idyllic and charming landscape, in which figures a most picturesque river, crossed by a rustic bridge. Here the pupils are being instructed that nature's sole mistake is man, and that to introduce even chess-men is a heinous crime, since they are ofttimes mated. In disguise of "sweet girl graduates," the Princes obtain admission to their paradise. Ida's life is saved from drowning by Hilarion, but none the less she refuses to pardon the intrusion into her sanctuary.
In Act II Hildebrand arrives and demands the liberation of the captives and the marriage of Ida with Hilarion. The Princess's pupils are afraid to fight, and the question is settled by a combat between the pair of male trios, the brothers of Ida being vanquished, and Ida is united to Hilarion.
This is the merest outline of a series of almost fairy-like stage pictures, the most perfect grouping seen in plays of this kind, and graceful spectacular detail carried to the point of perfection. The second act, perhaps, carried off the palm, the scene on the inrush of the soldiery, and the cowering of the frightened maidens, being extremely beautiful.
The scoring eclipses anything Sir Arthur Sullivan has done before. The lyrics are set to music which, in many cases, will be as popular as the "Pinafore" songs, and the orchestration in the recitatives and concerted numbers showed a finer and a purer taste than is usually found associated with comic operas.
Encores were numerous, but for the first part of the piece, the audience sat with critical calm, as if weighing in their own minds the several signs of a new departure of the Gilbertian and Sullivan work which the "Princess Ida" shows.
The new production is capitally cast, but Mr. Grossmith has only a poor part as King Gama, and does not appear at all in the second act, the longest one in the piece. Miss Braham makes a delightful Princess Ida, Gama's daughter; and Mr. Durward Lely as Cyril, Mr. Bracy as Hilarion, Mr. Rutland Barrington as King Hildebrand, and the rest of the artistes, fully deserved the compliments paid them at the close of each act. Miss Brandram, Miss Kate Chard, Miss Jessie Bond and Miss Sybil Grey all have parts which fit them like a glove.
There was considerable applause during the piece, and at its conclusion Messrs. Gilbert, Sullivan, and D'Oyly Carte were called for. With judicious excision, especially in the last act, "The Princess Ida" will be a worthy successor of the pieces which preceded it. "The Princess Ida," of course, appeals more to culture than to the populace, and many of its quips and cranks are more subtle than broadly merry. This feature of the Gilbertian wit, however, is too well known to need comment. The house was crowded.
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