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Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Tuesday, February 12, 1884; Issue 4603

A ("Princess Ida" No. 2) Company

In his latest libretto Mr. W.S. Gilbert has opened up fresh paths. Deserting his old happy hunting-ground of topsy-turveydom, he has chosen the wider field offered by life and love as it is, and as a consequence there is a distinct gain both in strength and interest. "Princess Ida" scarcely follows in the footsteps of "Pinafore," "Patience," and "Iolanthe." It is a new departure into the realm of fanciful extravaganza, from which, no doubt, the dramatist will draw for inspiration in the future rather than from that curious world of his own creating which has done him such excellent service in the past.

One does not find in "Princess Ida" any of the preposterous situations and wild improbabilities that have delighted Mr. Gilbert hitherto. There is nothing like the scene in the "Pirates of Penzance" where Frederic, with deadly pistols pointed at his head, magnanimously pardons Ruth and the Pirate King; nor like the absurd self-sacrifice of the two peers in the second act of "Iolanthe." The humour is less forced, though the satire is no less keen, nor the wit less pungent, and the author's felicity in ingenious rhyme and telling couplet has, perhaps, never been seen to more conspicuous advantage. But it would seem as if the adapter had wished to handle his theme tenderly, and not all the delicacy and fragrance of the original poem have been eliminated from this "respectful operatic per-version." The result is a delightful work of a distinctly higher calibre than its predecessors.

It may sound paradoxical to speak of "Princess Ida's" predecessors, inasmuch as it is in the main the same piece as regards construction, situation, arrangement, and dialogue as was produced so long ago as 1870 at the Olympic Theatre, London, some time, of course, before the first appearance at the Opera Comique of the series of operettas which were destined to make both author and composer world famous. There is, however, this marked difference between the earlier and the later works. In the former music formed an unimportant part; in the latter it is in providing lyrics for his collaborateur that Mr. Gilbert is seen at his happiest and best; while Sir Arthur Sullivan's charming and imaginative score is a vast improvement on the somewhat commonplace excerpts from French comic opera which had to do duty in the elder version, or per-version, as it is, not without reason, styled by the author.

We have then to consider what is substantially a new work, and, for the benefit of those who have not had the advantage of reading Mr. Gilbert's "book," it may be well to see how the laureate's allegory fares at his hands. The composer is content to husband his resources at the outset, and, reserving an exhibition of his powers of orchestration for a later period, dispenses with the orthodox overture. After a short prelude the curtain rises upon the prologue, the action taking place in a pavilion attached to the palace of King Hildebrand, whose son, Hilarion, has been betrothed in infancy to Princess Ida, daughter of King Gama. The opening chorus and subsequent dialogue between Hildebrand and his courtiers apprise us that Gama is expected that very day to bring the Princess as the promised bride of Hilarion, and dire are the threats breathed against him should that promise not be fulfilled. Presently Gama's three sons, Arac, Guron, and Scynthius, appear without their sister, and their trio, "We are warriors three," strikes the key-note of fun, maintained by Gama's entrance song. This is so good as to bear quotation:–

Each little fault of temper and each social defect
In my erring fellow-creatures, I endeavour to correct.
To all their little weaknesses I open people’s eyes;
And little plans to snub the self-sufficient I devise;
I love my fellow creatures – I do all the good I can –
Yet everybody says I’m such a disagreeable man!
  And I can’t think why!

After some angry badinage between the two monarchs, Gama explains that his daughter has shut herself up in Castle Adamant, where she has formed a university, "with full a hundred girls," all of whom have forsworn man. There "no male may enter except letter mails;" "she'll scarcely suffer Dr. Watts' hymns, and all the animals she owns are hers," while even the cock crow at morn is "done by an accomplished hen." Hilarion and his friends Cyril and Florien determine to storm the castle, notifying their intention in a charming trio, "Expressive glances," and the prologue ends with Gama, Arac, Guron, and Scynthius being marched off to prison as hostages.

Act 1 introduces us to the gardens of Castle Adamant, and here "fair girl graduates with golden hair" are seated at the feet of Lady Psyche, Professor of Humanities. They sing in chorus, when enters Lady Blanche, Professor of Abstract Science, who has the congenial task of reading out the list of punishments. Sacharissa is expelled for daring to introduce a set of chessmen, and Chloe has to lose three terms for making a sketch of a double perambulator! The Princess then delivers her inaugural address, explaining why she has shut herself up from the world, and after the maidens have gone out Hilarion, Cyril and Florien are seen climbing over the wall of the castle to the accompaniment of a most daintily written trio, "Gently, gently." They disguise themselves in collegiate robes conveniently at hand; but are almost immediately discovered by the Lady Psyche, who turns out to be Florian's sister. She sings them a song, "The Ape and the Lady," strangely reminiscent of the "magnet and the churn" in "Patience," showing that "Man, however well behaved, at best is only a monkey shaved." She, nevertheless, promises to befriend them; but their plans seem destined to fail through the inopportune arrival of Melissa, Lady Blanche's daughter. She is, however, a complete ingenue, and, speedily becoming captivated with Florien, a joyous quintette and dance follow. Lady Blanche has in the meantime also identified the three strangers, but, being ambitious, is won over by Melissa, who points out that, with the Princess married and out of the way, she (Lady Blanche) will be ruler of the University. Luncheon then makes its appearance; and here the "murder will out," for Cyril gets tipsy, and the sex of the intruders is betrayed. The Princess is horrified at the discovery, and, while denouncing her betrayers, loses her balance and falls into the stream running at the back of the stage, whence she is promptly rescued by Hilarion. Notwithstanding that he has saved her life, and in spite of the intercession of her attendant maidens, the Princess orders the immediate arrest of the three youths by the "Daughters of the Plough." At this crisis Melissa announces the arrival of Hildebrand at the castle gates, which are immediately battered in by his soldiers, and a well-wrought finale brings Act 1 to a conclusion.

Little remains to be done in Act 2, the scene of which is laid in the courtyard of Castle Adamant. Here the ladies are all assembled armed to resist the invader, with the Princess at their head, but when it comes to the critical point she finds herself deserted by all her comrades. Her surgeon is horror-struck at the idea of "cutting off real live legs and arms;" her fusiliers have left their guns in the armoury "for fear that in the heat and turmoil of the fight they might go off;" and she is told "the band do not feel well, and can't come out to-day." In this emergency Gama and her three brothers arrive, and a fight is arranged between them and the three sacrilegious youths. The latter are victorious, and the Princess, submitting to inevitable destiny, yields herself up to Hilarion, the opera appropriately closing with a brief extract from Tennyson's own poem.

We have said enough to show that ample opportunity is afforded the composer for the display of his genius, and we think that "Princess Ida" must certainly rank as one of his best efforts. Sir Arthur Sullivan has worthily seconded Mr. Gilbert; the true spirit of the parody is caught, and an overflowing vein of melody runs through the score, quaint, humorous, and delicate by turns.

The mis-en-scene is simply gorgeous, dresses, armour, and grouping of colours being something to marvel at even in this age of luxury and taste, and we need only mention the names of Messrs. Emden and Hawes Craven as the scenic artists to show that the background of the stage pictures is in keeping with the splendid character of the rest of the spectacle.

Miss Florence Dysart plays the title rôle.  This lady has made great strides in her profession since she last visited Cardiff, and her acting is marked by much grace and dignity, while her singing has lost nothing of its sweetness and taste. She was the very embodiment of the author's creation, and we are sure Mr. D'Oyly Carte, who had made the journey from London to witness this first performance, must have been very well satisfied with this acquisition to his company. The characters of Lady Blanche, Lady Psyche, and Melissa were in safe hands, and, while nearly all the important numbers of the opera were encored, we may mention that Miss Wynter gained a special tribute for her singing of "The Ape and the Lady," and Miss Doree and Miss Forster for their duet, "Sing hey a Proper Pride."

Mr. Chas. Goold and Mr. David James, jun., appear as the two Kings, and the latter gentleman, whom we are glad to welcome for his father's sake, makes Gama a highly humorous personage, giving his songs with great zest, and never missing a point. Messrs. Cecil Burt, Frank Boyle, and Seton, are entrusted with the parts of the three adventurous youths, and add to an ensemble of unusual excellence, Mr. Boyle deserving a special word of praise for the skill he displays in moderating the somewhat risky tipsy scene. The stolid humours of Arac, Guron, and Scynthius are well brought out by Messrs. E. Thompson, Mouncey, and Winterbottom; and, with a powerful chorus and efficient band, all went as merry as a marriage bell, a large and enthusiastic audience giving the entire production the unmistakeable stamp of approval.

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