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"D" ('Princess Ida' No. 1) Company in Sheffield.

The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Tuesday, April 1, 1884; pg. 6; Issue 9196.

"PRINCESS IDA" AT THE THEATRE ROYAL.

A large house welcomed D'Oyly Carte's company last night at the Theatre Royal, when Gilbert and Sullivan's new opera, "Princess Ida," was given for the first time in Sheffield. It reminds one somewhat of "Patience," and the love-sick maidens; but has, nevertheless, so much novelty in plot, dialogue, and musical composition, that one not only laughs at its absurdities, its sarcasms, conceits, and plain language, but admires it as a clever production.

Frederic, in the "Pirates of Penzance," is a phenomenon, for although really 21 years of age, he is "still a little boy of five." The hero of the new opera, Hilarion, the son of King Hildebrand, is even a more extraordinary character, inasmuch as he is betrothed to Princess Ida at the extremely early age of two, the young lady being only one. By and bye, presumably when the little maiden has grown up, her father, the comical and crusty King Gama, is expected to bring her to Hildebrand's palace to keep the vows she has plighted, and Hilarion's father, a true warrior, robustly represented by Mr. Fred Billington, gets into a fume in the first scene because Princess Ida does not seem likely to appear. Hilarion, too — a character admirably taken by Mr. Courtice Pounds — is rather fidgety lest his promised bride should disappoint him, but, notwithstanding his perturbation, his tenor voice is revealed to great advantage in the comically pathetic ballad. "Ida was a twelvemonth old, twenty years ago."

Scarcely has he described his youthful recollection of his blushing bride, "all bib and tucker, frill and furbelow," than three steel-clad soldiers (brave as Dumas' "Three Musketeers") stride upon the stage, wield somewhat clumsily their mighty swords, and sing, very much after the fashion of the policeman's chorus in "The Pirates of Penzance," a laughable song, in which they candidly admit that they are not intelligent, but that they are ready to do great things for King Gama. And now this sovereign comes, misshapen, old, wrinkled, grey bearded. Mr. David Fisher, Jun., who will be remembered here in the role of Major-General Stanley, takes the part inimitably, and he appropriately introduces himself in the patter song, already familiar to lovers of comic opera — a song so funny we are tempted to give a verse:–

I'm sure I'm no ascetic; I'm as pleasant as can be;
You'll always find me ready with a crushing repartee;
I've an irritating chuckle, I've a celebrated sneer,
I've an entertaining snigger, I've a fascinating leer.
To everybody's prejudice I know a thing or two;
I can tell a woman's age in half a minute — and I do.
But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can,
Yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man!
  And I can't think why!

The singular way in which he endeavours to make himself pleasant, his vinegary looks, and snarling emphasis, even while he is wondering why people think him disagreeable, cause the greatest amusement, and he readily got an encore. The way he snubs Hildebrand is rich indeed, and to the courtiers round about he is very tantalising, telling them that Ida and the girls she rules in the woman's university at Castle Adamant have hearts that are dead to men, and that

He who desires to gain their favour must
Be qualified to strike their teeming brains,
And not their hearts. They're safety matches,
And they light only on the knowledge box.

As the story develops there are several very pretty duets and choruses, and the trio, "For a month to dwell in a dungeon cell," was well rendered by the three steel-clad warriors, who, along with King Gama, are carried off to prison because they have not brought the beautiful Ida (gracefully personated by Miss Esme Lee) to her lover.

Whilst their courage is cooling in the dungeon, the house, in the second act, gets a glimpse of the gardens round Castle Adamant — a charming picture of river, and rock, and stronghold perched on a distant ridge. In the foreground, the girl graduates, seated at the feet of Psyche, and attired in æsthetic costumes, join tunefully in chorus to that classical lady's singing, and then Lady Blanche, cleverly personated by Miss Edwards — the stalwart Lady Jane of a previous opera — informs several of the girls that the Princess has decided to punish them — one for bringing in a set of chess men, and another for sketching a perambulator, a double perambulator, shameless girl, an offence that immensely tickles the audience. Now Princess Ida, in a white robe, reaches the gardens, and her clear soprano voice sounds tunefully as she sings to Minerva, hoping for inspiration that she may fervidly address the girl students. Then she speaks to the graduates, impressively and eloquently, telling them, in a long oration, how much inferior is man to the fair sex, remarking —

Why tyrant man himself admits
Its waste of time to argue with a woman!

Perhaps the most ridiculous song in the whole opera is the one which follows, wherein Lady Blanche, with rich voice and solemn mien, discourses on the "Mighty Must and the Inevitable Shall." Its effect proved irresistible, and there was a hearty encore.

The quietude of the ladies' Paradise is disturbed at length by Hilarion and his two friends, Cyril and Florian, who climb over a wall into the grounds, make fun of the famous women's college, and sing an attractive chorus — two tenors and a baritone — indicating what sort of phenomena they hope to see "at this universitee." The scene is very grotesque, nor is its grotesqueness lessened by the entrance of the princess, who, never dreaming that the youths are other than they pretend to be, asks them if they will undertake never to marry any man. The complications arising at the castle are most ludicrous, but it is evident that all the ladies — with the exception of the fair princess — have not such a hatred of the men after all. Melissa, one of the most fascinating of the graduates, is indeed sweetly curious about them, and finally pleads for their lives when the angry princess discovers what is their true character. Ida is so shocked at the man-monsters that in running away she falls into the river, but is rescued by Hilarion, and eventually, after some fighting, peace is restored between the sexes, and even the princess is content that they should glide through life together in sweet society.

The performance, in consequence of the numerous encores, was unusually long, but its interest was sustained to the end. Miss M. Louis, in her part as Lady Psyche, gave the song "The Lady and the Ape" very sweetly, and not the least charm about her vocalisation is that she uttersevery word distinctly without effeort. Thoroughly she deserved the encore so cordially given. The duet. "Now wouldn't you like to rule the roast," rendered by Miss B. Young as Melissa and Miss Edwards as Lady Blanche, was most effective, and the by-play of the former, and the Amazonian dignity of the latter, were sources of great merriment. Mr. Charles Rowan, who is very well known in Sheffield, made a very capable Cyril, and his song "Kiss me, kiss me," when inebriated at the luncheon in the gardens, was admirably given. Mr. Federici as Florian also took his part well. Indeed the company is a very talented one, and their efforts, together with the sparkling music and pretty scenery, are certain to attract crowded houses during the next fortnight.

The Era (London, England), Saturday, April 5, 1884; Issue 2376.

PROVINCIAL THEATRICALS

SHEFFIELD

THEATRE ROYAL. — Lessee, Mr. E. Romaine Callender. — A very cordial reception is being given this week to Mr. R. D'Oyly Carte's Princess Ida company. Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's latest work has not hitherto been presented to the Sheffield public, and the interest felt in it may be imagined when we state that the lessee announces that for several nights this week every seat in the better part of the house is already booked.

The cast includes several ladies and gentlemen who have established themselves as favourites by their appearance in The Pirates and others of this series of operas such as Mr. David Fisher, jun., Mr. Federici, Miss Fanny Edwards, who is here regarded as unsurpassed in the part of Lady Jane; and last, but not least, Miss Esme Lee, whose Mabel is remembered with nothing less than enthusiasm. Mr. Charles Rowan, Mr. Fred Billington, Mr. Courtice Pounds, the Misses Young, and others, complete a well-selected and able company, and Princess Ida could not possibly have made its début in Sheffield in better hands.


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