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THEATRE ROYAL — "PRINCESS IDA."
The criticism certain to be passed by casual listeners upon any new comic opera by the now inseparable collaborateurs, Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan, is that the work is inferior in interest to its predecessors. Mr. Gilbert, we hear, is becoming less humorous every day, and as for Sir Arthur Sullivan — well, he has fallen so low as to be compelled to repeat himself. This criticism was passed upon "Pinafore," which was declared to be inferior in every respect to "Trial by Jury," to say nothing of "The Sorcerer;" then "Patience" was pronounced ephemeral — it was only slightly in advance of an ordinary burlesque; "Iolanthe," people were startled to hear when this charmingly fanciful piece was first produced, could not possibly remain on the stage for many nights, consequently no one need have been surprised to hear "Princess Ida" referred to in some directions as the evidence of mental and musical decay on the part of the author and of the composer.
But it somehow happens, people may have noticed, that, however degenerate the art of the collaborateurs may have become, each successive production of theirs becomes more popular than its forerunner. The fact is that the fascination of one of these works is not exercised immediately upon an audience; the quaint humour of the libretto is not to be appreciated in a moment, and the subtle charm of the music does not strike one instantly. "It is a great pity the old love is not so fresh as the new," a cynical person remarks in a recent fiction, and these words seem to us exactly to express the amount of reason that is contained in the casual criticisms passed upon the first appearances of a new opera by Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. It is quite true that when "Pinafore," "The Pirates," "Patience," and "Iolanthe" have been seen a score of times, the humour and music of "Princess Ida" seem slightly wanting in freshness. All the same, we venture to prophesy for this work not merely a longer immediate run than "Patience," but also a longer existence as a work of art. The piece seems to us to reach a far higher level of art, whether it is regarded from a literary or a musical standpoint, than any of the series that succeeded "Pinafore." The story is infinitely more graceful in its design — as all readers of Tennyson's "Medley" will allow — than even the "airy, fairy," "Iolanthe;" and the music is distinctly of a higher type than is to be found in "Patience," though, perhaps, scarcely so melodious. These qualities are doubtless not perceptible to such persons as have only obtained a single hearing of the piece; but we are certainly under the impression that even a solitary representation should be sufficient to make the humour of the libretto apparent.
Mr. Gilbert has not found it necessary to alter in any way the story told in the "Medley" written in the most musical verse and introducing some of the most perfect lyrics composed in English since the days of Herrick, by the Poet Laureate more than thirty years ago. The same delicate charm of style — the half serious, half playful satire is reproduced most faithfully, and the characters are very nearly the same as those drawn by Tennyson, with a clearness of definition he has never equalled in any of this other poems. The liberties taken by Mr. Gilbert with the story are quite legitimate. They increase its charm, without diminishing from its delicacy of humour or from the effect of its playful satire. For dramatic purposes it is, of course, necessary that the King Gama should be a somewhat broader type than Tennyson drew, and also that the three giant brothers of the Princess should express themselves — when treated by Mr. Gilbert — with modern cynicism on the subject of wearing armour —"A man is but an ass, Who fights in a cuirass," Arac sings — but, with these exceptions, Mr. Gilbert has not found it necessary to depart in any way from the general story of "The Princess." More than once, too, it may be remarked, that some lines from the Laureate's "Medley" are introduced with excellent effect. Altogether, a more conscientious piece of work than the libretto could not be imagined. It need not really be termed a "perversion" — it is simply a dramatised version of the most tasteful, poetical, burlesque that has ever been written in the English language.
In "Princess Ida" Mr. Gilbert scarcely gives way to his quaint moods so frequently as he does in "Patience," or, indeed, in any of the others of the series. Now and again, however, he succeeds in introducing into his lyrics some of those marvellous incongruities in which the "Bab Ballads" as well as his prose stories abound. Nothing could be more Gilbertian than the song of the warrior brothers —
The patter song of King Gama is one of the best of this class ever written by Mr. Gilbert. The vein of satire running through the discourses of Lady Psyche and Lady Blanche is extremely fine.
the "sweet girl graduates" sing, and this same vein of humour recurs more than once with excellent effect. There is, indeed, no possibility of mistaking the authorship of the lyrics; Mr. Gilbert only could write these clever verses, so full of point and quaint satire. It is a pity, however, that an author who is usually as careful as poor Calverley should have lapsed into some Cockney double rhymes. These trifling shotcomings are, however, far more than compensated for by such choice lyrics as Hilarion's song at the close of the second act —"Whom thou hast chained must wear his chain." There is a seventeenth century ring about his song, as there is also about the "Careless, careless tavern catch Of Moll and Meg and strange experiences," which Mr. Gilbert puts into the mouth of Cyril.
It is unnecessary to say that the stage arrangement is admirable, only some attempt should be made to realise the situation of the Princess when she is supposed to be rescued from the river. When Mr. Irving was washed up by the waves in "Vauderdecken" his appearance suggested immersion, but last evening the Princess Ida arose from the water without a point of her face being ruffled.
The setting of the lyrics by Sir Arthur Sullivan seems to us quite equal to anything this accomplished musician has ever composed; many of the choruses are full of picturesque beauty; and much of the concerted music is not merely graceful but striking as well. The quintette in the second act, however, more than suggests — especially in the orchestration — the lovely trio in the third [sic] act of "Patience." The rataplan song in the first act is extremely bold, and there is masculine vigour in all the airs assigned to the King Hildebrand. Nothing could exceed the charm of the setting of the two seventeenth century lyrics already referred to; the beauty of the opening song of the Princess is also striking. The orchestration, without rising to any point of brilliancy, is invariably effective and pleasing.
We have rarely been privileged to witness a more complete performance of a comic opera than was afforded by Mr. D'Oyly Carte's company at the theatre last evening. The choruses were steady, and the performers gave evidence of study and training. Miss Esme Lee, as the Princess, proved her possession of a singularly rich and true soprano organ, which she never overstrained. This young artiste sang throughout in a highly cultured way, and acted tastefully. Miss Minna Louis also sang agreeably as Lady Psyche, and Miss Beatrix Young, with the utmost sweetness, as Melissa. The representative of Lady Blanche sang correctly, and acted with discretion; while the three girl graduates — Miss Carstairs, Miss Christine Wilson, and Miss Louise Henry [sic] — were tasteful in every respect.
Mr. Fred BIllington mande a robust Hildebrand, his powerful basso suiting the part admirably. Mr. Courtice Pounds displayed his very sweet tenor in the music assigned to Hilarion; while Mr. C. Fisher [sic] as Cyril, and Mr. F. Federici as Florian, made adequate representatives of these characters. Mr. David Fisher's acting of the part of Gama was extremely amusing, and his singing of the patter songs was one of the features of the performance.
It is unnecessary to say that the scenery and dresses were of the most sumptuous character. A prosperous week may be anticipated for the work, which is efficiently conducted by Mr. P.W. Halton.
The Era (London, England), Saturday, May 17, 1884; Issue 2382.
THEATRE ROYAL. — Proprietor and Manager, Mr. J.F. Warden; Acting Manager, Mr. Brickwell. — This week the patrons of our local theatre have been favoured with a visit from D'Oyly Carte's company with Princess Ida, which has been drawing large business since the opening night
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