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

Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Tuesday, May 20, 1884; Issue 11343.


Given a clever story, a "dramatic perversion", if an original one does not present itself; let the same contain among its dramatis personæ  a congregation of pretty women and a sprinkling or more of the genus "military man," and Mr. Gilbert cannot fail to convert the whole in an ensemble at once pleasing to the eye and, so far as the libretto can go, tickling to the ear. Add that the situations of this story are told in Gilbertian measures, and Sir Arthur Sullivan has at once found for him a peg whereon he cannot help but hang music of that order with which his name has been indissolubly united for the last ten or fifteen years past. Having said this much, it will be at once understood that something akin to a summary of the merits of "Princess Ida" has been chronicled.

Throughout the meshes of Tennyson's "Princess" there runs, as it were, a silken strand of comedy of the most refined order, and in the perversion under notice this has been of necessity broadened, its texture being also of necessity rendered less fine, while the main incidents of the original poem remain untouched. The characters which most resemble their prototypes are King Hildebrand and his son Hilarion, and the two friends of the latter, Cyril and Florian on the one part and the Princess herself on the other. To the character of King Gama Mr. Gilbert has imparted an air of acerbity not to be found in the original, and to the "Sweet Girl Graduates" he has ascribed situations not at all in keeping with the traditions of Castle Adamant. Mr. Gilbert, however, found out some time ago that the famous and probably the happiest poem of the latest accession to the ranks of the hereditary peerage provided good material for stage adaptation, and having done this he has, according to his wont, made freest use of his resources and dressed the chaste hexameters of Lord Tennyson in a fashion peculiarly and happily his own. The book of "Princess Ida" is probably the cleverest thing of its kind which has appeared, and those who would censure the dramatist for playing the vandal with the poet must at least find many palliating circumstances when they read the inherent and often glittering vein of wit which runs through Gilbert's treatment of the story.

Of the music, it is not so easy to speak in terms of unmeasured praise. Much of it — or at least something very like it — has been heard before. In regard to this, however, it should be remembered that few prolific writers, from Handel to Donizetti — and what more antipodal composers could be named|? — have not repeatedly repeated themselves. Why, then, should not Sullivan be accorded the privilege of following in their steps? And if the composer of "Princess Ida" is to be accused of plagiarism, it must be admitted that he has only plagiarised from his own earlier operas, with which, as his one work succeeds another, it often proves that we are agreeably familiar.

Of the opera in question, the second act is the best, the first and last being somewhat cramped in form, the closing finale being particularly weak, and leading up to something almost akin to an anti-climax. That to the second act, however, is equal to anything Sir Arthur has yet given us, being broad in construction, clever in detail, and dramatic in scope and effect. There are to be found in the course of the opera a patter song "If you give me your attention," allotted to King Gama, and something of a similar order in the trio for his three sons. A revival of the old English "song with a burden" occurs in the second act, the rhythm being that of a minuet, and, as a matter of course, we are treated to a bit of almost unadulterated Handel, bassocontinuo and all complete. As isolated groups, those of Hilarion, "Ida was a twelvemonth old" and "Whom thou hast chained," and that of the Princess, "At this thy call," remind one of the earliest and most delightful melodies of him who, with the honours of the first Mendelssohn Scholarship fresh upon him, inaugurated a new form of English song in "Once Again" and kindred airs. Lady Blanche, the ponderous propounder of preposterous problems, is allotted appropriate couplets, as is also Psyche, her co-professor at the female university. Melissa's music, too, stands pleasantly forward; and the kissing song of Cyril, which takes the place of that of "Moll and Meg," alluded to in the Tennysonian poem, is also clever in its way. There is a charming quartet for soprano, tenors, and bass, "The World is but a Broken Joy;" [sic] and the ensembles, particularly in the second act, are bright and sparkling.

The orchestration, except here and there, is not of that ingenious type to be found in the "Sorcerer," for instance; but in this department of the opera, and elsewhere too for that matter, there comes to the surface evidence that Sullivan's hand has not forgotten its contrapuntal cunning. Altogether, if "Princess ida" does not flash upon the hearer as a sort of musical meteor, this must be attributed to the fact that we have been educated to a certain standard by a composer of such prolific tendencies as render it unreasonable to expect that he should always succeed in excelling himself.

To the opera itself the company provided for the provinces by Mr. D'Oyly Carte did ample justice. The cast is a heavy one, and its every character was creditably filled. Miss Esme Lee, the Princess, has a bright and tuneful soprano voice, which she uses well; Miss Beatrix Young, Melissa, is a pleasant mezzo; and Miss Fanny Edwards, Lady Blanche, as acceptable as ever as a serious contralto. Mr. Courtice Pounds is far above the average of comic opera tenors, and with his colleagues, Mr. Charles Rowan and Mr. F. Federici, Cyril and Florian, made an excellent trio. So also did Messrs. Prescott, Hendon and Roche, as the sons of King Gama, the latter personage being cleverly portrayed by Mr. David Fisher, jun. King Hildebrand found a dignified representative in Mr. Fred Billington, and the other characters were all in competent hands.

The chorus was excellent and the band effective, and the whole opera excellently dressed and mounted. Mr. Halton conducted judiciously, and contributed an important part to the success of the performance.

The Era (London, England), Saturday, May 24, 1884; Issue 2383.

PRINCE OF WALES THEATRE. — Proprietor, Mr. Alexander Henderson; Lessee and Manager, Mr. F. Emery; Acting Manager, Mr. Walter Hatton. — an expectant, most enthusiastic, and greatly delighted audience gave the heartiest of Liverpool welcomes here to the first performance in the city of Princess Ida. The work received full justice in interpretation at the hands of the company selected by Mr. D'Oyly Carte for its provincial production. Miss Fanny Edwards deserves special praise for her really artistic representation of Lady Blanche; Miss Esme Lee, possessed of a bright and telling soprano voice, made a thoroughly effective representative of the Princess Ida; and Miss Beatrix Young played and sang most charmingly as Melissa. Mr. David Fisher, jun., as King Gama, acted with much humour, and secured a hearty encore by his rendering of the popular patter song "If you give me your attention;" Mr. C. Pounds, whose voice is of the true tenor timbre,  merited the large amount of success he secured in connection with his interpretation of the character of Hilarion; and Mr. Charles Rowan (Cyril) and Mr. F. Ferderici (Florian) were both excellent exponents of their parts. Mr. F. Billington (King Hildebrand), and Messrs. Prescott, Hendon, and Roche (King Gama's sons) were also capable representatives of the characters allotted to them. The musical forces were led with a general's skill by Mr. Halton.

The Era (London, England), Saturday, May 31, 1884; Issue 2384.

PRINCE OF WALES THEATRE. — Proprietor, Mr. A. Henderson; Lessee and Manager, Mr. F. Emery; Acting Manager, Mr. Walter Hatton. — The Princess Ida has been continued here since Monday with immense success.

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