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

The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), Tuesday, June 10, 1884; Issue 11255.


Last night, a company specially formed by Mr. D'Oyly Carte for the presentation of the piece in the provinces, and rehearsed under the direction of the authors, commenced a brief engagement with Mr. W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan's latest operatic success, "The Princess Ida." When the opera was brought out at the Savoy Theatre we devoted a column to a description of it. So ample a notice will not, therefore, be now required. Some account of a work entirely new to Bristol playgoers may, however, be probably looked for, and, at the risk of repeating ourselves, we append one.

The "Princess Ida" is described in the announce bills as "A respectful operatic perversion of Tennyson's 'Princess,'" and it is in point of fact based upon and follows with considerable closeness the lines of a piece which Mr. Gilbert produced some twelve or fifteen years ago at the Olympic Theatre, and which he described at that time as "a respectful perversion of Tennyson's poem." The design with which the play of that day was written was to elevate the character of burlesque comedy by applying it to higher subjects and treating it with greater refinement. Those who have watched the successive productions of the gifted playwright's muse will agree that the course which he aimed at shaping out for others he has well followed himself, for however whimsical his treatment of his subjects, however pungent the humour or caustic the satire he infuses into them, there is always a noticeable absence of coarseness and vulgarity.

The operatic work presented last night is in two acts and a prologue. The prologue introduces us to the pavilion of King Hildebrand's palace, where, from a singing chorus, we learn that Hildebrand's son, Hilarion, is awaiting the arrival of Princess Ida, his destined bride, to whom he has been betrothed almost from her birth. Ida is the daughter of the deformed and crabbed King Gama, a monarch who, on his arrival, describes his unlovable traits in a characteristic ditty. He pries, we gather from it, into everybody's business; but, although he tries, he asserts, to make himself "as pleasant as he can," he grumbles so incessantly that everybody says he's "such a disagreeable man." King Gama does not bring his daughter with him. The Princess, it appears, has a contempt for the thing called man, and holding very pronounced opinions touching feminine superiority, she has secluded herself in Castle Adamant as the head of "A Woman's University." This fact is made known to Hilarion, but he declines to accept it seriously, and in a trio, rich in melody, and in every respect worthy of Sullivan, he and his friends Cyril and Florian avow their intended storming of Castle Adamant by "Expressive Glances," and confidently assert their ability to justify their intrusion within the Princess Ida's exclusively feminine domains. With their departure on their bold mission, whilst Gama and his gallant sons are ignominiously marched off to their dungeon, the prologue ends.

The first act of the opera proper sees the carrying out of the resolution of the young Prince and his companions. A very beautiful stage picture is disclosed when the curtain draws up, and reveals the bevy of girl graduates grouped in the garden of Castle Adamant at the feet of Lady Psyche. After the maidens, with Psyche at their head, have carolled forth their opinion that "Man is Nature's sole mistake," the Lady Blanche reads out the list of punishments, whereby Sacharissa is expelled for her introduction of men in the shape of a set of chessmen, end Chloe loses three terms for sketching a double perambulator. The arrival of the Princess at once causes her scholars to break out with a chorus hailing her as "Mighty Maiden with a Mission," to which she responds with an aria invoking with most earnest eloquence the goddess Minerva. The Lady Blanche, who is troubled with metaphysical difficulty about the "Is" and "Might be" and "Inevitable Must" has a song, "Come, Mighty Must." Hilarion and his two companions assume academic disguise, but it happens that Psyche, the professor of humanities at the Castle, is Florian's sister, and she recognises them. Their secret, however, is kept. Subsequently the Princess Ida recognizes Hilarion and tries to escape him, but in her flight falls into a river. Hilarion rescues her, but although he has been the saviour of her life she is still obdurate, and he and his companions are placed under arrest.

King Hildebrand resolved upon rescuing his son, determines to attack the Castle, and in the concluding act, the scene of which is laid in the courtyard of the Castle, he and his warriors commence the assault. The Princess Ida and her companions form themselves for resistance, and she vainly attempts to inspire her followers with the resolution which she herself feels. The act is effective, disclosing as it does the girl professors and graduates to their armour, and introducing likewise a fierce, although somewhat grotesque, combat between Hilarion, Florian, Cyril, and the three sons of Gama. The last named combatants being worsted it is resolved that common humanity and womanly compassion require that assistance should be given to them, and eventually, not to further prolong the story, Hilarion becomes united to the object of all his trouble, his two companions finding partners in the ladies Psyche and Melissa.

The story we have described has been wedded by Sir Arthur Sullivan to music which is calculated, we think, not merely to uphold but to enhance his reputation as an illustrator of Mr. Gilbert's fanciful conceits. Now and then the ear encounters a phrase which it fancies it has heard before, but probably there is no art to which the axiom "nothing new under the sun" applies so commonly as to that of music. Sir Arthur's setting, however, combines with a rich flow of pleasing simple melody numbers which boast a claim to a higher standard. The orchestration, too, is marked by the qualities which have earned for him a distinctive renown. The symphony which does duty for an overture and precedes the prologue is a masterly example of orchestral writing — light and spirited at points, and at others displaying no little solidity and even grandeur. Some of the accompaniments, too, are very elaborate, A sprightly, crisp, and telling composition is the chorus in the prologue, "If he comes here we'll give him a cheer;" very quaint and replete with character is King Gama's first song, "If you give me your attention;" the duet and chorus "Perhaps if you address the lady" is an effective composition, and so is the waltz-like trio which follows it, "Expressive Glances," and the spirited trio and ensemble which form the finale of the prologue.

The opening chorus of the piece proper, "Towards the empyrean heights," is both tuneful and effective, whilst the chorus "Mighty Maiden," if heard in serious opera would be accredited as possessing solemnity, and, perhaps, grandeur. Very far removed from the commonplace is the aria, sung with so much refinement and effect by Miss Edwards, "Come, mighty must, inevitable shall." The quartette, " The world is but a broken toy," also deserves a special mention, as also do the amusing trio, "I am a maiden cold and stately;" Lady Psyche's light and sprightly song, "A lady fair of lineage high;" the quintette, "The woman of the wisest wit;" the aria and chorus, "Would you know the kind of maid;" the chorus, "Oh! joy, our chief is saved," and others of the numbers, which we must not stay to mention.

That the opera was admirably rendered, and that it most thoroughly gratified the large audience, may be inferred by the fact that the encores were so numerous as to well nigh double the performance. Miss Esme Lee makes a charming Princess Ida, Miss Fanny Edwards could not be surpassed as Lady Blanche whilst Miss Minna Louis and Miss Beatrix Young are admirable representatives of the parts of Lady Psyche and Melissa.

Mr. Fred Billington's rich, full voice, and impressive style tell to advantage as King Hildebrand. Mr. Courtice Pounds not only sings, but acts well as the young prince Hilarion, and Mr. Charles Rowen and Mr. F. Federici are excellent as his two courtier friends, Cyril and Florian; and Mr. C. Prescott, Mr. Arthur Hendon, and Mr. Leonard Roche do justice to the parts of King Gama's three fighting sons.

We have left for a last mention the part of King Gama himself. The part is not so strongly drawn as are some of Mr. Gilbert's character parts, but it receives at Mr. David Fisher's hands all the humour of which it admits.

The chorus is one of the largest and best trained that we have had here for a long time; Mr. Barraud has fitted the piece with some nice scenery, and the costumes and properties are perfect, the armour dresses for both ladles and gentlemen being simply gorgeous. Judging from the very marked enthusiasm with which "Princess Ida" was received, we shall look to see it attract large audiences.

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