Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



ANDREW CROWTHER: I've always been particularly fond of Ruddigore - partly, I think, because of my childish love of this kind of parody-melodrama - all "Ha ha!" and swirling clouds.

But at the same time . . . It is missing something, isn't it? I'm not sure if it can be defined. Will it make sense if I say Ruddigore is a superior piece of craftsmanship, but The Mikado is a work of art? Well, that's the clearest way I can put it. It seems to lack that final spot of genius.

I'm afraid all this sounds contemptuous. Not so intended! I've got a great admiration for craft, and I love many things which aren't works of genius. It's just that I think Ruddigore is an "all-but" work.

BRUCE I. MILLER: My sense is that the two authors were not in basic agreement as to what they wanted Ruddigore to be. They never really came to terms with this fundamental issue. While their individual genius and craftsmanship produced a workable end product, the strain shows in a less sure touch than in, for example, Mikado (the last half of the 2nd Act and Robin's failed patter soing at the end of the ghost scene are among the examples of this). The Ghost Scene was not a satisfactory finished product from either author's point of view, and while it is by no means a failure (as Robin's song is), there's something oddly off balance about it in the context of the entire piece.

NICK SALES: I'm sure Gilbert would have agreed with you, Bruce. Didn't I read a remark attributed to him that Sullivan's music for that section was wonderful, but out of place in a comic opera? (something to do with inserting 16 lines of "Paradise Lost" in something?)

However, remove that music from the opera ( - suppose it only - ), and the thing becomes deader even than old Roddy-doddy himself. And furthermore, you could forget ever selling me any more tickets to go and see Ruddigore! (I practically have to drag myself there as it is!)

Having typed the foregoing, I now find myself wondering why it does seem (to quote Bruce) "oddly off balance . . . in the context of the entire piece." My opinion is that it's so much better than the rest, and that that's why it seems out of place.

I feel that it's one of the (many) places in the canon where composer and dramatist were at their best. Sullivan's music for the scene is unsurpassed, and Gilbert's words are strikingly evocative, and, given a baritone with a good feel for the macabre ("grizzly, grim goodnight") ought to send a shiver down one's spine.

DAVID CRAVEN: It has always seemed to me to make sense to roll the characters of Dick Dauntless and Dick Deadeye into one. As I see it, brave young Richard Dauntless, while serving on the Tomtit, was injured by an exploding cannon. He managed, however, to save a young midshipman, an Edward Corcoran, and as an act of gratitude, as he quickly rose through the ranks, Edward took steps to keep Dauntless in his crew. Young Edward eventually was given command of the swift and powerful Pinafore, a frigate which feared no frigate afloat (other than the Traitor's (aka the rebelious colonies.) Constitution Class). Dauntless, at this point, is now called by his nickname "Dick Deadeye" as all that remains is the broken shell of what was once a proud young and healthy Richard Dauntless. (Coincidentally, the ravages of the sea and the daily ration of rum have resulted in a modulation from the clear and health tenor of youth to the craggy, gravelling aged bass voice of old age . . .)

Having essayed a number of bass parts (Old Adam, Sarge of Police, Don Alhambra del Bolero, Arac, Sir Marmalade, Usher, and Field Marshall Willis), it has always struck me that Old Adam is the most unwritten of the Bass roles . . . yet Bloodybore has two moderate sized baritone roles. (Despina M. and Roddy-Doddy M) . . . I don't think that it means anything, but it is an observation . . .

BRUCE I. MILLER: My opinion is that the sum of its parts is somewhat smaller than they are worth individually; and that Sullivan did a better job at his end than Gilbert did at his. It must be understood, however, that the authors were not well in synch with each other, and that Sullivan outright refused to cooperate as he should have for the good of the overall piece. So what we are left with is a misshapen brat (Gilbert's term for The Grand Duke, but which applies as well to Ruddigore).

It's not as good as The Mikado; the opening night gallery hecklers were right. That it has many enjoyable, and at times wonderful moments, is undeniable and that is why it still can be presented successfully in 1997. But it is, apparently, a performer's piece more than an audience's piece in that Savoyards love to play it, connoisseurs revel in much of it, but I suspect it is less successful with general G&S audiences than probably half of the canon.

My opinion, of course, but have we really come to terms with this large issues? We seem to be skirting them, and I wonder why . . . David Craven's term "Bloodybore" may indicate the depths of some of the antis.

DAVID CRAVEN: Ruddigore is not a particularly interesting show. It does not have any real clever plot turns (except for the one bit at the end), the characters for the most part are merely pale representations of the traditional melodrama characters, and none of the characters are particularly appealing.

No matter how charming and witty the actress playing the role of Rose may be (for example, Sue Baushke, who many of you met in Philly, and who played the role with Park Ridge is personally a very bright and charming woman), the character is just too unintelligent and too flighty to bring in the audience's interest. Unlike Mabel or Joshiphine or even Zara, there is really nothing to draw in the audience. The character of Robin undergoes such a change that it is difficult to identify with the character between acts. Despard suffers from the same drawbacks. Roderick, who lacks mortality, suffers from the "Superman" syndrome. (As long as Supes was immortal with no fear of losing, he was far less appealing than the very mortal Batman . . .)

The only character with any interest at all is Marge, but the resolution is, at best, problematic.

GERRY HOWE: How can you say that? How can you say that?

Poor Mad Margaret and wicked Sir Despard? Nothing pale about them!

Sir Roderic and Hannah? The duet "There grew a little flower" is a really emotional moment between two very appealing characters!

Oh, dear!!!

EUGENIA HORNE: Actually Queen Victoria thought the Mikado had a "silly" plot and preferred the Gondoliers. Given she liked Giselle and Donizetti/Bellini operas with the assorted mad scenes, ghost scenes and character "switches", she may very well taken to Ruddigore.

Anyway, I think Ruddigore is better (don't I think they all are?) than it's given credit.

AARON HUNT: Mr. Craven, joining in Mr. Miller's attempt to upset Rose's apple-cart, makes the interesting statement that Robin undergoes such a change in character that it is difficult for the audience to identify with him between acts, or some such chatter.

Sorry, old boys, and Lord forgive me for even mentioning both your names in the same paragraph, but the fun of Robin is that he is unable to undergo the character shift asked of him. I believe that the audience absolutely identifies with Robin when he finds he cannot engage in his employment.

BRUCE WALTON: I agree that Robin/Ruthven's most interesting characteristic is the big change - in Act I he is anodyne indeed, but comes into his own in Act II, where he tries jolly hard to be a successful bad baronet, but just can't keep it up. A obvious example:

RUTHVEN (melodramatically): ". . . and Freeze the Very Marrow In His Bones!!"

ROBIN (nervously, aside): How say you, Adam, is not the scheme well-planned?

This makes WSG's point about the artificiality of melodrama characters rather nicely, as well as being (potentially) very funny in performance. And it stretches your acting skills too!

In fact, when I did the part I kept on finding places in the lib to show and enjoy Robin/Ruthven's split personality, even to the point of finding them spontaneously in performance. It was fun, it got a reasonable number of laughs, and I thought it worked.

ROBERT JONES: OK, I'll take the bait, and add to it. Bloodibore contains some charming music and some witty repartee, yet it is simply dull. As a satire on contemporary melodrama, it doesn't say a lot. As a piece in its own right, it beckons Morpheus. The plot, when studied, is clever and engrossing; the music, when carefully listened to, is delightful.

But it's an intriguing phenomenon that the whole equals less than the sum of its parts. What exactly is missing?

JEFF DEMARCO: Well, I certainly can't let that pass . . . I must respectfully disagree - I don't find Ruddigore dull in the least - I think it is one of the less dated works in the canon, given recent interest in gothic novels, vampires and the suchlike.

Robert suggests that the plot and the music are accessible only after much consideration - on the contrary, I think the plot is one of the clearest and easiest to follow. It is very easy to empathize with Robin - his angst at being unable to approach Rose strikes a chord in most people. As a teen, I was constantly singing "I know a youth" to myself while despairing over the lack of interest shown by certain members of the opposite sex. It contains the common theme of trying very hard to wriggle ones way out of unpleasant situations, while struggling (or not) with ones conscience. Although it starts off slow, much of the music is very catchy.

The resolution (suicide itself being a crime) is much more satisfactory than that of The Mikado (despite the title character's words to the contrary), Pinafore or Pirates (to name the big three). Frankly, those endings are real groaners and a bit of a disappointment. However, I think the revisions to the finale done by D'OC really weaken the ending. "When a man has been a naughty baronet" is much more satisfying in the way it ties up all the strands, and it is a pretty nifty tune as well.

To give some perspective, my 13 year old daughter who is really enjoying the discovery of G&S is constantly gravitating to my recording of Ruddygore - she listens to it far more than any other.

MICHAEL NASH: Thank you Jeff! Glad to have my opinion backed by a competent authority! It isn't just me as a Ruddigore fan, two of my close friends who aren't into G&S in any significant way came to see me in the chorus of RG and made very similar comments.

And I think that the endings of all the operas up to and including Pirates are less than satisfactory, from a dramatic standpoint. It seems to me that up till that time, Gilbert still thought of the operas as merely "big Bab Ballads", and it wasn't until Patience that his output matched Sullivan's (though I do love Trial - it's such fun). The story of The Mikado works, but Ko-Ko's "reasoning" at the end is a bit lame - it puts me in mind of certain Monty Python sketches, where the idea of the sketch had clearly been played out, and they were looking for a way to get off - "I'm afraid I'm going to have to shoot you" or something.

And I think "When The Night Wind Howls" would make a great single if Pink Floyd recorded it.

BRUCE I. MILLER: My take on this is that there are certain of the G & S operas which have stood the many tests of time better than others. Many of us would beg to differ about the relative merits of Pirates and Pinafore vs Ruddigore.

First, to make a straight comparison is much like the hackneyed apples and oranges question. Pirates and Pinafore are earlier works which don't aspire to the same plane as Ruddigore.

As to general appeal, the two earlier pieces, without question, outdraw Ruddigore - Pirates especially. It's not a fair test if you're only doing a weekend or two-weekend run; put them in repertory and see how they last (the D'Oyly Carte's experience in this is most instructive).

SAM L. CLAPP: The show is, of course, redeemed, in large part, by the wonderful Ghost Scene and some other brilliant music . . . Bloodybore is a Sullivan show, not a Gilbert show . . . All right, I'll grant you that in large measure you could be right, BUT: What about "Away Remorse/ for 35 years // Henceforth"? It seems to me that Sullivan failed Gilbert intensely here. I agree with Gilbert: Robin needs something very urgent, very dramatic, very musical to carry him offstage, terrified by what he's just seen from the ghosts. MAYbe "Henceforth" in a minor/diminished key . . . MAYbe . . . Despite this need, however, Sullivan wouldn't lay off the happy ditties for a sec, when, just before, he had written a lovely dirge . . . . Ah, well . . .

BRUCE I. MILLER: In an earlier post my comments were very much like yours. I agree that Sullivan - willfully, it seems to me - refused to accede to Gilbert's quite reasonable estimate of the situation and write a song of desperation for Robin. Instead, he doggedly stuck to his original character-piece writing which may have accentuated Robin's meekness, but certainly was dramatically unsatisfactory at that point in the second act.

EUGENIA HORNE: I think there's lots of "tongue-in-cheek" satire/parody in this show that tends to be missed beyond the obvious melodrama characters.

Mad Margaret's opening aria plays on the soprano/ballerina opera/ballet mad scenes popular in 19th century productions. Most don't get to recover though like Margaret does (with an occasional lapse).

The "changing" of characters mid-way through (Despard, Robin/Ruthven, Margaret) was another typical 19th century opera/ballet convention intended to allow the singer/dancer/actor a chance to display their acting skills in one show.

Robin's/Ruthven's rather "weak" attempt seems to be poking fun at this (as are Margaret's lapses).

Strangely enough Ruddigore's main plotline "echoes" that of Giselle (The Romantic ballet) which may or may not have been intended. They both feature a disguised nobleman (Robin/Ruthven, Loys/Albrecht) who is wooing an "innocent" country maiden (Rose, Giselle). Both disguised noblemen are revealed by a jealous rival (Richard, Hilarion) for the maiden's affections at the end of Act I. Instead of Rose dropping dead (a la Giselle presumably of a broken heart), it's Robin/Ruthven who "falls senseless" and "joins" the ranks of the ghosts in Act II. And like Giselle, Robin "releases" his former love to another. The ghost scene music is also reminiscent of Adam's for "Giselle" perhaps because apparently some version of it became the "stock motif" for these types of scenes.

The whole etiquette business was at its height. This was the era with the massively detailed etiquette books on how to act properly which sometimes didn't take into consideration individual's feelings (or common sense). Rose is stuck with the problem: Shall I act correctly (as befits my role in society) or do what I feel? Robin/Ruthven gets a similar problem when he really doesn't want to be a "bad baronet" and follow the "etiquette" of the curse. In a way the two situations parallel each other which I assume Gilbert intended.

ANDREW CROWTHER: I think this is simply a reflection on Giselle's use of the melodramatic clichés. Best beware of crying "Influence!", especially when, as here, Gilbert's deliberately playing on theatrical conventions. (Yes, Eugenia, I know you weren't crying anything of the sort - but don't interrupt - I'm having a rhetorical conversation.)

May I draw your attention to the theory, recently published in GASBAG, of my good friend Professor Tomewrangler? He pointed out several remarkable similarities between Ruddigore and Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. The most startling of these concerned the villain of Tess, Alec Stoke-d'Urberville. Early in the novel he is presented to us as a typical upper-class Cad: he seduces and rapes Tess, and then deserts her. But later on, Tess meets him again in her wanderings: Alec is, much to her astonishment, now an Evangelical preacher. Tomewrangler argued that this ludicrous reversal was a deliberate allusion to Ruddigore, which was written three or four years earlier - particularly to Sir Despard's conversion from Bad Bart to District Visitor.

Myself, I don't think anything of the sort. I believe Hardy was simply using some of the techniques of melodrama to his own gloomy ends. Professor Tomewrangler thinks otherwise, but then (between ourselves) he always was a bit of a fool.

Page created 4 October 1997