Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



MICHAEL NASH: Ruddigore is unusual compared to the other operas in that the men's chorus do not appear in their "obvious" guise, namely the ghosts of the Baronets, until Act 2. Why? What is the point of the entrance of the bucks and blades in Act 1? How does it add to the story?

ARTHUR ROBINSON: Nothing. The only point is to have a male chorus (and a non-deceased one) in the first act. (In Fallen Fairies Gilbert dispensed with the male chorus altogether, and we know what happened to that.)

MICHAEL NASH: Any good ideas for how the appearance of the ghosts can be staged?

MARY A. FINN: My favorite G&S stage direction:

"The ghosts make passes."

Opens up all sorts of possibilities, doesn't it?

On that subject, the absolute worst interpretation of that stage direction I ever saw came from a performance at MIT. The director had the ghosts pull out sticks of pepperoni, take a bite, and then breathe at Robin. It was different, but it wasn't particularly funny, and it sort of undercut the idea that ghosts are supernatural beings.

I swear, I did not make this up.

MICHAEL RICE: Ruddigore has always had a special place among the canon for me because it was the first G&S I ever heard and performed in. It has always been one my favorites, regardless of the negative comments always made about it. I think the music is great, as is the storyline.

In the production in which I participated, we had the ghosts appearing as they traditionally do behind a scrim "painting" and then pulled the scrim aside allowing them to come down from their frames. We also had them come down at the end to join with the women as in opening night.

One interesting thing we did was our "doctoring" of the Act 2 finale. We started with "When a man has been a naughty baronet..." as in the original opening night, but then as opposed to using the "Oh happy the lily" portion of the number, after the "town of Basingstoke", we cut to the "Oh happy" of the first Act finale, using the short 2 or 3 measure pickup just after Robin sings "Alluding to me . . .".

MICHAEL NASH: Two years ago, I and fellow Savoynetter Kelsey Thornton were in the chorus for an outdoor production of Ruddigore at Gawsworth Hall, near Macclesfield, Cheshire, England. John Ayldon played Sir Roderic and Patricia Leonard played Dame Hannah. Of course, the question which everyone who came to see the show was asking was, "How are the ghosts going to appear?"

Gawsworth Hall itself dates back to the time of Shakespeare at least (I'm not certain of my history), and functioned well as Ruddigore Castle; the action in Act 2 effectively took place in the grounds of the Castle, rather than inside it. At the appropriate moment, we (the chorus of ancestors) marched out of the house in three lines from different exits, carrying our frames, which were almost full-length; the tops were above our heads, the bottoms level with our knees. We gradually filtered on to the lower lawn, where Sir Ruthven was cowering, as we sang "Painted Emblems". We were all wearing masks which covered the top halves of our faces, leaving our mouths clear to sing. So the sound gradually faded in as we came nearer. I happened to be the first one on, so on the first line, the audience heard the middle (baritone) line louder than the tune.

By this time in the evening (it was July, but about 9.15 pm) it was dusk, so with the stage lighting and the real moonlight, it looked really eerie. One night we had a storm, which made everything even more dramatic! We used our frames as a kind of "force field" to inflict the agonies on Sir Ruthven. It was great fun.

PAUL McSHANE: The minor baronets (Rupert, Jasper, Lionel, Conrad, Desmond, Gilbert and Mervyn) are listed in most libretti, as indeed they were in Ruddygore's opening night programme. Their listing gives rise to a few thoughts:

WSG must have enjoyed making Gilbert the 18th Baronet - shades of Hitchcock appearing in his own movies.

The listing of the seven extra named ghosts in the programmes give amateur societies an excellent opportunity to reward stalwart chorus members without running the risk of getting them to do something embarrassingly difficult.

I wonder why, having gone to the trouble of naming these ancestors in the Dramatis Personae, Gilbert didn't name them in the dialogue, contenting himself merely to 1st Ghost, 2nd Ghost, etc. In fact, the handling of these minor parts seems to be unusually sloppy.

Why seven minor ghosts, rather than four or eight? The current libretto only gives lines for four ghosts, in two sets of four, with an extra "Hear, hear!" thrown in for 1st Ghost.

If we examine the opening night libretto, we find other difficulties. Here, there are five sets of four lines for the ghosts, plus the "Hear, hear!". And after Sir Rupert is presented at the end of Act II, he is called First (not 1st) Ghost, and given the final line "Fallacy somewhere!". Unfortunately the "fallacy" lines in the earlier ghost scene are all given to "4th Ghost".

These difficulties give directors unlimited scope to toss these characters and their lines around. When I directed Ruddigore once, I got the sets of four lines right by adding another named ancestor (Sir Septimus - the seventh baronet, of course). If you have a chorus of 20 men, you could have some fun by giving them all names in the programme.

ARTHUR ROBINSON: Just a guess: the "fallacy" lines in the earlier scene have to go to the 4th Ghost, since the joke is that they come after the other three ghosts concurring with Ruthven's absurd logic. In the final line, it strikes me as amusing that Sir Rupert, the beneficiary (he finds that not only is he alive but still Baronet), says "Fallacy somewhere." I believe it's a common joke to give one character a standard line, then have another character appropriate it. (Examples from the Great World of TV: in the old Get Smart series, when the Chief of Control said "Sorry about that, Max," or in The Simpsons, when another character uses one of Bart Simpson's lines like "Don't have a cow, man." Sorry if anyone isn't up to the intellectual pressure of these learned literary allusions.)

SARAH MANKOWSKI: If you're working with a smaller chorus, couldn't you cut some of the ghosts?

ROBERT JONES: No, I've tried . . . The knife goes straight through.

Page created 4 October 1997