|The Savoy in the 1890s > His
Majesty > Reviews
Compiled by Scott Farrell
Can you imagine the feeling of a man who gets from the library a book which is advertised as a humorous novel, and finds that it is a dictionary? If you can, you can understand my sentiments towards His Majesty... I do not doubt Sir Alexander Mackenzie's industry, learning, high aims, and remarkable accomplishments, but they cannot blind me to the fact that the score of His Majesty is peculiarly unattractive, almost entirely devoid of humour, strangely wanting in charm, brightness, fizz and spontaneity...The terrible Savoy 'tradition' has overwhelmed Mr. F. C. Burnand, and forgetting that The Grand Duke was too much of a charade, he has out-charaded Gilbert.
Long before the fall of the curtain, there were ominous signs of disapproval... We doubt whether Mr. George Grossmith does not deserve more praise for his artistic high comedy in the title role; his authors hampered him by obliging him to sing and by forcing sentiment upon him... It is perhaps the best piece of work he has ever given to the stage... With the usual want discrimination of the crowd, Saturday's audience voted Mr. Walter Passmore, the low comedian of the company a first favourite. It is true that more than once Mr. Passmore's touches of humour as poor Boodel, who assumes so many transparent disguises, saved the play. His quaint antics, during a trio, and his burlesque serpentine dance at its close, brought down the house, and his irresistibly funny plantation ditty reproducing all the poses, steps, and tones of the music-hall 'coon' in "Dinah, Dinah-mite" came at a critical moment, and his duet with Mr. Billington, "Noblemen in distress", once more calmed rising resentment.
We find little Miss Perry an excellent light soprano of the Savoy school... [Palmay's] spirits were irresistible on Saturday, and her humour (perhaps a trifle too broad) was overpowering.
... We must single out praise for Bessie Bonsall and Herbert Workman for the singing of the famous quartette "Who goes home?" It is the jewel of the piece.
St James' Gazette
Remembering the many brilliant premieres enjoyed at the Savoy, it was impossible, as Saturday evening's performance dragged wearily to a close, to control the feeling of disappointment which gradually spread through the audience. Before the curtain finally fell, this feeling assumed articulate form, and for the first time in our recollection the distinct sound of hissing was heard within the halls of the Savoy... The lyrics possess little distinction, and have an air throughout of being 'made to order'. From this reproach those contributed by Mr. Adrian Ross must be excepted; they are in the writer's best style, neatly rhymed and pervaded with a keen sense of comicality... Again and again one is reminded how disproportionate to the requirements of the occasion are the means employed. Orchestral effects which would not be out of place in grand opera are introduced by way of illustrating the most trivial of subjects; the result being a constant feeling of discrepancy and want of harmony between authors and composer... Over Mr. George Grossmith's impersonation of Ferdinand there is absolutely no temptation to linger. Not the least distressing feature about it was the actor's inability to speak the author's lines correctly... Mr Passmore is an artist gifted with the rare faculty of originating. He is an actor of inexhaustible resource, and in his hands a part may be relied on to swell the proportions probably undreamt of by the author. Yet he never oversteps the bounds of legitimate acting. His humour bubbles over at every point, while his power of facial expression is as striking as it is discreetly employed. But for his unflagging energy and unfailing drollery on Saturday night, the reception accorded to His Majesty must have been even less flattering than it actually proved.
... I refuse to criticise seriously such insufferable balderdash as the music of His Majesty. The only consoling reflection is that after the drastic experience of last Saturday night this Caledonian genius will never again be able to compel a Savoy audience to listen against its will to what is in reality only a COMIC ORATORIO.
It must be frankly confessed that whatever the success the new work may enjoy will be despite the authors, for their work lacks animation, has no particular merit and the dialogue, though smart, contains few of those quips which first brought Mr. Burnand fame. At the conclusion the authors met with a particularly discourteous ebullition of opinion from the cheaper seats...If the libretto be farcical, the music of Sir Alexander Mackenzie is serious to a degree. To the thin measure of its tale it gives an overpowering amount of orchestration... The pains that the head of the Academy of Music has devoted to his score are colossal. But one realises the effort; too often the erudition of the Academician replaces the bubbling vivacity of Sir Arthur Sullivan's spontaneous merriment. The erudition in both is great, but the Scotchman tries to be funny or else tries to be impressive, and so the memory is one trying effort.
The popular comedian [Grossmith] was warmly greeted, and evidently strove to resume his command over the audience, but he had not played here since the run of the The Yeomen of the Guard; and in the meantime a very great deal has happened. Other comedians had made their mark, and, perhaps, Mr. Grossmith was not quite happy in his part.
I could not help feeling sad as I came away from the Savoy Theatre on Saturday evening. The breakdown of an old favourite on a stage where he has achieved so many successes is a saddening sight. And there is no good in beating about the bush — His Majesty was a failure, in no small degree because the exponent of the title role was unable to hold his own with the younger gene ration... Directly Mr. Grossmith made his first entry on Saturday as Ferdinand of Vingolia, the monarch who combines "Mars, Minerva, and Apollo, each and all in one", it became evident that a great disappointment was in store. His opening patter song, despite its witty lines, went for nothing, and met with a reception in startling contrast to the ovation which had greeted the singer's first appearance. As the acts proceeded the King grew duller and more tiresome, and although Mr. Grossmith came before the curtain at the interval, he wisely refrained from repeating the experiment at the end of the evening. With the leading character in such difficulties it is not to be wondered at that the opera fell flat. The fact is that authors and composer do not understand one another. When the music was humorous, the words were not...some of the best lines were appropriated to the most severe music... Mr Scott Russell, as Count Cosmo, a long part with absolutely nothing in it which gave a chance of special distinction. His excellent elocution and singing in the concerted passages were of genuine service in keeping things together.
Good wishes were not strong enough to cope with the depression that set in with the development of an elaborate and not very diverting story, and eventually the work upon which such care had been bestowed became positively tiresome...To come immediately to the point, His Majesty wants thorough overhauling. The dialogue needs compression, the story should be told in a different and certainly briefer manner, the mournful potentate who makes his first appearance in funereal black towards the close should be seen no more, and three or four of the musical numbers, though evincing excellent workmanship, should be omitted, for the good and sufficient reason that they are altogether superfluous...The exodus began before the curtain finally descended...It is impossible to read the book or to witness the performance without suspecting that Mr. Burnand started with a simple and genuinely comic idea, the point of which became blunted with the necessity of providing for so many people... Humour is the quality in which His Majesty is woefully deficient... It was not the fault of the composer that His Majesty fell flat.
Some of the stage pictures are as brilliant as anything presented on the Savoy stage and the careful work accomplished by the lamented Mr. Charles Harris tells in every scene... Madame Ilka Palmay has been in better voice than upon this occasion, but she was agreeable and pleasing... Mr George Grossmith, who has not been on the stage for some time, was suffering from intense nervousness and his part of King Ferdinand the Fifth was a very poor one... One of Mr. Passmore's drollest scenes was his waltz with a marble Venus... Mr Fred Billington did not get the fullest opportunity at displaying his talent, as he appeared late in the opera.
Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper
His Majesty... last night was extremely long, and contained several dull passages. Mr. Burnand's plot proved to be more involved and fuller in detail than usual, whilst there was a lack of the sprightliness to which Savoy audiences have been accustomed. Mr. Grossmith, who seemed very nervous, could not have been assured by the attitude of the audience... Mr Passmore scores heavily... Indeed, he obtained the first success of the evening by his comic entrance, and directly afterwards came a burlesque cross-examination of Felice, the peasant girl, and a grotesque dance with Madame Ilka Palmay, which was enthusiastically encored. The ground thus gained Mr. Passmore never lost... The curtain did not fall until half-past eleven, when there was no determined attempt to stop the booing which came from the upper regions. Only two or three of the artists appeared at the close [Palmay, Perry and Passmore]; then came Messrs. Burnand and Lehmann; and finally, Sir A. C. Mackenzie. The tide of discontent turned when the latter came forward, for it was generally admitted that he had done his best with the subject.
Messrs. F. C. Burnand and R. C. Lehmann have provided a book the most distinguishing feature of which is its verbosity, and composer and executants struggle against the flood of words that more than once almost overwhelm them.
Mr. George Grossmith was so manifestly out of voice and health that we have no other course than to wait for his King Ferdinand as it will be under better conditions. We altogether decline to accept his impersonation... [Florence Perry] romped through the part with an abandonment that made cheerful even her sorrowful moment s... [Palmay] carried the house with her through a boldly received and minutely-wrought impersonation... Her words were not always easily intelligible, but for that the eloquence of her gestures made amends.
Like the popular weekly it is eminently respectable, sometimes funny, occasionally brilliant; but always immediately collapsing into respectable dullness again, as though ashamed of its sudden outburst of wit. The jokes are feeble and blameless, and would almost have been rejected even by the German Reeds... [The music] is all very fair of its kind, but there is not one single number that strikes one as being particularly charming, or that remains with one after the performance. It seems to me that Mr. D'Oyly Carte, in his anxiety to keep up the traditions of the Savoy, has made the mistake of refusing to bow to the altered taste of the public of today... Poor Mr. Grossmith! What a part to make his appearance in — in the home of his old triumphs, too! He ambles about the stage, causing laughter only when he drops his legitimate role of King of Vignolia, and gives his immensely droll imitation of Mr. [Beerbohm] Tree.
This production is quite remarkable for dullness. The composer has nothing to say, and he says it with complete technical command of all the means of expression known to the musician...But of ideas, and still more important, of tunes such as the public loves to keep in remembrance, there is a notable poverty... Mr Grossmith, who is a man of talent in his own way, was quite unsuited to his part...
There is much to command admiration in Sir Alexander's score, but little to evoke enthusiasm...The charm and distinction of the orchestration, the felicitous use which is made of musical scholarship, and the beauty of the sentimental passages cannot blind us to the fact that the score, as a whole, is lacking in simplicity, gaiety and abandon. In the patter songs, the musical metre is hardly ever suggested by the metre of the words, but more often than not runs counter to it... Mr. Walter Passmore [as] Boodel proved the life and soul and salvation of the piece...If his humour is of a less distinguished stamp than that of the old Savoyard school, it is none the less exceedingly diverting, and his business on Saturday night 'came off' in every instance... Ilka Palmay is excellently suited in the role of the peasant Princess, and romped through the role with unflagging vivacity.
I may as well state at once that the interest began to wane at an early period of the evening, and the expectation was doomed to disappointment. The reasons are easy enough to give for this unsatisfactory state of affairs. In the first place, Mr. F. C. Burnand's libretto is almost entirely devoid of the sparkle and humour connected as a rule with Savoy productions, and in the next place, Sir A. C. Mackenzie's music is totally unsuited to light comic opera... Mackenzie doesn't know the first thing of the extremely difficult art of writing music for the stage... His music is full of melody, of a most attractive nature no doubt, were it not swamped with cataracts of classical counterpoint, overwhelmed with avalanches of artistic accompaniments, and fairly fenced in with fugues.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News
Mr. George Grossmith, who returned to the scene of his former triumphs after an absence of some years, met with quite an ovation. And how sad it is to say that before the evening was well spent this one time popular comedian elicited ironic comments from gentlemen in the gallery, and so keenly realised his position that he wisely retired on the final fall of the curtain, and took no part in such honours as were awarded to his colleagues. Never have we seen a performance more utterly destitute of humour than his representation of the title role. It should be explained, however, that he was very nervous... It is the fortune of Mr. Passmore to make the audience laugh a good deal in the part of Boodel... he works very hard and is much applauded. I did not find his low comedy much of a revelation; but he has marvellous flexibility of limb, and there is originality as well as unusual all-overishness in his dancing... Madame Palmay has the role of the piece — it is a sort of musical version of The Country Girl. She sings and acts with comedy and vivacity, and an accentuation of the minutiae of the fun, the effect of which must excuse its want of subtlety.
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