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Opening Night Review

The Times, Monday, January 9, 1899

It was assuredly high time that, in searching for new material, the management of this theatre should light upon the brilliant work of the late Emanuel Chabrier, perhaps the most original, and certainly the most delightful, of modern French writers, even though a somewhat doubtful compliment was paid to his memory by producing, as The Lucky Star, a new version of his early operetta, L'Etoile, with another composer's name figuring in single blessedness in the bills. Including the authors of the original French libretto and of an American version, some eight or nine writers have been employed upon the book, but their united efforts have not produced anything very much better than the libretto as it stood originally. The dialogue can hardly be said to bristle with good things -- in fact, the most meritorious joke is perpetrated when a young lady's nez retroussee is considered to unfit her for the position of Queen on account of its pictorial effect on the coinage.

The King of some unspecified part of Hindustan is on the point of contracting an alliance with the daughter of a neighbouring Monarch, and, as usual, the Princess as she journeys to the Court of her future husband falls in love with a travelling painter. It is discovered by the Court astrologer that the King and his rival have been born under the same star, so that the death of one will be followed at an interval of 24 hours by the death of the other. As the King has taken pains to secure the astrologer's allegiance by directing that he shall be buried alive in his Sovereign's sepulchre, two lives hang on the young painter's, and everything is done to ensure his safety and health. Finally the King yields to the young man's threats of committing suicide, and allows him to marry the Princess; he appoints him his successor and heir -- a safe promise, since he must predecease the King by a day.

To turn the production into a veritable "lucky star," such as the theatre has been in want of for some time, it was only necessary to present the work in its original guise, and to allow the charming music of the French composer to make its own way with the English public. A policy so obvious as this, however, was not likely to commend itself to the average manager, and accordingly one portion of a single finale is all that remains of Chabrier's work in the production. There is in the book of words a wholly unnecessary announcement to the effect that this portion is by a different hand from the rest; the "join" is quite unmistakable, for during the too-short extract from the original score the music suddenly becomes more humorous, charming, and brilliantly melodious, besides being orchestrated in a fresh and musicianly way. In considering Mr. Ivan Caryll's music to all the rest of the book, it must be remembered that the want of individuality which is its most striking peculiarity is the very quality which has hitherto been most valuable to the composer. The more recent developments of light opera have brought into existence a race of versifiers who can string rhymes together on any subject and in any given style, as well as a class of musicians who are ready at a short notice to add to the scores of any composers, living or dead, interpolated numbers or extra "turns" not too glaringly out of keeping with the rest of the picture. For these a certain style, or rather a stylessness -- if such a word may be coined -- has become de rigueur, and it is in no way Mr. Caryll's fault that there is in his music no element which would enable the closest student to detect any difference between it and that of the rest of the class. As a natural consequence there can be no attraction for those who care about music in such a work as this, and the most popular numbers are precisely those which bear the greatest resemblance to well-known originals. In one number, a quintet in the second act, "The great Ambassador," there is some attempt at characterization, and this is much the best piece of Mr. Caryll's work; for the rest it is desirable merely to record the fact that a quartet, "Incognito," a ballad, "When I was a child of three," the painter's song in the second act, and a sentimental ballad for tenor were received with enough applause to justify their repetition.

The piece is presented with evident regard to the season of the year at which the production takes place; the characters are the usual types of old-fashioned extravaganza, even to the employment of a lady in the "principal boy's" part, a proceeding which is now generally associated with pantomime. Miss Emmie Owen may not be a very convincing representative of Lazuli, the wandering artist, but she sings and acts with so much vivacity that she must be held to achieve a considerable degree of success. The chief honours fall to Mr. Walter Passmore, whose King is refreshingly absurd in deportment and voice, as in costume. His first entrance down a long flight of "trick" stairs and various other episodes in his career remind the audience in a far from unpleasant way of the harlequinades of their youth, and his duel with the irate ambassador -- a good part played in a rather colourless way by Mr. H.A. Lytton -- is the funniest thing in the entertainment. The astrologer and the head of police provide Messrs. Sydney Paxton and F. Manning with plenty of comic opportunities, and Mr. R. Evett sings his one song with due consideration of style. Miss Ruth Vincent is a charming Princess and Miss Isabel Jay a comely lady-in-waiting. That Mr. Percy Anderson's costumes are artistic and the mounting on the most lavish scale of splendour it is hardly necessary to say. The piece was received with the usual merits of favour, the composer and (presumably) one of the eight librettists being called before the curtain at the close.

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