Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


Second Version Introduction

by Clifton Coles

In many ways, it is best to treat the version of Mirette that appeared at the Savoy Theatre on 6 October, 1894, as a separate opera, distinct from the version produced earlier that year (3 July). This original version had some distinct problems, ultimately borne out by the fact that it lasted on the stage for slightly more than a month. Among its problems was that it was very different from its predecessors at the Savoy in that it had a strictly romantic (and all-too-familiar) story devoid for the most part of humor. Its failure in early August left Savoy producer and proprietor Richard D'Oyly Carte with an empty theatre. Possibly sensing that there was some life left in Mirette (and most likely as a way to save money on existing sets and costumes), he set about having it revised, enlisting the pen of comic lyricist Adrian Ross to fix things. Leaving the opera's original three-act shape, act settings, and general proceeding of the plot, Ross gutted the play by re-writing all the dialogue and the majority of the lyrics and adding more comedy to the stereotyped romance. Thus, while Mirette ends up with Picorin and Gerard ends up with Bianca as in the original version, the journey toward this predictable end was livened by comic routines, dances, and lyrics more characteristic of what was familiar at the Savoy. The result was a more successful second opening night than the first, and may have led to an even longer run if Sullivan hadn't come forth with The Chieftain.

Messager admitted in a memoir that British songwriter Hope Temple had helped with the music of Mirette, but her name is not acknowledged on any published source. If she did have a hand, most likely it was to enliven this second version of the opera, where her familiarity with the British comic opera idiom would have been an advantage. Since the majority of the lyrics were new, her contribution to Mirette may have been considerable, but just who wrote what music remains a mystery. Some of the new music has the characteristic Messager stamp, the “tique tique tin-tin-tin” trio in act two, for example. The “Long Bow Song” however, with its incessant 6/8 rhythm, sounds as British as can be - which was probably deliberate, given that a less romantic, less French style was being asked for. But whether Messager or Temple was responsible for this or any other number is anybody's guess. (Messager had already successfully imitated Sullivan's “Lost Chord” style in the verse section of Bianca's convent song in act two.)

Much of the success of this second version of Mirette goes to Walter Passmore's performance as Bobinet, which was expanded from the first version to capitalize on his comic timing and invention. Emmie Owen's character was given a name (Zerbinette), some dancing, some singing, and some comic routines with Passmore. Premiering as Mirette was the American soprano Kate Rolla, who was the only weak link in the production and who lasted for only a week in the role. That left the way clear for Florence St. John, who was probably further tempted by the lead role in Sullivan's upcoming Chieftain. Mirette's second life was only short-lived, however. Still without much faith in the material, Carte rushed The Chieftain into rehearsal and two months after its second incarnation, Mirette was gone. Unlike his later British opera Monsieur Beaucaire (1919), Messager never produced Mirette in Paris.

Page created 14 December 2001