To find a successor to Utopia, Limited must have been no easy task, and its difficulties have, no doubt, been increased by the circumstance that the resumption of joint work by the men who have made the theatre what it is has been of only too short duration. The pieces produced immediately before the opera that was hailed last year as a sign of the complete red integratio amoris have taught Mr. Carte one thing, that, failing the real "Gilbert-and-Sullivan" product, he must not hope to engage public favour by imitations of their methods, however deft these may be. He has accordingly gone abroad for his new piece, and now M. Messager succeeds Sir Arthur Sullivan in comic opera, as he did on former occasions in more serious surroundings.
The points in which Mirette, the opera produced last night, differs from the established Savoy type are impossible to enumerate; they are, indeed, so marked that it has been found advisable to print an explanation of the strict meaning attached to the term opera comique. As no one who knew anything about dramatic music has ever confounded the Savoy operas with that delightful form of art to which so many masterpieces of music belong, the reason of the explanation is scarcely clear, more especially since the new work is at least as far removed from such a beautiful opera comique as, for example, La Basoche, as it is from its predecessors at the Savoy.
M. Michel Carre, the author of the libretto, must think poorly of English dramatic taste in the present day, if he supposes that the London public to be capable of taking an interest in the loves of two couples, one in high life and the other a pair of gipsies, when there is really nothing provided in the way of action except that the aristocrat and the gipsy girl imagine themselves in love with each other for the greater part of three acts. The adoption of the gipsy Mirette by the Marquise, and her experiences of society have done duty in all manner of pieces, operatic and otherwise; one is continually reminded of such old-fashioned productions as The Bohemian Girl or Maritana, to say nothing of one scene being almost an exact replica of a situation in Esmerelda. The three acts, moreover, do not hang together at all; and there is no more reason why Mirette's reticent gipsy lover should suddenly appear as the major-domo of the marquise, than there is for the rapid change of dress in the comic man's part. Such scenes as the duet and pas de deux, in which this last character and the marquise take part, throw, by their momentary suggestion of similar incidents in the former operas here, the difference of the rest into all the stronger relief. At the same time, for the mere variety of scenic effect the libretto is not so very bad, and three scenes, the gipsy encampment, the ball at the marquise's chateau, and the country fair, are made the most of not only by the musicians, but by the stage manager, for whom the work is a real triumph, the chateau scene (period Louis XVI.) being especially brilliant.
It is so common as to be almost a universal rule that foreign composers, when commissioned to write for the English public, should think it necessary to conform to an imaginary, and of course a low, standard of taste; M. Messager has not deliberately done this, perhaps, but he has certainly not given us of his best as that best was exemplified in La Basoche or in the pretty Scaramouche ballet. No doubt the effort of writing his music to Mr. Weatherly's English version of the French verses cramped him, and every excuse is to be made, but the want of spontaneity in the first act particularly is very marked. Every song ends as a matter of course in a waltz refrain, and though in the subsequent acts more unconventionality is found, yet there is little that is strong enough to compensate for the weakness of the book. The music of the second act is best, just where the dramatic interest is at its lowest; a pretty ballad for Mirette, the dancing duet already mentioned, and some delightful dance music, in the course of which a gipsy dance breaks in most effectively upon a courtly minuet, are among the best things in the piece; the drinking duet, "He's never drunk a drop since then," is not a very successful imitation of Sullivan, and the very pretty "But yesterday in convent gray" recalls the charming song in Offenbach's Madame Favart. Perhaps the composer is at his best in the refined treatment of the closing "symphonies" of the songs; of this there are many examples, and all are happy. In the third act are some good choruses, a clever duet sung by the gipsy lovers over their simple dejeuner, and an exceedingly pretty dance, in which Miss Emmie Owen made a great hit.
The performance, directed by the composer in person, was excellent in nearly all parts. The famous company whose names are inseparably connected with the best days of the theatre is now only represented by Miss Rosina Brandram, and she has a part of secondary importance, in which, however, her delightful singing, and in one instance her clever dancing, produce their full effect. One of the most charming of the lyrical numbers falls to her share, "Life to you is fairyland," the closing strains of which are quite exquisite. Miss Maud Ellicott takes the title part with much success; she is a lively actress, and she uses a not very agreeable voice with great skill. Miss Florence Perry sings very charmingly in a not very grateful part, and Mr. Scott Fishe as her aristocratic lover sings and acts quite satisfactorily. Mr. Courtice Pounds has rather an unsympathetic part, but he does what he can with it, and Mr. Avon Saxon is efficient in a small part. The one comic character, a cowardly gipsy, who is always getting into trouble, shades off into a type perilously near to that in vogue in the "variety" form of light opera. It is sad to see the well-intentioned efforts of Mr. Walter Passmore accepted as a satisfactory exposition of humour on the boards that are no longer trodden by Mr. Grossmith, Mr. Barrington, or even Mr. Denny. Yet it is not the fault of their successor that the comic part of the piece goes for so little, and, after all, he dances very nimbly. The performers and the composer were warmly applauded at the close of the work.
Page created 25 May 1998