Savoy in the 1890s > Mirette > Reviews
Compiled by Scott Farrell
Evening News and Post
Mr. D'Oyly Carte has been somewhat humorously anxious that we should recognise that Mirette is not a comic opera, and has published a slip with a statement to that effect. He need have been under no apprehension on that score. It is one of the first facts which comes home to us as the piece proceeds...To say truth, the comic relief is very conventional indeed. It lies with a gipsy named Bobinet, who does almost everything that low comedy characters have done from time immemorial - gets kicked into a pond, and bitten by a dog, climbs a tree and is hauled out of it, drinks too much, betrays arrant cowardice and so forth. Yet Bobinet served a purpose in introducing to the Savoy audience a comedian of decided talent in the person of Mr Walter Passmore, who played the part with such volatile humour and so much readiness and resource that he actually made its antique fun a source of hearty laughter...There has been nothing at the Savoy for a long time prettier or more elaborate in a spectacular way than Mirette and it would be ungenerous to grumble at the quality of the humour when it affords such a feast of beauty for eye and ear.
English audiences have been accustomed to expect something more in the librettos of comic operas than a mere dishing-up of old situations and conventional characters which have duty in a thousand similar works. The story is singularly destitute of interest or originality.
The comic relief is almost entirely provided by one character, Bobinet, whose share in the action can only be compared to one of Mr Arthur Roberts's kaleidoscopic impersonations. In the opening scene he returns from robbing a farmyard, and being bidden to mount guard at night, is driven by nervousness to take refuge in a tree, whence he witnesses the meeting of Gerard and Mirette, and is ultimately dislodged by the smoke of the campfire. In the second act he figures as the impresario of the gypsy troupe, and has a long interview with the Marquise, in which he comports himself in the acrobatic and facetious style of a character in pantomime. Finally, in the last act, he lapses into frank burlesque, in the character of an "Extra Special" newsvendor, with a topical song on the news of the day, though we are carefully informed that the period is the eighteenth century. Bobinet, in short, is an outrageous excrescence on the play, and all the energy and cleverness of Mr Passmore, who plays the part with immense animal spirits, cannot redeem the incongruity and ineptitude of the part...The title role was sustained by Miss Maud Ellicott, a newcomer, who has a pleasant voice of mezzo-soprano range, but who, alike as singer and actress belongs to the order of meritorious rather than remarkable performers...Having expressed almost unqualified admiration in these columns of the score of M. Messager's Basoche, we cannot be accused of insular prejudice in pronouncing the music of Mirette to be most disappointing. It is not only far less ambitious in structure, but far less elegant and original, nor are any of the ensembles impressive or well worked out, that of the last act being singularly perfunctory. Furthermore, in so many instances does the composer lapse into waltz refrains that cannot resist the impression that Messager, in the desire to please an English audience, has taken for his model the English royalty ballad. Mirette, in short, with just a few exceptions, hardly ever rises above the level of graceful conventionality. It is as deficient in individuality or sparkle as the blameless lyrics of Mr. Weatherly.
It would have better not to encourage comparisons, but to let Mirette speak for itself. Probably it would then have passed as among the more refined examples of the sketchy, tuneful opera that was in vogue before the extravagancies of Offenbach and Herve took possession of the stage, and never disappeared before any length of time...More than one feature of the story will be immediately recognised by those who have had experience of this class of production during the past 20 years...Messager's music is invariably characterised by smooth melody and graceful expressiveness, but in Mirette one feels that a little variation from these commendable qualities would now and again be welcome. The fact is the ballads are too much alike. They please the ear for the time being, but leave no strong impression on the mind. We are not sure that anything more in this respect is required by the general public, but supposing this to be the case, what need was there for stating that Mirette was intended to differ from other works of this class? It is quite possible, even in opera comique, to have music too rhythmical. Certainly a few of the solos are among the things that might be omitted, without, as was said in a preceding Savoy opera, 'being missed'.
The one comic character, a cowardly gipsy, is always getting into trouble, and shades off into a type perilously near to that in the 'variety' form of light opera. It is said 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...
Mirette is remarkable for the feebleness of its plot and paucity of its humour. Mirette is a gypsy maiden. That is to say, she is not really a gypsy maiden, but has been discovered under a gooseberry-bush by the head gypsy, and has been adopted by his band. A good deal of stress is laid upon this fact, but nothing comes of it. Probably the authors intended to make her the lost heiress of a widowed Duchess, and then altered their minds. Anyhow, Picorin, a gypsy, falls in love with her, and she rather likes him. But presently a young noble, Gerard, finds her asleep under a tree and makes love to her.
A comic gypsy, Bobinet, is hidden in the tree and 'overhears all'. But nothing comes of it. The young noble retires, and presently returns with soldiers. The gypsies all hide under blankets and rugs, but nothing comes of it. They emerge suddenly for no reason, and the soldiers arrest several of them, as they originally intended to. Why they are arrested is not stated, though it does not particularly matter. Nothing comes of it.
Mirette herself goes as lady help to the aunt of Gerard, where Picorin is engaged as major-domo. It is distinctly stated that only one month elapses between the first and second acts, so of course nothing is more natural than that Picorin, a gypsy, should in that short space of time obtain employment as the most responsible of all domestic servants in a large household. But possibly Picorin was a footman or something of the sort before he became a gypsy.
As a grand fete is being given, Gerard, having thought that the gypsies were the right people to arrest in the first act, thinks they are the right people to invite in the second act to come and amuse his aunt. She, however, wishes to humiliate Mirette, for whom Gerard has developed an affection; so she insists on Mirette resuming her gypsy habit and entertaining the company with a song and dance. This Mirette does, and then rushes away with her old companions to the adjacent forest, leaving Gerard so affected that he refuses to marry his cousin. But nothing comes of it. Gerard promptly changes his mind and resumes his cousin, when he discovers that Mirette and Picorin are travelling about together - quite platonically - with a booth. Then Mirette says that she has loved Picorin all along; and why on earth she did not say so at an earlier stage of the proceedings is not very evident. A more trivial story has rarely been told at such inordinate lengths to an indulgent audience.
The Topical Times
In all kindness, I am not aware what the original French was like, but the English is decidedly below the average, and, despite serious assertions to the contrary, appears to be translated word for word. I have on several occasions has to praise Harry Greenbank for excellent lyrical writing, and it would be well for his rising reputation had he kept to that in which he is proficient. The mistake usually made by novices when commissioned to 'keep to the original French text' is in giving a translation of a sentence instead of expressing the meaning of it in their own language - and the result of such mistaken fidelity is something ridiculous and always strained. Look at the words spoken by the Burgomaster in the first act:
It does not appear that the composer is gifted with the keen sense of humour which works written for the Savoy have often exemplified. In the merriest situations, his strains refuse to laugh, and flow on elegantly, with perfect blandness and good breeding. It would be better, perhaps, if the music, with all its prevailing charm, did not preserve so intense a respectability.
Conscious, no doubt, that Mirette needed some substantial aid, the manager of the Savoy has given us the most admirable series of stage pictures ever seen at this theatre, which is saying a great deal. The curtain rises on a forest glade in Flanders - the vast stage is alive with greenery. A stream of real water babbles over the pebbles.
Critics found difficulty saying anything nice about Maud Ellicott:
She has the advantage of good looks, and possesses a powerful but rather hard voice which needs careful training.
Her voice, though powerful, is rather hard, and she is somewhat addicted to singing out of tune.
Miss Maud Ellicott made a favourable impression with her singing, but she can't act for nuts.
It is not often that people have the chance of seeing a bride perform on the stage on the evening of her wedding day.
She possesses a powerful soprano voice but a somewhat faulty production which she would do well to correct at once.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News
She did not displays any gifts of an exceptional character. Her voice is a soprano more penetrating than pleasing, while her acting was of the obvious amateur type.
Pall Mall Budget
She sings pleasantly and unpretentiously, and goes through all the motions appropriate to her part with charming amateurishness.
"Mirette" was withdrawn on August 11, 1894, and reopened on October 6 with many improvements.
Mirette quickly made a host of new friends. Applause ruled long and loud; in fact, the outburst of enthusiasm which followed the final descent of the curtain brought with it a reminder of the palmy days when the Gilbert-Sullivan alliance was at its strongest.
The new version is in every respect so immeasurably superior to its predecessor that there is now very little in the work with which to find fault.
As it now stands, Mirette is a charming, graceful and altogether pleasing opera, and one which on its merits deserves a full measure of success. It is well the public should clearly understand this, so that no preconceived ideas regarding it may prevent another paying and speedy visit to the Savoy.
[Adrian Ross] has re-written to such effect that vivacity and brightness have dispelled all the previous tedium; dramatic scenes replace the straggling ones of the dead Mirette.
Maud Ellicott left the role quite suddenly before the opening and she was replaced by Kate Rolla, an American soprano.
Miss Kate Rolla makes but an indifferent Mirette. The voice, though well trained, is somewhat worn, and not - at any rate in the upper register - of very pleasing quality; nor, as it happens, has the lady those qualifications of youth and youthful slimness which are well nigh indispensable for such a role as this.
The Man of the World
She may as well drop the grand style of Italian opera in her acting, and her observation, of which the point lies the application of it, that she "won't pine away to a shadow just yet," should be omitted, although - perhaps I should say because - it raised a laugh on Saturday night.
This lady is a dramatic vocalist of high attainments and culture, who brings to the Savoy stage perhaps a shade more than is necessary of the traditions of grand opera. On Saturday she seemed quite a superior person, whereas Mirette used to be a gipsy. The musical portion of the heroine's interpretation benefited at the expense of the dramatic, but if Miss Rolla can be induced to infuse a soupcon of diablerie into her acting, she will, I doubt not, install herself as a firm favourite.
St James' Gazette
In her best days, she was probably as good as many other of those American singers who (fortunately) come to us in such numbers. Those days, however, have passed away. Miss Rolla possesses a fine voice, somewhat the worse for wear, and she sings like an educated artist; but her acting is of the conventional operatic kind, and she persists in singing, in the Italian manner, to the audience when she ought to address herself to her colleagues in the piece.
Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News
Miss Kate Rolla is the roundest peg in a square hole we have seen for some time. She is supposed to portray a bright, vivacious, captivating little gipsy queen, and what she makes of it is the lymphatic fair-haired queen of pantomime who sweeps down to the footlights to sing her song, and whose idea of acting and gesture mainly consists of two or three set automatic movements of the arms. Surely we are not so destitute of attractive vocalists as appearances would lead us to imagine; but if we must go to America for our prima donnas, then in pity's sake let them send us her youth and keep the much maturer article for the Wild West.
Kate Rolla quit on October 20, and Miss Elaine Gryce filled her place until Miss Florence St. John was ready for the part.
The presence of Miss Florence St John has caused the other performers to act and sing with greater animation...The music of The Chieftain is not yet wanted because Mirette is doing so well.
"Mirette" closed on December 6, 1894, "The Chieftain" having been rushed into rehearsal.
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