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INTRODUCTION

by Clifton Coles

The New Savoy Opera in 1891 was not a Gilbert and Sullivan opera — the first time since the theatre opened its doors in 1881 that such a phenomenon had occurred. Though it was not G & S, The Nautch Girl was billed as a Savoy Opera, and everything about it — plot, music, and staging — was meant to resemble its predecessors, in particular The Mikado. This was a sound approach, typical for a showman like Richard D'Oyly Carte, but one bound to draw unfavorable comparisons. George Bernard Shaw in his review of the production took Carte to task: "Instead of trying to find another Gilbert and another Sullivan, [Carte] has tried to find another Mikado, which, I admit, is exactly what nobody wanted, one Mikado being enough for any reasonable generation."

Shaw also advised that The Nautch Girl's composer, Edward Solomon, be kept away from percussion instruments, but otherwise his work was slavishly Sullivan-esque. Solomon was an established operetta composer whose work had not escaped Carte's notice. So confident was Carte of Solomon's powers that his comic opera of 1881, Claude Duval, was played by Carte's touring companies in 1882.

For the first time two authors had a hand in a Savoy libretto. Frank Desprez, the more experienced of the two, was given a subordinate position to allow George Dance an opportunity to display his powers. Desprez had written several curtain raisers for the Savoy during the 1880s. Dance was later responsible for the phenomenal success of the musical A Chinese Honeymoon which ran for more than a thousand performances at the turn of the century.

Many familiar names graced the cast list of The Nautch Girl, contract players who had finished The Gondoliers' long run including Rutland Barrington (Punka), Courtice Pounds (Indru), and W.H. Denny (Bumbo). The part of Chinna Loofa was the last role soubrette Jessie Bond would create at the Savoy. By her own admission, it was one of her favorites. The title role was played by Lenore Snyder, the last of a long line of actresses who had played Gianetta in The Gondoliers.

The Nautch Girl achieved a respectable run of 200 performances, closing in January 1892, and was played by D'Oyly Carte travelling companies alongside the more familiar Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Solomon's 1880 comic opera Billee Taylor also later joined them.


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