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Review from The Manchester Guardian
Monday, May 30, 1898.
"The Beauty Stone" was produced at the Savoy Theatre, London, before a brilliant audience on Saturday evening and received with every indication of favour. It is not easy, however, to forecast with accuracy the ultimate fate of the new work. To the critical mind it presents in its actual shape many faults. The only question is whether these faults are such as liberal excision and condensation can remove without injuring the organic structure as a whole, and this remains to be seen.
"The Beauty Stone" introduces for the first time in the capacity of librettist Mr. Arthur W. Pinero, the lyrics being by Mr. J. Comyns Carr and the music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. The joint offspring is described neither as a serious nor comic opera, but as an original romantic musical drama and the fact is of importance because not only does it signalise another new departure in the Savoy policy, but it influences the point of view from which the production ought to be regarded.
In the main the tendency of the story is distinctly serious. It has for its principal male character no less a personage than the Devil, who is here introduced in a mediæval picture as the more or less grotesque being delineated in the old mysteries and miracle-plays. It deals, then, with the supernatural as well as the romantic. Indeed the account which the Devil, in the garb of a friar, gives of the so-called "beauty stone" that he bestows upon the crippled daughter of the old Flemish weaver strikes an almost tragical note, for the stone has already been the means of burying a "maiden all skin and bone" and a "miser withered and old" and he cynically adds —
To unfold the story of the troubles arising from the presence of the Devil and his beauty stone in the town of Mirlemont during the summer of 1408 Mr. Pinero requires three acts and seven scenes. For a drama this might not be excessive but for a musical drama it is risky and for a Savoy opera positively dangerous. The initial difficulty is not modified by the manner in which Mr. Comyns Carr has, so to speak, interpolated most of his lyrics. Mr. Pinero's dialogue, if it does not precisely "coruscate with wit," at least carries the action steadily along, but it happens only too frequently that Mr. Carr's otherwise tolerable verses retard instead of helping the action: they do not always arise naturally out of the situation, but often bear the stamp of being manufactured merely to offer a chance for the composer. Again, these numbers occasionally demand a musical setting of the light, not to say trivial, skill peculiar to Sir Arthur Sullivan's comic muse, and the composer, unable to resist the impulse, has scored(?) them accordingly. Hence a sense of incongruity that grates upon the listener. The jingle of "Pinafore" and "The Mikado" is delightful enough in its place, but its intrusion in the midst of some more or less dramatic episode must necessarily arouse resentment.
The first act of "The Beauty Stone" leaves little room for complaint on this score. It is long, but not lacking in conciseness, and the sole items that could be left out are the solos allotted to the competitors for the beauty prize won by the transformed weaver's daughter. This, by the way, is a capital scene, alike pictorially and musically: the quaint fifteenth century costumes of the Flemish burghers are worthy of Mr. Percy Anderson's pencil, and Sir Arthur Sullivan's ensemble when the jealous Lady Saida endeavours to divert the attention of Philip, lord of Mirlemont, from the fair possessor of the beauty stone is quite up to the best of his "Ivanhoe" level.
The second act, however, needs a great deal of compression. There are three duets here — one in each scene — and despite the grace of that sung by the weaver and his wife when they are undecided who shall have the stone after their daughter, through discarding it, has become an uncomely cripple again, all three impede the action and ought to be eliminated. The best music of the act — and this is really beautiful — is heard in the scene where Saida, striving to retain the love of Lord Philip, sings and dances with her maidens in Eastern costumes. The episode is quite a triumph both for the composer and for Miss Pauline Joran, who now makes her first appearance at the Savoy and imparts to the character of Saida a remarkable measure of vocal and histrionic charm.
How the siren gains the possession of the beauty stone too late for it to be of service to her since her lover returns from the wars deprived of sight and longing only for the companionship of the humble weaver's daughter; how he weds the latter, and how the beauty stone goes back to the keeping of the disappointed Devil — all this is shown succinctly enough in the last act which is altogether very bright and interesting.
The performance, excellent as it was under the composer's baton on Saturday, will doubtless improve after the necessary cuts have been made. It owes less than it should to the clever but unsatisfactory Devil of Mr. Walter Passmore or the vocally unsatisfactory Philip of a new American tenor, Mr. George Devoll. Another Transatlantic actor, Mr. Edwin Isham, also makes his debut in a prominent part, but the real individual successes are scored by Miss Joran as Saida, by Miss Rosina Brandram and Mr. H. A. Lytton as the weaver and his wife, by Miss Ruth Vincent as the crippled heroine (a charming and pathetic impersonation), and by Miss Emmie Owen as Jacqueline.
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