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Review from The Observer
Sunday, May 29, 1898.


Under the personal direction of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and in presence of one of those brilliant and distinguished audiences that a Savoy first night never fails to draw together, The Beauty Stone was last night launched on its career. The libretto has been prepared by Messrs. Pinero and Comyns Carr, and the work has been mounted with the artistic finish, completeness, and liberality customary at this popular theatre.

The scene is laid in the quaint old Flemish town of Mirlemont. Its ruler, Lord Philip, formerly one of the warrior knights of the Duke of Burgundy, is now a carpet-knight, the charms of an Eastern siren, "the lady Saida," with whom he had found solace during an exile in Cephalonia, having induced him to become a worshipper of beauty and of pleasure in every form. He betters her instruction so far that he loses the respect of his former comrades in arms, and gives Saida reason for anxiety as to the stability of her dearly-won empire over his heart. It is a sunny day in 1408, and the town is preparing for a "Beauty Show" that, by order of Philip, is to be held in his presence in the Market Place.

Now, among the poorest and least-favoured folk in Mirlemont are Simon Limal, the weaver, and his wife Joan, and their crippled daughter Laine. So little do they please the æsthetic sense of Mirlemont that they are known as "The Ugly Family," a sobriquet which they accept as the natural expression of neighbourly feeling — in the 15th century. It is but natural that, on a day consecrated to the glorification of beauty, its antithesis should evoke a certain amount of hostility, and we are not surprised when a band of the choicer spirits of the town, catching poor Laine at the well, breaks her pitcher, jeers at her crooked back, her crutch, her limp, and her poor pinched face, and offers her the crowning insult of a kiss from the loathsome dwarf Peppin. Indeed, but for the n'er-do-weel, Jacqueline, whose impish tastes do not include an appreciation of cripple-baiting, it is difficult to say what might have happened.

Small, wonder that Laine, tired of her joyless existence, should kneel before the Virgin's shrine and pray for death! Her prayer is answered by a knocking at the door, and presently Laine admits a friar, who "limps slightly, has a forked red beard and long fingernails, but is of a genial demeanour." It is, we regret to say, his Satanic Majesty, who, having witnessed the cripple-bating scene, has followed its victim home in view of possible developments. A few well-placed sympathetic words and the girl's confidence is won. Then from a little bag the friar produces a pebble — the Beauty Stone.

A little stone hewn from a sunken rock,
Whose giant shadow, rising from the deep,
Empurples the blue sea! Yet, long ago,
In holier days, it reared its sacred head,
Moss-mantled o'er the wave; and on its crest
Once trod the Virgin's fet. And since that hour
This little particle of precious stone —
A relic rescued from the wreck of time —
Hath so much virtue, that on man or maid
Whoe'er it be who owns it, there doth fall
The gift of perfect beauty.

The "Ugly Family" beg that he will bestow it upon them, and on receiving it Simon and his wife at once force it upon their gentle daughter. As

On the bare breast of man or maid
Naked shall the stone be laid,

Laine retires to don the talisman, and Simon asks if the friar has never bestowed the gift till now. "Often," is the reply. "The how comes it in thy pouch to-day?" queries Simon, and the Devil explains that, do what he will, the stone always returns to him —

And anon it sped over sea and land,
It journeyed o'er land and sea,
It hath lodged in many a fair maid's hand —
Yet it ever comes back to me.

As he finishes his grim ditty, Laine, radiantly beautiful, and carrying her crutch, "as though she were bearing a lily," emerges from her room. The friar walks away, crying in a loud voice, "Vox quibus Deus benedixit benedicite!"

The Beauty Show duly takes place, in the presence of Philip and Saida, but the competitors are not to his lordship's taste and he declines to award the prize. The devil (who is present disguised as a travelling Italian nobleman) proposes that, for sport, the hideous dwarf Peppin should be betrothed to the ugliest girl in the town, This is agreed to, and Laine, of course, is fetched from her alley. But the astonished people now find her the fairest instead of the ugliest, and seeing witchcraft in the change are about to seize her when Philip comes to her rescue. Despite her rags he is smitten by her pure angelic face, her grace and modesty, and amid the acclamations of the crowd she is proclaimed the winner of the rosebud crown and silver girdle.

In the next act we see how Philip spends his time. His guests are numerous and as frivolous as their host. He has sent for Laine, and impatiently awaits her coming, which is delayed by the limitations of her wardrobe, and the necessity of making good its deficiencies. Poor Saida, whose jealous fears have now entered upon a formidable crescendo, seeks to fascinate Philip, and, calling her maidens round her, beguiles him with a voluptuous Eastern dance, singing the while so sweetly that he is on the point of embracing her, when Laine is announced. Philip dismisses his guests, and begins a conversation with her that. of course, ends in a declaration of love. Laine, with the natural "desire of the moth for the star," reciprocates Philip's passionate protestations, and thinks still more highly of him when he presently proposes that she shall live in the castle as playfellow to the Lady Catherine of Ninove.

Her happiness is short-lived, however, for she presently hears Philip refuse a summons to lead his retinue and men-at-arms to the assistance of the Duke of Burgundy in raising the siege of Maestricht. Guntran, an old warrior and life-long friend of Philip, upbraids him with cowardice, and Laine, enlightened as to the true character of her hero by the outspoken phrases of Guntrun, now joins her voice to that of his accuser, and with words, "I too cry thee shame," rushes away. Stung with remorse, Philip takes down his sword, and, his former fire returning, calls on his knights to ride with him at dawn to the field of battle.

Laine rushes home, and crying, "'Twas beauty brought Lord Philip low, 'tis beauty that hath wrought my woe," tears the stone from her breast and returns to he former crippled and forlorn condition. Saida subsequently obtains the pebble, and triumphant in her renewed beauty, awaits the return of Philip, whose forces have been victorious. He comes, but with bandaged eyes. He is blind! Saida in despair throws the stone from her and flies shrieking away. The devil picks it up, and singing "It always comes back to me," leaps into space. Philip sends for Laine, and with their betrothal in the market place, the opera ends.

It will be seen from this rough sketch of the plot and its main incidents that Sir Arthur Sullivan has had to deal with a subject differing widely from those which, at the Savoy, his dainty and humorous muse is so thoroughly identified. This, and the inferiority of the lyrics in the new work to the finished lines of Mr. Gilbert, must be taken into account by those on whom falls the duty of estimating this, the latest production of the most popular of living English composers. The Beauty Stone is not a glorified "Bab Ballad;" it is described as "A Romantic Musical Drama;" and Sir Arthur Sullivan has had to take this into account. What is the result? Speaking for ourselves, we confess freely to disappointment. That the music includes many pages worthy of the composer of The Golden Legend we will not deny; that it is always graceful, piquant, and sensuously pleasing may be freely conceded; but we cannot admit that, taken as a whole, its merits are such as we have a right to expect from Sir Arthur Sullivan. Noblesse oblige, and the composer's previous record supplies us with the standard by which we must, in justice to himself, measure each of his productions. We have two grave faults to find with the music of The Beauty Stone — it lacks inventive power — both in melody an rhythm — and it is wanting in dramatic fitness. This is not to say that such qualities are not to be found in the score: we mean simply that their presence is not evident to an extent that justifies us in giving the new opera a high place among the the composer's works.

The honours of the performances fell to Miss Ruth VIncent (Laine), Miss Pauline Joran (Saida), Miss Emmie Owen (Jacqueline), and Mr. Walter Passmore (the Devil). Nothing could have been better than the contrast afforded by the impersonations of Miss Joran and Miss Vincent. They were alike only in two qualities — histrionic and vocal excellence. Miss Rosina Brandram and Mr. H. A. Lytton were excellent as the Weaver and his wife, and Messrs. G. Devoll and E. Isham gave a fairly good account of the characters of Philip and Guntrun. Mr. Passmore, though presenting a devil more or less in harmony with mediæval thought (and therefore to a certain extent necessarily humorous), displayed at times a degree of frightful(?) force that came upon the admirers of this clever comedian with a pleasant surprise. A word of praise praise should be given to Mr. Telbin (who has painted some charming scenery) and to those responsible for the dresses and armour.

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