Such epithets as "new" and "original" are so loosely applied to
theatrical productions that it is less surprising than it should be to find in the
"new opera" brought out last night at the Savoy Theatre, Sir Arthur Sullivan's
early work, The Contrabandista
, provided with a new second act. The first act of
the piece produced at St. George's hall in December, 1867, contained so much pretty music
that it was wise to incorporate it bodily in the new score, but why should it have been
found necessary to minimize the amount of indebtedness from the new work to the old,
as has been done in the book of words? Not five numbers, as there stated, but eight,
according to the arrangement of the published score of the former opera — or ten, if the
short overture, and Inez's first song are counted as separate sections — are to be found
in The Chieftain
, with scarcely an alteration, save only that the "Hymn to
the Ancient Hat" has some new solo passages, and is no longer the finale of the act.
The old-fashioned convention of making the finale out of the most taking tune in the
act, with a comfortable disregard of dramatic appropriateness, has been given up,
but to all intents and purposes, the new first act contains the whole of the old.
Here and there, besides the new finale, are musical additions, most consisting of
"padding" of rather a poor kind. The best of them is a trio "'Tis very
hard to choose" with a spirited little dance.
The new second act is a striking proof of Mr. Burnand's skill as a playwright;
in the original the piece ended with the arrival of the soldiers, and the release of
Mr. Grigg by the brigands; the story is now carried further, Mr. Grigg's wife is brought
on the scene in the person of a charming young lady, and the robber chief, whose
disappearance, together with the cash-box of the community, was the indirect occasion
of Mr. Grigg's election to the supreme government, is now found to be alternately earning
money as a courier, and finding it on the golden sands of the river Sil. The Spanish
officer and the English girl are rediscovered as a married couple, who are prone to
indulge in reminiscences of their courtship, when as boy and girl in Paris they hit upon
the happy expedient of conversing in French, in order that the Parisians might not
The libretto has a few touches such as this, in which the form of humour peculiar
to the establishment is successfully adopted; but for the most part showers of puns take
the place of the usual quips that the audience has learnt to expect. To say the truth,
there are not a few places where the dialogue hangs fire a little, although the situations
are always bright and effective, and there are plenty of opportunities for that abundance
of concerted pieces which is a distinctive feature of the later Savoy operas.
There is no marked discrepancy of style between the older and the newer portions;
the stream of melody may not flow quite as freely as it did 27 years ago, but it is of
much the same quality, and the greater skill of its treatment shows at every turn how
thoroughly the composer knows his public and their taste.
There is some pretty colouring in the chorus of gold washers, and early in the
second act comes the best number in the work, a love-duet in French and English, in
which the mannerisms of French light opera are as cleverly parodied in the music as the
tricks of its singers are by Miss Florence St. John. A capital song, "There's
something in that," with a very original quartet refrain; a "patter"
trio of the approved type, ending with a quotation from "The Lancers,"
quaintly introduced; a really funny quintet, in which Grigg invents a number of
stirring adventures; another quintet for the entry of the disguised brigands,
and a bright sestet, "Be mum," succeed one another with almost bewildering
rapidity. Nearly all of these end with some musical joke or humorous turn, which disguises
the absence of any such Mozart-like grace as distinguishes the trio in the first
act, "Hullo, what's that?"
The cast of the opera is as good as can be in the absence of a certain group of
performers whose fame was intimately connected with that of the earlier operas.
Miss Florence St. John, whose long period of servitude to a lower type of entertainment
has left little trace on her style, though her voice has naturally lost much of its old
freshness, is completely successful as Rita; and Miss Florence Perry, who only appears
in the second act, makes the most of the part of Mrs. Grigg. To Miss Rosina Brandram the
heaviest part falls — that of the brigand Queen — and it is as faultlessly given as usual.
Miss Emmie Owen sings brightly and dances admirably in a small, but not unimportant part.
Mr. Passmore is better suited in the part of Grigg than in any he has yet undertaken, and his singing of the famous "From Rock to Rock" was deservedly encored. Mr. Courtice Pounds, as the Spanish officer, Mr. Scott Fishe, as the real chieftain, Messrs. Temple, Morand, and Scott Russell, as brigands, are all completely adequate exponents of their parts; and in such matters as ensemble, choral singing, and the general smoothness of performance the good traditions of the house are fully maintained; the admirably-arranged dances of Mr. D'Auban merit a word of special praise. The piece was received with great enthusiasm, of which the greater part was bestowed on the second act. The composer conducted the work in person, and made his bow with Mr. Burnand at the close.
This review was submitted to the Gilbert & Sullivan Archive by Cliff Coles of the
Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Baton Rouge (Louisiana)