The Emerald Isle

Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

The Making of

The Emerald Isle

by Cunningham Bridgeman

The following is extracted from the book "Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas" by François Cellier and Cunningham Bridgeman, published in 1914.

It may not be out of place in these personal reminiscences to narrate how the sad tidings of Sullivan's death reached my ears. I had arrived in Dublin as Mr. D'Oyly Carte's press representative in connection with the tour of "The Rose of Persia," and on the morning of November 22nd, in pursuance of my official duties, I called at the office of The Irish Times and interviewed one of the subeditors. Speaking of Sullivan's precarious health, I had just stated that, according to latest reports from headquarters, the composer had recovered strength sufficiently to enable him to resume work on his new opera, to be called "The Emerald Isle," when our conversation was interrupted by a telephone call. Then, like a bolt from the blue, came the message, "Sir Arthur Sullivan died at nine o'clock this morning!"

This was one of the strangest coincidences, as it was, truly, the saddest one in my experience.

In the Irish capital the sad news created great lamentation, for the music loving people of Ireland always claimed Sullivan as one of their kindred, and, further, the knowledge that the subject of the new opera upon which he was engaged was Irish intensified sympathetic interest in the sorrowful event.

As in London, so in Dublin, the anxious question arose, "What will now become of 'The Emerald Isle'?"

It soon became known that a large portion of the music was left unfinished by Sullivan. Three songs in the first act and five in the second act had not been set, and, with the exception of numbers 1 and 2 scored by Sir Arthur, the whole of the opera remained to be harmonized and orchestrated. General satisfaction followed the announcement that, by request of the author, Basil Hood, and Mr. Carte, the task of completing the score had been undertaken by Edward German.

In due course "The Emerald Isle" was finished, and, appropriately, on St. Patrick's Day the opera was placed in rehearsal at the Savoy, under the personal direction of the author, assisted by Richard Barker.

Although Mr. Carte was in too weak a state of health to take any active part in the work of preparation, everybody rejoiced to learn that the patient showed signs of wonderful improvement; accordingly it was fondly hoped that the esteemed managers strength would be sufficiently restored to allow him to witness the production of the piece. But it was not to be; a few days later Mr. Carte had a serious relapse, and his distinguished medical attendant, Sir Thomas Barlow, pronounced him to be in a critical state.

On April 3rd, four months and a half after the death of Sir Arthur Sullivan, Richard D'Oyly Carte, the second of the famous Triumvirate, passed away in his London residence, No. 4, Adelphi Terrace, in the fifty-seventh year of his age.

To musical London and a large sphere beyond the news of the death of the popular impresario came with a great shock. All Savoyards and associates of the Savoy felt they had lost a friend, one to whom they were indebted for a multitude of past joys.

The sole management of the Savoy now devolved upon Mrs. D'Oyly Carte, under whose responsibility " he Emerald Isle, or the Caves of Carrig-Cleena," was produced on Saturday, April 27th, 19O1, with the following cast:

The Earl of Newtown, K.P. (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland)
Mr. Jones Hewson
Dr. Fiddle, D.D. (His Private Chaplain)
Mr. R. Rous
Terence O'Brian (A Young Rebel)
Mr. Robert Evett
Professor Bunn (Shakespearian Reciter, Character Impersonator, etc.)
Mr. Walter Passmore
Pat Murphy (A Fiddler)
Mr. Henry A. Lytton
Black Dan
Mr. W. H. Leon
Mickie O'Hara (Irish Peasants)
Mr. C. Earldon
Sergeant Pincher
Mr. R. Crompton
Private Perry (H.M. 11th Regiment of Foot)
Mr. P. Pinder
The Countess of Newtown
Miss Rosina Brandram
Lady Rosie Pippin (Her Daughter)
Miss Isabel Jay
Molly O'Grady (A Peasant Girl)
Miss Louie Pounds
Susan (Lady Rosie's Maid)
Miss Blanche Gaston-Murray
Miss Lulu Evans
Kathleen (Peasant Girls)
Miss Agnes Fraser

Irish Peasants and Soldiers of 11th Regiment of Foot
ACT I.-Outside the Lord Lieutenant's Country Residence
ACT II.-The Caves of Carrig-Cleena
PERIOD.-About a Hundred Years Ago

Produced under the Personal Direction of the Author, and under the Stage-direction of MR. R. BARKER.

Musical Director
Mr. François Cellier

The libretto of "The Emerald Isle" was pronounced to be altogether worthy of the author of "The Rose of Persia." Captain Basil Hood had conceived an interesting story of Irish rural life, with its picturesque scenes of peasant bhoys and pretty colleens clad in the costumes of a century ago. In admirable contrast to these merryhearted rustics of "the disthressful counthree" were introduced an aristocratic Lord-Lieutenant and his highborn wife, neither of whom ever discoursed in anything but Shakespearean blank verse. These magniloquent Vice-Royalties were escorted, wherever they went, by a gallant Devon Regiment in their curious uniforms of the Georgian period. A capital character-sketch of a sturdy Devonian was that of Sergeant Pincher, played to the life by Mr. Reginald Crompton, himself a native of the land of loveliness and clotted cream. The Sergeant's song and chorus, composed by Edward German and rendered in broad Devonshire dialect, was one of the hits of the piece. Basil Hood's lines may not appeal to all readers, but, coming, as I do, from the wild west-country parts, I feel impelled to quote stanzas so thoroughly characteristic of the land.

Now this be the song of the Devonshire men
(With a bimble and a bumble and the best of 'em !)
And the maids they have left on the moor and the fen-
There was Mary Hooper and Mary Cooper and Jane Tucker and Emily Snugg and Susan Wickens and Hepzibah Lugg and pretty Polly Potter and the rest of 'em!

The Sergeant he came a-recruiting one day
(With a bimble and a bumble for the best of 'em!)
And the maids cried "Alack!" when the men went away-
There was Thomas Perry and Thomas Merry and Jan Hadley and Timothy Mudd and Harry Budgen and Oliver Rudd and Ebenezer Pincher and the rest of 'em!

So the men marched away in their bright scarlet coats,
Though they shouted "Hooray!" they had lumps in their throats,
And the maids fell a-crying, as maids often do,
Saying, "Oh, will our lovers be faithful and true?"

But some day they will march into Devon, and then
(With a bimble and a bumble and the best of 'em!)
All the maids will be taking the names of the men-
There'll be Mary Perry and Mary Merry and Jane Hadley and Emily Mudd and Susan Budgen and Hepzibah Rudd and pretty Polly Pincher and the rest of 'em!

The Sergeant he may come recruiting once more
(With a bimble and a bumble for the best of 'em!)
There will always be Devonshire men for the war-
There'll be young Tom Perry and young Tom Merry and young Hadley and little Tim Mudd and young Hal Budgen and a juvenile Rudd and a little Ebenezer and the rest of 'em!

From these brief notes it will easily be seen how far the author showed his appreciation of the value of contrasts in colour and characterization.

Whilst the sympathy of all Savoyards was, naturally, with Basil Hood in the loss he had sustained through the death of his gifted colleague so shortly after they had begun successful collaboration, cause to congratulate the author was forthcoming when it was found with what masterly skill and taste Edward German had completed the score left unfinished by Sullivan. Distinct in their individual style as were the two composers, Sullivan and German alike possessed the strain of what we must call, for lack of a more technically correct description, "motherland melody." Thus, Hood's well-turned lyrics, both the graceful and the humorous, were set to music by German in a tone that blended as perfectly as could be expected with the numbers composed before his death by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Every lover of Sullivan will remember that "The Emerald Isle " contains the master's swansong:

"'Come away' sighs the Fairy voice,
'Come follow me to Carrig-Cleena!
'For there I make all aching hearts rejoice
Come--come away.'"

Although thirteen years have passed since it was heard at the Savoy, the refrain of that beautiful melody must often haunt the ears and awaken a pathetic memory in the mind of every one who listened to it.

I am here reminded of an incident which occurred during the rehearsal of "The Emerald Isle." One morning, whilst Mrs. D'Oyly Carte was surveying the stage proceedings from the heights of the upper circle, one of the ladies of the company, observing the figure through the dim light of the auditorium, directed the attention of the stage-manager, Richard Barker, to what she supposed to be an intruder. Barker, who was a bit of a wag in his way, glanced upward, and, mistaking his worthy manageress for one of the theatre charwomen engaged on her duties, replied: "Never mind her, my dear, she won't hurt-it's only the Fairy Cleaner!" A moment later Mrs. Carte, from the front row of the circle, called down: "Mr. Barker, might I suggest that----" "Good heavens!" gasped the stagemanager, "it's the Missus!"

Shortly after the production of "The Emerald Isle," Mrs. D'Oyly Carte let the theatre to Mr. William Greet, who continued the run of the Hood-Sullivan-German opera with great success before sending the piece on tour with the full Savoy Company.

I happened to be again in Dublin during the visit of "The Emerald Isle" company. There was some doubt as to the kind of reception the opera would meet with at the hands of Irish playgoers. On the opening night, led by curiosity, I took up a position at the back of the pit of the Gaiety Theatre, and anxiously awaited events. Strange to relate, all the points which it was feared might touch the sensibilities of the Dublin people met with nothing but hearty applause. All went smoothly until the general dance, which occurs in the second act. Then, because it was supposed the jigstep was not quite correct, or that the girls lifted their heels too high, a torrent of booing burst upon the house. A sympathetic Patrick standing immediately in front of me shouted out in a lusty voice: "Arrah nhow! Can't ye be aisy if on'y out of rishpect for the dead composer?" To which another voice responded: "Eh Sorr, an' an Oirishman too he was, so he was!" This appeal had a magic effect on the rowdies, and the performance continued without further disturbance.

Let the truth be told: there are no more devout lovers of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas than the warm-hearted people of The Emerald Isle. And sound critics they are, too!

Mr. William Greet, during his tenancy of the Savoy, produced, in succession to "The Emerald Isle," first, Hood and German's charming opera, "Merrie England," and, after that, another musical play of a lighter type, "The Princess of Kensington," by the same author and composer.

Page updated 10 February 2004