|Sullivan > Major Works > Haddon Hall > Introduction
by Clifton Coles
Haddon Hall represents a series of firsts for the Savoy Theatre. It was the first Sullivan opera produced there without Gilbert. It was the first Savoy opera whose focus is almost entirely on romance and not on comedy. And it was the first Savoy opera based on an actual historical incident.
The plot hinges on the elopement in 1563 of Dorothy Vernon with John Manners, son of the Duke of Rutland. In order to add humor, author Sydney Grundy switched the date to 1660. This gave the opera a Puritan background, the hypocritical elements of which were exploited by the author.
In addition, there are two main themes: the eternity of the British home, stated plainly in the opera's prologue, sung by the chorus behind the closed curtain, and recurring throughout the opera; and Shakespeare's "To thine own heart be true."
Sydney Grundy (1848-1914) was a playwright of some renown to his own generation, though his skills as a librettist were not that well-tested. Besides Haddon Hall, Ganzl in The British Musical Theatre lists Grundy as librettist for the one-act "musical absurdity" Popsy Wopsy (1880) and the full-length Vicar of Bray (1882) and Pocahontas (1884). The Vicar of Bray had been mounted in a revival at the Savoy earlier in 1892.
Stanley Kunitz in British Authors of the Nineteenth Century writes that Grundy "never wrote an original play; all his drama, some of which became exceedingly popular and enjoyed long runs and many revivals, were adaptations from the French. They were not, however, so much translations as actual rewritings, and he had a distinct gift, especially for comedy." Kunitz lists three principal works, The Snowball (1879), In Honor Bound (1880), and A Pair of Spectacles (1890).
For Haddon Hall, Sullivan asked Grundy to provide him with alternate lyrics for each song. The result is much music of considerable beauty but a score almost completely lacking in drama. Many of the solo songs read as conventional drawing-room ballads -- and were set as such. Some of these (especially Lady Vernon's song in Act III "Queen of the garden") are exquisite.
The cast included many familiar Savoyards, including Rutland Barrington as Rupert Vernon, Courtice Pounds as John Manners, Rosina Brandram as Lady Vernon, and W.H. Denny as the McCrankie. Charles Kenningham, later to be the Savoy's principal tenor, is here allotted the second tenor role of Oswald. He and two other cast members had been performers in Sullivan's Ivanhoe in 1891. Richard Green, who played Prince John (as well as the role of Tommy Merton in the Vicar of Bray revival at the Savoy earlier in 1892), created the part of Sir George Vernon. Soprano Lucille Hill had sung Rowena in Ivanhoe and here took the lead as Dorothy Vernon.
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