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A CHAT WITH SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN.

BY AN UNORTHODOX CRITIC.

"It was a singular permit which gained me my entrée to Sir Arthur Sullivan’s presence on Tuesday," writes a Pall Mall critic; "for, in the words of that warrior who presides over Sir Arthur Sullivan’s temporal welfare, I might see the great composer about his new work, ‘Haddon Hall,’ but it was to be distinctly understood that he could not possibly be interviewed.  What I succeeded in doing, however, was to have a fairly interesting talk with Sir Arthur Sullivan about many musical matters, and incidentally about the new Savoy opera.  There is very little of the Bohemian about Sir Arthur Sullivan’s extremely pleasant flat in Victoria-street, unless it be successful Bohemianism — a variety with which I have but little acquaintance.  I found everything in order, and Sir Arthur himself surrounded by written music on every hand.

"This week the genial composer has been engaged partly on the work in connection with the rehearsals of ‘Haddon Hall,’ which are now practically finished, and largely on the completion of his work for the forthcoming Leeds Festival, the first rehearsal in London for which takes place next Monday.  Sir Arthur has been specially busy with the score of Bach’s Mass in B minor, and has personally supervised the organ part, which has been arranged by Mr. Frederick Cliffe.

"Yesterday also, Sir Arthur went on his way to Cardiff to conduct the performance at the Musical Festival there of his ‘Golden Legend.’  These things filled up our time very agreeably, and it was only here and there that anything of real importance connected with ‘Haddon Hall’ escaped him.

"He wishes above all things that the public will approach the new opera in a somewhat different frame of mind from that which has dominated them when they have contemplated the first night of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera.  Sir Arthur thinks Mr. Gilbert so unapproachable in his own particular vein that he purposely sought out a libretto of a somewhat more serious and romantic character than has previously been the case.  The new work will be described on the bills as a light English opera, for it is not essentially comic, and it is certainly not simply romantic.  Being essentially musical and consistently dramatic, it answers most nearly to the opéra comique as understood in France, and it is an opera in which music plays a very important part.  The musical interest must be taken seriously, and it must be listened to quâ music.  Sir Arthur is anxious to see if he cannot find a place for the English opéra comique on our stage, and as such he has wedded really important music to a libretto which is distinctly interesting, and the comic relief of which is pure comedy.

"The subject, as is now pretty well known, deals with the elopement and return of Lady Dorothy Vernon.  It opens with a prologue, sung by the chorus behind the scenes; and there is more than a touch of the old English colour in the music of the early numbers.  The first act is interesting, and contains one of those four-part madrigals in which Sir Arthur Sullivan so easily excels — one of those expressions of national music in which it used to be the duty of every English gentleman, from the times of Good Queen Bess downwards, to be ready to take part.

It is in the second act, however, that the great musical effect of the opera is obtained, and the great finale here will take some twenty-five minutes to play.  The effects will be remarkable, and the storm scene, during which a complete change of scenery is made, will be depicted both on the stage and by means of musical expression.  This finale certainly is very ambitious, and marks the culmination of the musical interest.  The third act, however, is extremely bright, and is decidedly short; it consists almost entirely of the finale.  There is no patter song, strictly so called, in the opera, but Mr. Denny’s song to a bagpipe accompaniment will certainly be one of the features of the work.

"The comedy element will be supplied by the Puritans, who promise to be very humorous gentlemen, and by MacCrankie. [sic]  But the public must not come to the Savoy with the impression that they are going to see a comic opera, but to see and hear an opéra comique.  When the subject of ‘another Savoy opera’ was mooted, Sir Arthur Sullivan felt that to follow in any way the lines upon which the Gilbert and Sullivan operas have been constructed would have provoked inevitable comparison, and this it was his chief object to avoid.  ‘You see,’ he added, ‘that Gilbert and I have always been the best of friends, and I sincerely hope that if I am strong enough we shall write at least one more opera together.  Mr. Sydney Grundy is a charming fellow, with a great dramatic gift, very willing and very quick at catching my suggestions, and from all I hear the opera is very complete dramatically, and the staging certainly is remarkably sumptuous.  Mr. Percy Anderson’s dresses are wonderful, and I shouldn’t be at all surprised if you find that the effect in the finale of the second act is something quite unprecedented.   I feel a little depressed about the work now that the strain of the rehearsals is taken off me, but I must be a very bad judge indeed, especially of my own work, because I have always been most depressed at rehearsal by those works which have been the most successful.  In one thing we are exceptionally fortunate this time because we have an unusually fine quartet of singers in Miss Lucile Hill, Miss Brandram, Mr. Courtice Pounds, and Mr. Richard Green.  I have taken care to give them more than one opportunity to distinguish themselves.  If I can tell you anything more about the opera after the work is copyrighted in America — which will be during the course of the next forty-eight hours, I think — please come and see me.’  With this genial injunction I left Sir Arthur, who was looking decidedly tired, to make his preparations for his journey to Cardiff."


"A Chat with Sir Arthur Sullivan."  Pall Mall Gazette, Wed. 21 Sep. 1892 (issue 8581), pp. 1-2.  (Reprinted as "An Interview with Sir Arthur Sullivan. By an Unorthodox Critic," Musical Opinion & Trade Review 16.181 (Oct. 1892) 16.)


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