|Sullivan > Major Works > Ivanhoe > 1910 Revival
The first of Mr. Beecham’s experiments in opera is now practically completed. He has asked for a verdict from the public upon four important works, one of wholly German origin, two Anglo-German, and one wholly English. In the case of the first the response has been so emphatic as to leave no doubt that, in spite of all that can be urged against it, Elektra is one of the works which the public wants to see; but in the cases of The Village Romeo and Juliet and The Wreckers, both by English-born composers who have developed chiefly under German influence; the answer has been much less decisive.
Last night the revival of Ivanhoe placed upon the stage an opera which is as English as Elektra is German, but with this difference, that although it is only 19 years since Ivanhoe was produced at the Royal English Opera House, it represents an attitude towards music and the stage with which modern opera-goers are so completely out of sympathy that it might have been the work of some quite different age. Had it been so, it would stand a much better chance to-day; for to be archaic is to be interesting, but to be merely old-fashioned is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. To complete his scheme justly Mr. Beecham ought to have found some red-hot product of modern England, if such a thing exists, to set beside Elektra. Is it possible that he has had to echo what Mr. D’Oyly Carte wrote to The Times less than a year after the opening of the English Opera House, that unfortunately the composers were “not ready”?
The librettist, Mr. Julian Sturgis, was hampered by his respect for Scott and his desire to get in the whole of the story, or at any rate as much of it as could be made at all picturesque. He passed on his difficulties to the composer; and when Ivanhoe was first produced the lack of extended musical development was immediately commented upon. In order to keep within the limits of an evening’s entertainment, Sullivan denied himself the musician’s licence of old-fashioned opera without adopting the more concentrated style of modern music drama. Consequently both librettist and composer placed themselves under the rule of the stage manager and. were content to tell the story in a number of detached pictures, both dialogue and music being maintained long enough to show the complete picture and no longer.
This weakness was emphasized in Mr. Beecham’s performance by the fact that among the necessary cuts was a serious one in the big duet scene between Rebecca and the Templar, which reduced it from the most impassioned moment of the opera to the perfunctory level of the previous scene between Rowena and De Bracy. The Templar had only just time to declare his love before Rebecca jumped on to the window seat and declared, “If thou but stir I will leap down to death,” without the least evident intention of really doing so, and then the trumpet sounded in the courtyard before he could tell her that she should be “Empress of the East.” Rebecca seemed to have so little relish for the “leap to death” that if she had known this it might have made all the difference. However, the Templar said, “I must be gone to see who sounds so bold,” and he was gone and the curtain had fallen before one had time to realize that the crucial scene of the opera was over. This was scarcely fair to Sullivan or to the singers, who could not make the mangled scene in any way convincing. The other cuts, such as the omission of the scene of De Bracy’s pardon were more judicious; but some more narrative passages might well have been left out without detriment to the general effect.
It was for the brilliant tournament scene, the graceful forest scenes, and the burning of Torquilstone that people went to the English Opera House in the old days; and for these a large though not a crowded audience came to Covent Garden last night, and were apparently willing to endure some dull conversations and half-hearted love-making for the sake of them. They could not well be disappointed, for the tournament was as gorgeously coloured as possible and the holocaust was complete. The forest scenes were not only exquisitely mounted, but were delightfully refreshing to the musician, for they show the real Sullivan of the Savoy with his love of clean English melody, simplicity of design, and piquant humour. In one we have Friar Tuck with his famous song ‘Ho, Jolly Jenkin!’ in the other the country dance, accompanied by fresh, open-air tunes, pleasantly scored; and in both the composer casts off the paraphernalia of grand opera with evident relief.
Sullivan was not a good copyist, and he could not, like Wagner in Rienzi, draw successfully upon Meyerbeer for effects of pageantry, and when he tried to do so, as in the choral song “Fair and lovely is the may,” the result was rather garish. But it is surely very much to his credit that he refused to copy in most cases; and it is remarkable that an opera written in the nineties, some of the situations of which are almost absurdly like certain ones in Lohengrin, should bear scarcely a suggestion of Wagner’s early manner. The merits and the faults alike of the music belong solely to the composer.
Most of the characteristic songs made their full effect last night. Miss Edith Evans, whose declamation as Rowena in the first scene was not very dramatic, sang the Moonlight Song and the duet with Ivanhoe in the next scene effectively, and Mr. Hyde’s voice was delightful in quality both here and in the Sleep Song of the scene in Torquilstone. Mr. Kaufmann and Mr. Dearth were alike excellent in the comical scene at the hermitage, and both they and the audience seemed as glad as the composer was to get back to the Savoy atmosphere. ‘Ho! Jolly Jenkin’ was vociferously encored, and the second verse was repeated. As Miss Perceval Allen and Mr. Robert Maitland were robbed of most of their best scene, the parts of Rebecca and the Templar could not take the central dramatic place as they used to do; but Miss Allen made the most of her chances as a singer, and the Prayer was one of the best pieces of work she has done during the season. Mr. Robert Maitland’s voice was not always powerful enough for the Templar, especially on the high notes at the end of the soliloquy, “Woo thou thy snowflake;” but he was dignified and impressive throughout, even in his ignominious exit from Rebecca.
But, although each of the principal singers has certain moments of prominence throughout the opera, the chief burden of the work rests neither with them nor with the orchestra, as so frequently in modern opera, but with the stage management. It seemed perfectly natural, therefore, that Mr. Wirk should be called on to the stage after the tournament to share in the applause which was liberally given to all the performers by an audience who seemed to regard the performance with genial good-humour rather than with any marked enthusiasm.
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