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Review from The Times
Friday, February 6, 1891.
 
THE ROYAL ENGLISH OPERA
“IVANHOE”
(SECOND NOTICE)

If anything can break down the stupid custom of attending an opera merely in order to listen to certain favourite singers, a habit to which the English are more prone than any other wholly civilized nation, it is the excellent practice adopted by Sir Arthur Sullivan and Mr. D’Oyly Carte in allotting the parts of the new opera to different combinations of artists, most of whom are so equally balanced in merit that it will never be possible to say definitely that one night’s cast is on the whole better than another’s. It is an open secret that the rehearsals were so arranged that every principal singer sang in combination with every other, and thus no trace of unfamiliarity will ever be perceived between the members of any cast. Of course, experienced managers know perfectly well that, if two singers of absolutely equal merit are presented to the public, an unreasoning prejudice will very soon begin to form itself, and one of the two will prove the first favourite with the fashionable part of the audience; still in a work which depends for its interest and proper interpretation upon the representatives of many parts, not merely that of the “first woman” – the term may bear revival in connexion with a scheme which is nothing if not national – it should be found easy to counteract the tide of prejudice, and thus to avoid the deplorable result of playing one night to a crowded house, and the next to empty benches.

To begin at the beginning of the list of dramatis personæ, with all due apologies for the use of a foreign phrase, the King’s two representatives will, it may be confidently asserted, divide the suffrages of the audience pretty evenly. Mr. Norman Salmond has a beautiful voice, and uses it with much skill, making every note tell, and doing ample justice to the music of every scene. His appearance and bearing are very far from suggesting his true rank beneath his black armour; and in the final scene, where he is gorgeously attired, he is even less kingly than in the previous scenes. His complexion is treated in such a manner as to provoke a reminiscence of the most swarthy personage in some mediæval portrayal of the Adoration of the Magi. As an actor, he has much to learn, though, of course, every excuse is to be made for him, as for those numerous members of the company who are also new to the stage. Mr. Franklin Clive wears the fair hair associated with the King, and walks the stage with dignity and propriety, even with a gallant bearing that tells us at once who he is. His voice is a little too heavy for the tripping measures in which much of the music is cast, and it is only here and there in more sustained passages that he makes his full effect.

The Prince John of Mr. Richard Green is over-sentimentalized; he is dignified and evidently malevolent, but his address to Rebecca at the tournament is sung with such gravity and apparent sincerity that it seems to promise another development of the story than the true one. As a matter of fact, the music allotted to the singer in this passage has little of the casual gallantry, the very transient admiration, that the situation might be held to suggest. The singer has a good voice, slightly subject to the disorder of the tremolo; he is one of the members of the company who sing their parts every night in the week.

The Templar of Mr. Eugene Oudin is in all respects a superb impersonation. In his outward appearance he realizes completely Scott’s description; a fine figure and stage presence, and a power of maintaining the necessary expression of fierce, passionate energy, do scarcely less towards the general result than is done by the characteristic music which he has to sing. This is declaimed with very great beauty of style, and much knowledge of effect. The passage – “I will woo her as the lion woos,” is given with an amount of force that would defeat its own object in the hands of a less accomplished artist. The voice is a baritone of great beauty, it is admirably produced, and it is difficult to see how the part could possibly be better acted or sung. The other representative of the part, Mr. François Noijé, has a hard task in rivalling Mr. Oudin’s rendering; his voice is only moderately powerful, and he is not a very good actor, though on Wednesday evening he improved as the work went on, and conquered much of the nervousness which impaired his earlier scenes.

The part of De Bracy (the very futile attempt made by all the characters to pronounce the Norman names with a would-be French accent is not very wise; there is plenty of excuse for saying them in English fashion) is sung by Mr. Charles Kenningham most acceptably, with due appreciation of what is required; it will be hard upon him if the management decides upon the omission of the passage in which he receives the King’s pardon, but the fact cannot be disguised that this episode could very well be spared, at least until it becomes possible to shorten the wait after the first scene of Act III.

Another single exponent of his part, Mr. Adams Owen, deserves much credit for the dignified manner in which he delivers the utterances of the Grand Master, Beaumanoir; his voice, a fine bass, is used with excellent judgment.

The two representatives of Cedric the Saxon are admirable; the thane’s choleric temperament is more thoroughly expressed by Mr. Frangcon Davies, whose singing on the opening night was to some extent impaired by his realistic presentment of impotent rage, than by Mr. W. H. Burgon, who gives a somewhat more dignified reading of the part. If the former has by far the more beautiful voice, the latter’s stage experience stands him in good stead.

Stage experience and a more perfect mastery of the art of singing belong to Mr. Ben Davies, the Ivanhoe of the first two “inaugural” nights; his ample figure makes it difficult, if not impossible, for him to look an ideal knight, but, after all, this is a matter of no great consequence. Mr. J. O’Mara, the other principal tenor, has a good figure and presence, together with a voice of no great power, but undoubted charm; his first appearance on Wednesday night was very successful, more particularly in the first duet with Rowena, and in the opening solo of the third act. It is a comfort that he can sing the word “fury” with the pronunciation that is usually heard, and not as Mr. Davies gives it. He lays much stress upon Ivanhoe’s helplessness at the moment when the Templar carries Rebecca away from the burning castle. Neither singer can do much, in the opening scene of the opera, to disguise the weakness of accentuation in the line, “After the taking of St. Jean d’Acre,” in which the final mute letter has to receive the strongest emphasis of the phrase.

Mr. Avon Saxon is in all respects an excellent Friar Tuck, burly and good-humoured; he may well be the latter, for he has the most taking number of the opera to sing, and delivers it with all possible effect. Mr. Charles Copland adopts a limping gait for Isaac of York, which takes from the character all the pathos it should contain; the Locksley of Mr. W. H. Stephens and the Squire of Mr. F. Bovill are adequate.

The representatives of Rowena are both extremely good; Miss Esther Palliser has the more agreeable voice, but, if she is to retain it in full beauty, she must beware of the habit of forcing her high notes, in which she indulged on Saturday night; Miss Lucile Hill sings with much taste, but even on her first night, Monday, signs were not wanting that there is some danger of her occasionally singing out of tune. Miss Marie Groebl displays decided dramatic talent as Ulrica, and sings her wonderfully effective song in admirable style.

Miss Macintyre succeeded beyond all expectation as Rebecca on the opening night, and has thereby made her most conspicuous triumph. Her impersonation was marked by great dignity, breadth, and truth of expression; her delivery of the prayer was duly pathetic, and in the subsequent scene with the Templar much dramatic force was exhibited; in the more sustained scenes the soprano part lies so very high that the best part of the voice is prominent almost to the exclusion of the middle notes, which are relatively somewhat weak. In the closing scene real conviction was shown. As details of minor importance, the singer’s “make-up” with red hair (surely a permissible departure from the text), and her costumes were exceedingly good. Miss Thudichum, who is fortunately able to look the part with remarkable success, must for the moment rest her claim to popularity rather on the excellent quality of her voice, and its extremely artistic employment, than on any special degree of dramatic talent. She does what is required of her, but fails to convince us that at any moment in the play her life is in danger. Her demeanour in the final scene, when tied to the stake, is almost nonchalant. For that matter, neither lady is at present able to make us feel the terror and danger of a leap from the battlements, but neither has yet had any great amount of stage experience; Miss Thudichum, of course, had never appeared in opera before, and the success won by her really beautiful singing throughout the opera was therefore all the more remarkable.

The Lady Alicia, Athelstano, Gurth, and other characters do not appear, unless we are justified in identifying the first with the lady whom De Bracy presents to Prince John at the tourney, the second with a personage who is saying farewell to Cedric as the curtain rises on the opening scene, and the third with Ivanhoe’s squire; Wamba, another mute personage, is allotted to Mr. Cowis; and the illustrious Fangs has no fewer than three representatives, who appear, not on alternate nights, as do those of the more prominent characters, but all together, on the hearth at Rotherwood.

The stage management is in every respect, and throughout every scene, admirable; the whole of the first scene, the forest and fire scenes, the dance, with its refreshing absence of all suggestions of the ballet, and the procession of the Templars, are excellently managed. In one small respect an improvement might be made; the knocking at the gate of Rotherwood should be made to seem as if it proceeded from the direction of the door, and the trumpet-calls during the storming of the castle, together with the noise accompanying the fall of the outwork, should sound farther off. In most of the scenes, but especially in those just mentioned, the costumes are accurate and picturesque, following Scott’s descriptions with almost complete fidelity; in the tournament scene, great care has evidently been bestowed on each single figure, somewhat, it must be confessed, to the detriment of the general effect, which strikes us as crude and inharmonious.

The chorus has been excellently trained; an extremely good orchestra is conducted (except, of course, on the “inaugural” nights, when the composer held the baton) by Mr. F. Cellier, who is assisted by Mr. Ernest Ford. Two orchestral innovations deserve brief notice – the “G flute,” which has all the brightness of the piccolo without the harshness of its upper notes or the weakness of its lower; and the bass trumpets, made expressly for the production, and consisting of a combination of the old-fashioned slide trumpet with the modern valve appliances.

The whole interpretation of this most interesting work is, as will have been gathered from what has been said, superlatively fine, and it is a matter of certainty that Londoners will not be long in endorsing the favourable verdict already pronounced by the musical world.


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