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Review of the First Night from The Times
Thursday, November 30, 1899.
 
SAVOY THEATRE

It is a long time since a success like that of The Rose of Persia has befallen the management of this theatre; and in fact it may be said that since the days of The Mikado it is not easy to point to a first night that has pleased everybody, including those whom it is best worth while to please, whether from the artistic or the financial point of view. An extremely well-contrived libretto, in which various motives from the “Arabian Nights” are combined with excellent effect by Captain Basil Hood, has been set by Sir Arthur Sullivan with all the spontaneity and refinement of his earlier years, and the result is an entertainment that yields to none of its predecessors in charm or brightness.

The main thread of the story is the famous “Sleeper Awakened” which has served such different purposes, from the introduction to The Taming of the Shrew to Weber’s Abu Hassan; with this several stories are interwoven, such as the adventures of the Sultana Zubeydeh and several others of the “ nights”; the verses and dialogue are really funny and original, and the Gilbertian standard in regard to the kind of social satire with which the patrons of the theatre were formerly more familiar than they are now has been fully maintained. The author has a happy knack of putting things, and many a couplet of “Something in the City” will pass into the current small change of conversation besides the lines to the effect that

“Riches and imposing rank
“Have sprung from rank imposing.”

To enumerate the points of skill and beauty in the music would on this occasion be as difficult as on some former first nights it bas been easy. Brilliant solos, concerted pieces, and dances succeed one another after the fashion of the best traditions of the Savoy, and not the least pleasant part of the surprise that awaits the hearers is the originality of the whole. Oriental characteristics are used with the greatest ingenuity, as in the two notes on which the chorus of beggars accompanies the diverting dance of Hassan in the first act, and here and there in other passages there is a slight “local” allusion of the same kind. The most popular of the many numbers written in a popular style is the tenor drinking song which succeeds this immediately.

The only important defect of the music is that the leading soprano part has been written for the curious high notes possessed by Miss Ellen Beach Yaw, who, as the Sultana, is required in her first number to attack the F in altiss., the highest note of the Queen of Night music in Die Zauberflöte. Her song “’Neath my lattice” has a charming ring of Weber about it; but it can hardly be hoped that there are as many owners of these notes as will undoubtedly be required before long. The Sultana’s plea for mercy in the finale of the first act must remind every hearer of Rebecca’s prayer in Ivanhoe, just as the rather unnecessary quartet in the second act recalls the misnamed “madrigal” in The Mikado. A deliciously funny scene in which the Sultan and his officials enter Hassan’s house disguised as Dervishes will probably be made even more effective than it was last night; but the scene in which various persons under sentence of death try and think of a story with which to entertain the Sultan and so prolong their lives is one of the great hits, and the finale is capital. Until its latter part is reached this second act is, to say the truth, a little apt to drag, but it more than makes up.

Putting aside Miss Beach Yaw’s high notes, she looks very pretty and acts with some charm; but the principal part is that played by Miss Rosina Brandram as the first of Hassan’s 25 wives; in a wonderful make-up she acts and sings with the utmost vivacity, point, and effect. Misses Jessie Rose, Louie Pounds, and Emmie Owen are very lively slaves, and as the youngest of the wives Miss Isabel Jay wins success. As Hassan, Mr. Passmore is in his element, and from beginning to end he makes the very most of the many good chances the librettist has given him. Mr. H. A. Lytton is a handsome Sultan, but scarcely gets as much fun out of his part as it might be made to yield, while Mr. Robert Evett sings the somewhat lackadaisical part of the story-teller Yussuf very well. Mr. Reginald Crompton, a very tall basso, with an excellently comic face, is capital as the Royal Executioner; and it would be impossible to praise too highly the lovely dresses and scenery of the piece, or the care in its preparation, which at the Savoy is a matter of course. The author, the composer, and Mr. D’Oyly Carte were called before the curtain at the end.


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