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The Illustrated Review vol. 3 no. 31 (Jan. 1872), p. 441 [excerpt ].
“French and English Opera Bouffe.”
…In adaptation from the French the “book of the words” is the great difficulty, in Opera bouffe of home manufacture the trouble is with the music. Thus in “Thespis,” at the Gaiety, we have a really bright, humorous, and amusing play wedded to melodies of the vague, imitative, and dead-alive sort. To be sure, Mr. Gilbert has not made as much of his subject as he might have done, but his work deserved better treatment than it has met at the hands of Mr. Sullivan. The music is not without a certain cleverness, indeed, it is effectively scored for the orchestra, which, by-the-bye, on the night of our visit, played most carelessly. It has, too, a certain grace and refinement, but it is sadly deficient in animal spirits and humour. Mr. Sullivan seems out of his element in Opéra bouffe. There is no heart in what he has done. His melodies, though sometimes effective, are as a rule, mechanical and common-place, and he appears to most advantage in airs of a sentimental type, indeed, wherever fun and briskness are least in demand. But to be sure, good music would have been thrown away upon such a company as that of the Gaiety. Mdlle. Clary has a pleasant voice and manner, but Miss Constance Loseby is a singer quite of the music-hall type, and Miss Farren, though a vivacious actress, has literally no voice at all. As for Mr. J.L. Toole, he can hardly lay claim to honours of a musical sort, whatever his claims may be as a low comedian.
“Thespis” opens with a very commonplace overture, followed by a brief introduction not without significance, and an uninteresting chorus for female voices. From beginning to end of the opera there is scarcely an original phrase or a striking idea. It is all diluted Offenbach and Gounod, without the vivacity of the one composer, or the grace of the other. Perhaps the most pleasing of the airs is a melody of the ballad order, sung by Mdlle. Clary; we may also mention with praise a duet occurring earlier in the work, but the dance music is flat and stale, the concerted pieces are scrappy, and the finale to the second act quite without emphasis or dramatic force. Altogether Mr. Sullivan’s latest achievement is by no means to be commended, and it is a matter of regret that a clever and ingenious composer should have allowed himself to be tempted into paths where such talent as he may possess cannot appear to advantage. We hope no more attempts will be made to naturalize Opéra bouffe, it is quite enough to have adaptations from the French; English musicians have not the briskness, flippancy, and spirit of mischievous fun necessary to secure success in works of this description. There is, however, a certain form of extravaganza, combining fancy, grace, and quiet humour, in which composers like Mr. Sullivan might appear to advantage. But they must think for themselves, their work must have distinctive character, and a really English tone. If clever writers, and clever musicians, and intelligent managers could be got to work harmoniously together, which is doubtful, we might one of these days have a class of entertainment, partly play, partly opera, humorous, and yet artistic, steering clear of breakdowns on the one hand, and can-cans on the other. …
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