THE GRAND DUKE
Two unsigned reviews from The year's music 1897 : being a concise record of British and foreign musical events, productions, appearances, criticisms, memoranda, etc. London: J.S. Virtue, 1897. Pages 127 and 129-136.
OPERA IN 1896: COMIC OPERA. (p. 127)
Another work has been added to the long list of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan in the "Grand Duke, or the Statutory Duel," which was produced at the Savoy on the 7th March. Mr. Walter Passmore was good in the title rôle, while Mr. Rutland Barrington was at his best as Ludwig.The part of the English actress, Julia Jellicoe, was most excellently interpreted by Madame Ilka von palmay. She is seen at her best, both in the second act, in which she describes how she would treat a rival, and later, when her vocal powers are brought out in a clever song beginning "Broken every promise plighted." Miss Florence Perry was charming as Lisa, and sang "The die is cast" and "Take care of him" most effectively. The other rôles were well sustained by Miss Rosina Brandram and Miss Emmie Owen, and Messrs. Scott Russell, Scott Fische and Jones Hewson, the latter singing an excellent song, "The Prince of Monte Carlo," when he enters as the Herald. The orchestra, under the composer's bâton for the first night, did full justice to the accompaniments.The rest of the week it was led by M. François Cellier. The most important numbers, musically speaking, are a beautiful quintet in the first act, and the Greek chorus in the second act.
OPERA IN 1896: "THE GRAND DUKE, OR THE STATUTORY DUEL." (pp. 129-136)
On March 7th, the above opera by Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan was produced at the Savoy Theatre. A rough line of the plot will enable the work to be understood. The scene of the first act is laid in the market-place of a little German town, and there is a conspiracy on foot to depose the Grand Duke and elect in his place Ernest Dummkopf, the manager of a theatrical company. The Duke is a parsimonious contemptible little beggar, and on the suggestion of Ludwig, the leading comedian, consents to efface himself for twenty-four hours by fighting a statutory duel, which is accomplished by means of cards, he who draws the lowest being considered legally and technically dead, while "the winner must adopt the loser's poor relations, discharge his debts, pay all his bets, and take his obligations." To make the combat a certainty, each puts a selected card up his sleeve, and the quarrel and duel take place as arranged, Ludwig finds himself installed as Grand Duke, whereupon he renews the duelling act for another century, by which means he will retain his newly acquired position. His most embarrassing obligations are caused by the aspirants for his hand and heart. Ludwig had that morning married Lisa the soubrette, and when named Grand Duke, he announces to the company that the Court appointments will be given out according to professional position, and Julia, the "haughty Londoner," and prima donna of the troupe, claims the part of the Grand Duke's wife; because, though marriage contracts are very solemn, dramatic contracts are even more so. Ludwig and Julia being married, the Baroness Krakenfeldt, previously betrothed to Duke Rudolph, claims to be his consort, as in taking over Rudolph's responsibilities she is the most overwhelming of them all. So Ludwig has wife No. 3, and No. 4 comes on the scene in the person of the Princess of Monte Carlo, to whom Rudolph was betrothed in infancy, and who, therefore, has a prior claim. At this juncture, the notary announces that the law forbids the banns, as on reference to the Act he finds it expressly laid down that the ace shall count as lowest, so that it is Ludwig who should be dead and not Duke Rudolph. As the Act expires that day at noon, Ludwig comes technically to life again, and every Jack pairs off with his Jill, each to have a pretty wedding.
"The Grand Duke" is not by any means
another "Mikado," and, though it is far from being the least attractive
of the series, signs are not wanting that the rich vein which the collaborators
and their various followers have worked for so many years is at last dangerously
near exhaustion. This time the libretto is very conspicuously inferior
to the music. There are still a number of excellent songs, but the dialogue
seems to have lost much of its crispness, the turning-point of what plot
there is requires considerable intellectual application before it can be
thoroughly grasped, and some of the jests are beaten out terribly thin.
. . . Though there are next to no topical allusions, the dialogue has a
considerable number of whimsical ideas, and when these have been brought
nearer to each other by the compression of much that makes the first act
and the latter part of the second seem a little tedious, their effect will,
no doubt, be increased. . . .
It is a good many years since the composer has given us anything so fine as the opening chorus of the second act, with a sham-Greek refran, a melody so spontaneous, dignified, and original that it seems hardly suited to its surroundings, or to the taste of most of the audience. From this point, up to and including the tuneful song in which a herald announces the Prince of Monte Carlo is, musically speaking, the best part of the work; the actor-duke's exceedingly funny song about the manners and customs of ancient Greece, the clever duet in which the "leading lady" gives her "notion of a first-rate part," her scena "So ends my Dream," written in evident imitation and derision of the conventional operatic aria of the last generation, and the elderly baroness's drinking song, which sets out with a reminiscence of the Irish tune "Kate Kearney," are all certain to be popular. The first act contains a number of pretty choruses, some concerted vocal numbers as effective as usual, and a capital march of the chamberlains, all neatly finished and in strict conformity with the pattern established for such things a good many years ago. That form of instrumental humour, in which Sir Arthur Sullivan has delighted ever since the famous "bassoon joke" in "The Sorcerer," finds excellent opportunity in a song in which the Grand Duke describes his ailments to the accompaniment of some orchestral symptoms so realistic as to be almost painful. After the entry of the Monte Carlo family in the second act, the music is of slighter importance, and the Prince's song, in the course of which a roulette table is produced, makes remarkably little effect. The overture consists of a string of tunes that are likely to be most popular. . . .
"Once more Sir Arthur Sullivan has demonstrated that refinement and genuine fun may be successfully blended. For the foundation of his amusing book, Mr. Gilbert seems to have taken three ideas - the foolishness of the duello as a means of settling differences, the proverbial vanity of actors and singers, and the frequently laughable court ceremonial prevailing in petty German states. No preceding Savoy opera has received better interpretation than "The Grand Duke." From Mr. Rutland Barrington, upon whom the most arduous duty devolved, to the representatives of the eccentric chamberlains and Monte Carlo nobles, Mr. Gilbert and Sir A. Sullivan could not have been better served than on Saturday. Mdme. von Palmay, by her vigorous acting, evoked exceedingly warm approval, and set the stamp of success on an impersonation that had been previously marked by captivating archness and gaiety. Miss Florence Perry sang charmingly and acted pleasingly. Mr. Walter Passmore illustrated the terror of Grand Duke Rudolph with an intensity that savoured of the tragic, and again fully warranted the favour he has so rapidly won at the Savoy. Mr. Scott Fishe and Miss Emmie Owen, the Prince and Princess of Monte Carlo respectively, though not seen until nearly the end, contrived to give individuality to the characters. Miss Rosina Brandram as the Baroness, Mr. C. Kenningham as Ernest, Mr. Scott Russell as the Notary, and Mr. Hewson as the Herald completed the highly satisfactory cast. The chorus and band exhibited their wonted efficiency. The dresses throughout were very much admired. - The Daily Chronicle.
If the libretto of "The Grand Duke" may be described as characteristically Gilbertian, so also is the score truly and typically Sullivanesque. The overture calls for no special comment, being little more than an agreeable stringing together of the leading tunes of the opera, but there is an engaging charm about the opening chorus of wedding guests, and Ludwig's "Song of the Sausage Roll" is a capital specimen of the mock melodramatic. If Sir Arthur's score cannot be said - in freshness and spontaneity of melody - to rank along with the best of his comic operas, in grace, refinement, and ingenious handling of the orchestra, it will stand the test of comparison with his happiest efforts. Undoubtedly the crowning Gilbertianism of the whole production was the selection of Mdme. Ilka von palmay, a Hungarian actress who had never previously appeared on the English stage, to fill the rôle of the English actress. Mdme. von Palmay scored one of the chief successes of the evening, and asapted herself to the traditions and conventions of the Savoy with remarkable skill and readiness. Miss Rosina Brandram sang and acted with her wonted geniality and finish in the rather thankless part of the Baroness, while Miss Florence Perry, as the ingenuous Lisa, particularly excelled in her rendering of the sentimental passages which fell to her share. Miss Emmie Owen made a sprightly Princess of Monte Carlo, delivered her dialogue with point, sang prettily and danced with her usual dexterity, while the five ladies of Dummkopf's company found vivacious representatives in Misses Mildred Baker, Ruth Vincent, Jessie Rose, Ethel Wilson, and Beatrice Perry. Of the gentlemen, Mr. Rutland Barrington and Mr. Walter Passmore were each provided with parts which suited them to perfection. Mr. Kenningham played the part of Ernest Dummkopf vigorously and brightly. Mr. Scott Russell eas an excellent Notary, both vocally and histrionically; and Mr. Scott Fishe bore himself with confidence and sang with no little charm. Mr. James Hewson gained an encore for his effective rendering of the Herald's song, and the minor parts of the Viscount Mentone and Ben Hashbaz the costumier, were efficientyly filled by Mr. Carlton and Mr. Workman. The scenery, for which Mr. Harford was responsible, was remarkably effective and picturesque. The dresses, designed by Mr. Percy Anderson, were both gay and becoming, while the evolutions of the chorus were performed with that inexorable precision which Mr. Gilbert alone knows how to secure, and the band acquitted themselves with distinction under the composer's direction. On the stage everything went practically without a hitch. It only remains to be added that the reception of the piece was unequivocally and enthusiastically favourable, and all were cheered to the echo. - The Daily Graphic.
If an amusing "book" abounding in witticisms,
bright and tuneful music, exquisite dresses, and a well-nigh perfect interpretation
be sufficient to ensure success, Mr. D'Oyly Carte may congratulate himself
on having attained this object of managerial desires. "The Grand Duke"
is certainly entitled to rank among the best of the many similar works
produced upon the Savoy stage. Those who go to the Savoy doubtless prefer
laughter to logic, and of the former commodity there is no lack. After
a probably vain attempt to understand what it is all about, the wise spectator
will give it up, and concentrate his attention on the many humorous situations
that follow in quick succession, the essentially Gilbertian witticisms
scattered hither and thither, the music, and the acting, without troubling
himself about the development of the plot. Doubtless, an attentive study
of he libretto may serve to elucidate some points, but many might consider
that a play should explain itself, without needing recourse to a book.
The music is as bright and tuneful as anything he (Sir Arthur Sullivan)
has done, and bears the unmistakable imprint of the hand that has written
it. The clever and refined orchestration will prove a delight to musicians,
and the treatment of the melodies that abound throughout, shows a practical
hand. It is music that does not demand analysis, but procures enjoyment.
Perfection in the matter of ensemble and excellence in mounting,
are generally expected at the Savoy, and these are surely realised in the
Where every part is not only adequately but super-excellently filled, it becomes difficult to know where to begin praising. Madame Ilka von Palmay made her first appearance in an English rôle, and her success was emphatic and complete. That this lady is a born actress there can be no doubt whatever, in addition to which she is gifted with a rich, mellow voice, which she knows how to employ to the best possible advantage. Madame von Palmay was most successful in a humorously dramatic recitation, and in a pretty ballad, the latter portion of which she was compelled to repeat. Mr. Rutland Barrington has never been seen or heard to better advantage than in his present part. Miss Rosina Brandram, who seems fated to represent ladies of mature age and juvenile inclinations, was artistic as usual. Miss Florence Perry sang and acted with pleasing naïveté and expression. Mr. Walter Passmore's part is not as important as it might be; but he made the most of it and was irresistibly droll. Mr. Charles Kenningham and Mr. Scott Russell successfully impersonated the parts of Ernest Dummkopf and the Notary. The quaint ditty allotted to the Herald of the Prince of Monte Carlo, which promises to become popular, was declaimed by Mr. Jones Hewson, and Miss Emmie Owen bore herself well as the Princess of Monte Carlo. The general mounting confers the utmost credit upon Mr. Charles Harris and Mr. W. Harford, the scenic artist. The performance was conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan, who was loudly cheeres and called on the stage at the close, together with Mr. Gilbert and Mr. D'Oyly Carte. - The Morning Post.
All the features of a Gilbert-Sullivan first night at the Savoy were in evidence at the production of "The Grand Duke" on Saturday evening, except perhaps the measure of curiosity which used to give these premières a special zest. "The Grand Duke" is not the only work in the Savoy series which shows that the composer has few fresh materials left. A comic opera, we should remember, belongs to entertainment simply. It is not symphony or oratorio, and if it entertains, its mission is fulfilled. If the music in "The Grand Duke" does not open to us wide realms of the unfamiliar and new, what it does show is particularly good. Here we may be reminded that in a work of this kind the words and the music should be taken as one, not considered apart. Accepting that as the law of the moment, the only verdict is one of approval all round. The opera was produced in the old Savoy manner, which allows no imperfection that skill and resource can guard against. The dresses and appointments generally gave delight to the eye, while the groupings and combinations were fully worthy of Mr. Charles Harris's reputation. With regard to the performance. let note be taken of an orchestra and chorus quite up to the standard of the house, and of characters which could hardly have been in better hands. Madame von Palmay, whose début in English opera has long been awaited with curiosity, made a distinct success. Miss Florence Perry, engaging and efficient as usual, met with favour as the soubrette; Lisa,¹ the Princess of Monte Carlo, had an adequate representative in Miss Emmie Owen; while, as the affianced bride of the economical Grand Duke, Miss Brandram was the excellent artist we all know her to be. The audience saw and heard very much of Mr. Rutland Barrington as Rudolph,² but judging by their continued laughter, not too much. Mr. Walter Passmore (Grand Duke Rudolph) might have had more to do with advantage. Mr. C. Kenningham, as a theatrical manager; Mr. Scott Russell, as a Notary; Mr. Scott Fishe, as the Prince of Monte Carlo; and Mr. James Hewson, as a Herald, were all more or less strong features in an efficient cast. Sir Arthur Sullivan conducted and supped full of honours, which were showered also upon the music, the librettist, the artists, and in fact upon everybody "concerned." - The Daily Telegraph.
"The Grand Duke, or the Statutory Duel," by Gilbert and Sullivan, was enthusiastically greeted by a crowded and brilliant audience at the savoy on Saturday night. It is characterised by all those fascinating qualities which have given these two gifted men sovereignty over the world of comic opera. Perhaps there are fewer ear-haunting melodies in it than in the "Mikado" and a few of his earlier operas. Certainly one of the best pieces of writing Sir Arthur Sullivan has ever put into a Savoy opera is Lisa's appeal to Julia - "Take care of him"; it provides Miss Florence Perry with her best opportunity, and this charming young vocalist, whose voice seems to be increasing in volume as well as sweetness, availed herself of the chance afforded her and secured an enthusiastic encore. The bulk of the work rests on the broad shoulders of Mr. Rutland Barrington, and with the exception of his "Pooh, Bah," it is the best part and the best thing he has done in Savoy opera. Madame Palmay's rendering was vivid and realistic, and she established her claim in the air - "All is Darkness, all is Dreary," which she sung [sic] with admirable effect. Mr. Passmore, as "The Grand Duke," showed what a genuine sense of comedy he possesses. Mr. Kenningham acted with ease and freedom, and sang in his customary agreeable way. Miss Rosina Brandram sang and acted with that artistic finish which ever makes her acceptable. We need only mention the admirable manner in which the chorus discharged its by no means insignificant duties. The opera was conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan, who met with a magnificent reception on taking his seat in the orchestra. Mr. D'Oyly Carte also appeared in response to the hearty ccalls, and there was a disposition to have on Mr. Charles Harris." - The Morning Advertiser.
In the new Savoy opera, "The Grand Duke," produced with unquestionable success before a brilliant audience on Saturday night, Mr. Gilbert has for once refrained from making merry with British customs and institutions, and has gone abroad for subjects for his satire. The performance was an admirable one, particularly on the part of band and chorus and of the three leading artists. The honours of the representation were fairly carried off by Madame von Palmay, admirable both as a vocalist, an actress, and a valuable recruit to the troupe. Author, composer (who conducted), and Mr. D'Oyly Carte were called before the curtain, and "The Grand Duke" was thus auspiciously launched upon a career which ought to last a twelve-month, at any rate. - The Daily News.
That the music is superior to the libretto
is not surprising. The wit of the jester runs slower with advancing years;
while the fancy of the composer is only mellowed. Sir Arthur Sullivan has,
in "The Grand Duke," given almost more than his usual allowance of brisk
ditties of the patter type, mainly, of course, for Mr. Barrington, Mr.
Passmore, and Mr. Scott Russell, his chief comedians. Some of his music
is a little above the heads of the Savoy audience; for example, the delicate
burlesque of the trivial songs of the Café Chantant in the roulette
scene, and the Greek chorus with its "burden" of "Opoponax! Eloia!" at
the opening of the second act. But there are a couple of waltz duets, any
number of galops, a bright hornpipe in the first finale, a quintet of the
madrigal type though slightly accompanied, and many of those melodious
ballads for which the composer of "Sweethearts" has so long been celebrated.
Madame Palmay's solo in the first finale doubtless owes much to its whimsical
choral interjections, "Oh, that's what's the matter, is it?" and to the
delicious treatment of the wood wind in the accompaniment; but Miss Perry's
song, "The Die is Cast," is of a mock-serious type; her ballad, "Take Care
of Him," in the second act, is even better; and Madame Palmay's scena,
if such it may be called, "Broken Every Promise Plighted," is perhaps best
of all. Indeed, throughout not a point is missed; melody often literally
streams from the orchestra, and whenever a chance of humour, whether in
voice-parts or accompaniment, is afforded, it is noted and accepted. -
The work was also produced in Germany on Wednesday,
May 20th, at the Unter den Linden Theatre, Berlin, before a full house.
The first act was vociferously applauded, several of the numbers being
repeatedly encored. The audience found the second act somewhat too long,
but the reception at the end was extremely favourable. No musical work
had met with such success in Berlin since the performance of the "Mikado."
In London, the "run" of "The Grand Duke" continued until July, when the opera was removed to give place to "The Mikado."
¹ Clearly an error in punctuation. Lisa is the name of the soubrette, not the Princess of Monte Carlo. (return to paragraph)
² Barrington played Ludwig.
(return to paragraph)
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 4 November 2000