includes scans of the line drawings facing pages 353 and photograph
"PATIENCE; OR, BUNTHORNE'S BRIDE."
An entirely new and original Æsthetic Opera, in Two Acts. Written by W. S. GILBERT. Composed by ARTHUR SULLIVAN.
First produced at the Opera Comique, London, on Saturday evening, April 23rd, 1881.
Reginald Bunthorne MR. G. GROSSMITH.
Archibald Grosvenor MR. BARRINGTON.
Mr. Bunthornes solicitor MR. G. BOWLEY.
Colonel Calverley MR. R. TEMPLE.
Major Murgatroyd MR. F. THORNTON.
Lieut. the Duke of Dunstable MR. D. LELY.
The Lady Angela MISS JESSIE BOND.
The Lady Sophia MISS J. GWYNNE.
The Lady Ella ... MISS FORTESCUE.
The Lady Jane ... MISS ALICE BARNETT.
Scene - Exterior of Castle Bunthorne.
Scene - A Glade.
THE libretto of this opera teems with airy but
incisive satire upon a fashionable craze of the day. It is topic rather
than drastic in character, and, above all, mirth-provoking. Few literary
feats are more difficult of achievement than to be unintermittently funny,
and with a more than average comicality during two acts, each occupying
an hour in performance. The humour of "Patience," however, is steadily
sustained by the unflagging and inexhaustible spirits of its author, from
the classic ecstatics of its opening to the prosaic joviality of its closing
scene. Mr. Gilbert is at once the quaintest and neatest of Latter-day Paradoxists,
the chief apostle of Tposyturvyism, gifted with an extraordinary
aptitude for extracting polished jests from dull commonplaces, and, like
Jacques Blumenthal, chronically beset by a devouring predilection for "surprises."
In no intellectual pastime does he, judging him by his works, take greater
delight than in stultifying foregone conclusions. He revels in the preparation
of logical pitfalls, into which the most ingenious and watchful observers
of his preliminary processes inevitably stumble, with much that sort of
astonishment that a cautious philanthropist would experience were the prostrate
and groaning mendicant upon whom he is about to bestow a sympathetic solatium
of pitiful pence, to suddenly spring to his feet with a loud guffaw and
cut an agile caper. In the "Bab Ballads," Mr. Gilbert's peculiar turn of
humour found full play, and the pungent flavour that characterised those
masterpieces of excellent fooling has made itself more or less vigorously
manifest in all his later compositions. It is particularly conspicuous
in "Bunthorne's Bride," the very title of which diverting play is a contradiction
in terms, for Bunthorne has no bride. He alone, of all the dramatis personæ
concerned in the piece, is at the final fall of the curtain, exhibited
to the audience as a forlorn wretch, doomed to perpetual celibacy. Hence
from Mr. Gilbert's point of view, it became obviously necessary that the
piece should be christened "Bunthorne's Bride," in order that a maximum
of enormity may be imparted to the "sell," which it is his pleasant whim
to elaborate with such exhaustive completeness. Throughout "Patience" no
event comes off in accordance with reasonable expectation, based upon human
probabilities or dramatic precedent. All occurrences take place in illogical
sequence. Nothing is that is likely to be; the impossible alone is easy
to Mr. Gilbert, as of yore to the first Napoleon. The liveliest fancy,
if embarked in the hopeless enterprise of forecasting the successive "situations"
in "Patience," is bound to find itself at fault early in the piece, and
would do well to forego futile conjecture after its first failure, cheerfully
awaiting the author's pleasure, in the comfortable conviction that he,
at his own good time, will conclusively demonstrate the truth of the axiom
that "nothing is certain but the unforeseen."
Bunthorne, fleshly as a poet but bodily of a spare and meagre habit, is richly endowed with worldly goods, and is a slave to his appetite for admiration. Casting about him for a valid claim to hero-worship, he selects hyper-ætheticism, and succeeds in constituting himself the object of a cultus on the part of numerous fair votaries, the willing dupes of his well-feigned "utterness." The real prosaicism of his nature is subtly indicated by the commonplace character of the themes that suggest themselves to him as worthy of immortalisation in laboured and inflated verse. He is the Bard of Aperients. No loftier subject for rapturous rhyming occurs to his intrinsically vulgar mind. Similarly, although adored by a score of lovely patricians, his plebeian instincts prompt him to fix his affections upon a silly homely dairymaid. In short, he is a humbug and a sham, just cunning enough to cloak and hide his low propensities under a veil of lofty culture and refined taste. Patience, the rustic object of his tender passion, refuses the offer of his hand, upon the broad ground that she has never known love, save for a vague grand-aunt. She is, however, secretly prompted to reject the wealth and position thus tendered to her, by an unconscious attachment to a long-lost playmate of her childhood, Archibald Grosvenor, who turns up after fifteen years' absence, most opportunely, a few minutes after Bunthorne has received his congé at the hands of the unsophisticated milkmaid. Grosvenor is an idyllic poet, but stout of figure and blessed with a cheerful disposition. A revival of their childish love accrues between him and Patience, but is frustrated by her scruples at the lack of self-sacrifice involved in her monopoly of a man who is the incorporation of human perfection, "a source of endless ecstasy to all who know him." Patience resolves, out of the sheer disinterestedness which, as she has been informed by the æsthetic vestals who worship at Bunthorne's shrine, is the essence of true love, to bestow herself upon that astute impostor and live the rest of her life in praiseworthy misery. Just as he, in despair at her scorn of his suit, is on the point of being raffled for by his enraptured female following, she informs him of her unselfish determination, which he hails with enthusiastic joy; and the forsaken vestals transfer their wearisome worship to Grosvenor, unhesitatingly throwing over some jolly Heavy Dragoons, to whom they had been affianced before Bunthorne dawned upon their soul-horizon, had jilted in his favour and again taken up with as soon as they deemed their æsthetic idol lost to them for ever through the intervention of Patience. Bunthorne is by way of owning a bride at the close of the first act. Early in the second, however, his unhealthy and unconquerable yearning for admiration reassumes its sway and compels him to regard the usurper Grosvenor with loathing and vengeful purpose. He resolves to rid himself of his detested competitor by a fiendish stratagem, and eventually coerces him into eternal renunciation of his æsthetic qualifications for the post of Fetish-in-ordinary to the love-sick score of art-devotees. Grosvenor cuts his hair and indues prosaic tweeds. But Bunthorne's triumph is of brief duration; for, by this transformation, his rival forfeits his claim to perfection, and once more becomes a legitimate object of his adored milkmaid's affection; whilst the force of his example carries the tiresome twenty away with him to the commonplaces of everyday costume and demeanour. Bunthorne falls back upon the Lady Jane, a colossal and middle-aged female æsthete, who alone remains faithful to the cultus forsaken by her fellow-æsthetics, with a view to the reversion of its forlorn high-riest; but a ducal dragoon, aiming, like Patience, at the ideal of unselfishness, volunteers to share his strawberry-leaves and "thousand a-day" with her. As a natural consequence of this splendid offer, the Lady Jane turns her exuberant back upon poor miserable little Bunthorne, who disconsolately resigns himself to the monotony of a single life, only to be brightened at intervals by the congenial companionship of a tulip or a lily.
Dr. Arthur Sullivan has set this kaleidoscopic congeries of humorous extravagances to music with a grace, vivacity, and sense of fitness peculiarly his own. Several of his numbers are compositions of a very high class, both as regards invention and construction, rife with sweet spontaneous melody, and harmonised with exquisite taste and skill. There is an antique and scholarly savour about more than one of them notably the duet between Patience and Grosvenor ("Prithee, pretty maiden") in the first act, and "Alte Weise," the consummate art of which is ingeniously disguised by musical forms of strange old-fashioned simplicity, and the unaccompanied sestett ("I hear the soft note") also in the first act, which, as far as its manner and treatment are concerned, might be taken by music lovers rather for a seventeenth-century madrigal than for a six-part song in a latter-day comic operetta. All Dr. Sullivan's soli in "Patience" are tuneful, excellently adapted to the words of which they are the musical complement, and furnished with accompaniments which no less masterly hand could have penned. The gifted composer's well-deserved and world-wide reputation for originality of conception and pictorial command of tone-colour will assuredly not suffer decrement through any of his achievements in "Bunthorne's Bride."
Of the performance of this altogether charming and refreshing work which I witnessed at the Opera Comique on the 17th of May, I can conscientiously say that it was, on the whole, highly meritorious. George Grossmith's impersonation of the baffled and humiliated Bunthorne is unimpeachably artistic throughout. He contrives, by judicious abstinence from exaggeration of gesture and emphasis, and by a certain irresistibly appealing manner which he assumes towards the audience whenever his "business" requires that he should take the house into his confidence, to enlist the sympathies of his hearers as well as to relax their cachinnatory muscles. That he is extremely funny I need scarcely say; nor that he delivers every note and word of his part in such telling sort as to make the composer's and author's intentions perfectly clear to the public ear and mind. Mr. Barrington is a better actor than a singer, but his rendering of the "idyllic idiot" Grosvenor is a careful, highly-finished, and thoroughly satisfactory one. Of Miss Leonora Braham's singing it would be difficult to speak in terms of qualified praise. This young lady's intonation is absolutely irreproachablr, a rare merit in modern prime-donne, be they operatic or operettic. Equally admirable is her method of producing her voice, an unusually sweet and liquid mezzo-soprano. Her bearing on the stage is at once modest and sprightly; in a word, exactly what it should be in the naïve but arch part for which she is cast. The gentlemen who represented three amorous and enterprising officers of dragoons important elements in the underplot Messrs. Lely, Temple, and Thornton, sang their music perfectly in tune and acted with praiseworthy spirit, contributing largely to the effectiveness of the ensembles as well as to the amusement of the auditory. Of the three leading "rapturous maidens" Miss Jessie Bond's part, in consequence of her absence through indisposition, was courageously and intelligently filled by a young lady of the chorus whose name I regret to have forgotten. Her ability to supply so important a void at a moment's notice is worthy of especial mention as a proof of the abnormally high standard of efficiency attained by the vocal supers at the Opera Comique, if, indeed, any such proof were requisite beyond their excellent singing in all the concerted pieces. Miss Laura Gwynne's lithe and languid posturing as a "too, too utter" ecstatic also deserves emphatic laudation. The orchestra was uniformly unexceprionable, although Mr. Frank Cellier did not occupy his accustomed place. As for the mise-en-scène, costumes, scenery, appointments, and stage management, my vocabulary of laudatory terms is not sufficiently copious to supply me with the material for adequate expression of the sincere admiration and approval which are their just due. Good taste and judicious liberality alike characterise the arrangements "behind the curtain at the Opera Comique," and are most appropriately rewarded night after night by the hearty applause of crowded and appreciative audiences.
illustration facing page 353
photograph facing page 354
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 24 November 2000