THE title of the new opera by Gilbert and Sullivan
was withheld from the public until three days before the representation.
This was done with a view to circumventing American pirates, who were on
the look-out for the vessel they proposed to plunder. When it was announced,
everybody was astonished. Many were disgusted. Ruddygore; or, the Witch's
Curse, does not look elegant in the bills of a West-end theatre, patronised
by "Society." It is more like the title of a Transpontine melodrama of
the old but now defunct type. The performance took place on the 22nd. ult.,
and the story and the dialogue prove that Mr. Gilbert has satirised the
form of drama whose name he has imitated. Now this has been slain long
ago by the shafts of the wits of a bygone day, and the present author stands
in the way of his own success.
Pinafore holds up the navy to ridicule; Patience is a skit upon the æsthetics; and the Japanese craze is laughed at in the Mikado. All these matters can find an echo in most European countries, so that one can understand the success of each or either in the provinces, the Colonies, in America, and in Germany. The Transpontine drama was an institution which only existed in the south suburbs of London. Any parody of its peculiarities would consequently be mainly relished by those who were locally acquainted with its peculiarities. Therefore it may be assumed that Mr. Gilbert only designs to please Londoners. The provincial audiences may not care for it, other than as a thing which has made the metropolis laugh. At the first performance there were many of the best known people in art, literature, and music; but they did not laugh much. The gallery hissed, and at the conclusion uttered wolfish yells, indicative of dissatisfaction. They either felt that one of their most charming forms of entertainment was undeservedly ridiculed, or else they wondered what it was all about. For the Transpontine drama has been dead many years. The value of the sarcasm in this new opera with the revolting title is therefore decreased. Some of the writers in the daily and weekly press see in it signs of the failing powers of the author; others affect to trace a new departure. Each may be right, and either may be wrong. There are some very witty speeches; but the whole thing is dull, and as a play will depend for its attractions on the splendour of the scenery and dresses. These are gorgeous in the extreme. There are military dandies in the regimental costumes of the beginning of the present century wonderful to behold. There are other costumes dating from the time of James the First to about the year 1840, which are marvels of accuracy. These are worn by the ancestors whose portraits adorn the picture gallery of the second act. Each picture is painted from life from the man who wears the costume. One is clothed in the robes of an Oxford Doctor of Music; others as judges, as bishops, as naval and military officers, &c. The effect created when these all walk out of their frames is very starttling. The staging is one of the sights of London, and may serve to keep the piece in the bills for a long time. The music should draw all who love melody. Beautifully harmonised, and richly and dramatically scored, it is among the best things that Sullivan has as yet accomplished, and it proves most conclusively that if his collaborateur's powers are showing signs of "paying out," his own are gainiing in freshness and originality with each successive effort.
The acting, on the whole, is very amusing. Miss Leonora Braham as a village maiden ruled by etiquette; Jessie Bond as Mad Margaret, and after as a Sunday-school teacher; Miss Brandram as a virtuous old woman in the domestic drama style; Rutland Barrington. at first as a wicked baronet, and after, with Miss Bond, as reformed persons of the Chadband type; Mr. R. Temple as one of the ghosts of the deceased baronets; and Mr. Grossmith, first as a timid farmer, and next as a wicked scion of a wicked race; above all, Mr. Durward Lely as a T. P. Cooke sailor, pigtail, hornpipe, and all, make an entertaining assembly. Whether the work will attain and retain popularity cannot now be told. Public taste is peculiar.
The performance on the first night, though carefully prepared, was not faultless. The band was good, the chorus singing excellent. The execution of a charming madrigal and gavotte, which ended the first act, provoked, among other things, an encore. The greatest enthusiasm was excited by Mr. Lely's hornpipe. He thus showed that, unlike the majority of tenors, he could do something more than sing his songs. His acting was the perfection of burlesque, and his singing and dancing were first-rate. The work was not received with anything like the favour that its predecessors had enjoyed. Indeed, there were many dissentient voices, and some sibillation, not wholly deserved. Sir Arthur Sullivan conducted, and in the dark scene used a bâton mounted with an incandescent electric lamp, that the band might see his beat. Actors, composer, author, and manager were called for at the conclusion of the work, which possesses many points of attraction, despite its inelegant title.
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 11 November 2000
updated 14 April 2001