"RUDDYGORE; OR, THE WITCH'S CURSE."
An entirely Original Supernatural Opera, in two acts, by W. S. GILBERT and ARTHUR SULLIVAN.
Produced at the Savoy Theatre, on Saturday, January 22, 1887.
Robin Oakapple MR. GEORGE GROSSMITH.
Richard Dauntless MR. DURWARD LELY.
Sir Despard Murga-
troyd ... ... ... MR. BARRINGTON.
Adam Goodheart MR. RUDOLPH LEWIS.
Sir Roderick Murga-
troyd (deceased) ... MR. RICHARD TEMPLE.
Rose Maybud MISS LEONORA BRAHAM.
Mad Margaret MISS JESSIE BOND.
Dame Hannah ... MISS ROSINA BRANDRAM.
By the time these lines will be published, every
newspaper reader in the United Kingdom will be acquainted with the plot
of "Ruddygore" to its minutest detail; wherefore I will say little about
that ingenious fiction in this place, save that it is by no means the least
remarkable illustration of Mr. Gilbert's peculiar talent for constructing
a coherent story out of wild incongruities and staggering absurdities.
In "Ruddygore," as in the "Bab Ballads," nobody does or says anything that
might reasonably be expected from him or her in a natural condition of
human affairs, nor does anything happen in accordance with mundane possibilities
far less probabilities. The characters are carefully selected from the
types of extra-human oddity that people the world of Gilbertian fancy,
and account for their deeds and words nay, for their very existence
by subtle sophisms, the cynical flavour of which is peculiarly piquant
to the intellectual palate. They make no attempt to claim your sympathies,
for the motives prompting their actions and utterances, as a rule, are
selfish or cruel; but their incongruities incessantly appeal to your sense
of humour. The dramatis personae of "Ruddygore," like those of all
Mr. Gilbert's preceding libretti, are afflicted by comic dementia.
To a man and woman they are lunatics; perfectly harmless, however, and
amazingly entertaining. There is abundant method in their madness but
it is the method of insanity, the crooked ways and unexpected departures
of which are obviously suggestions of brilliant, but more or less deranged,
intellects. Incurable monomaniacs frequently display the same strange contrasts
of cunning and naïveté that are exhibited by the Murgatroyd
brethren, by Richard Dauntless, Rose Maybud, and even by the pretentious,
but thick-headed, ghost who commands a small army of Ruddygore family
spectres, the Bucks and Blades who associate with an habitual criminal
of hideous notoriety, and the Professional Bridesmaids, who "attend every
day from ten to four," and are remunerated by the proceeds of a pious bequest.
All these people, happily, are extremely amusing as well as inveterately
mad; and their distracted vagaries are admirably calculated to elicit peals
of ungovernable laughter from the most saturnine breast.
The performance of "Ruddygore," on the night of its production, was from first to last unexceptionable. All the old Savoy favourites of the metropolitan public were fitted with parts affording to them ample opportunities for the advantageous display of their respective humorous specialities, and each one of them, from a theatrical point of view covered him or herself with glory. It was Mr. Grossmith's unusual duty to be assiduously virtuous throughout the greater part of the first act and reluctantly vicious during the second; he did it admirably in both cases, and the nuances of his psychical transformation from the model of bucolic amiability to the incarnation of truculent ferocity were delineated with a light but masterly touch. To Mr. Barrington was entrusted a part embodying the converse process to that developed in Mr. Grossmith's role. When Despard Murgatroyd is introduced to the audience he has been compulsorily wicked for ten years and he looks it. Ever since he wrongfully came into his elder brother's title and estate he has steeped himself in crime once a day, although Nature designed him for a philanthropist of the first water; but the discovery of the rightful baronet relieves him from the obligation to sin, under which he has therefore repined, and enables him to wallow in piety ever afterwards. Mr. Barrington was positively lurid with concentrated wickedness whilst fulfilling the terms of the curse, and unctuous with holy benevolence after he had safely transferred his incumbency of guilt to the administration of his luckless brother. Better comic acting than his, or more highly finished, I have never seen and never wish to see. No less full a meed of hearty praise is due to Mr. Lely for his superb impersonation of the rollicking British sailor, whose bluff and cheery exterior masks the soul of a mean, cowardly, black-hearted traitor the triple-distilled essence of selfishness and falsehood. Mr. Lely played this difficult part with equal vigour and refinement; he sang every note of his music delightfully; and, to the surprise of everyone present, made the great hit of the evening by dancing a hornpipe with such inimitable featness and spirit that it fairly brought the house down. Miss Braham, in the character of a lovely foundling, regulated by the laws of etiquette, and keeping one eye, if not both, steadfastly fixed upon the matrimonial main chance, was every whit as charming and seductive as she had been, some years ago, in the analogous part of Patience. In Gilbertian dialogue and Sullivanesque music alike this gifted lady is invariably at home never more so, to my mind, than as Rose Maybud, the wily village maid, whose resolve to dispose of her peerless charms in the most advantageous market is unshaken by the caprices of Destiny, and finally endows her with a title and unlimited wealth. As Mad Margaret, a provincial maniac converted to district visiting by marriage with a reformed criminal, Miss Bond demonstrates the versatility of her dramatic talent more conclusively than she has hitherto had occasion to do. Her Bedlamite wildness and Quakerish primness were equally "excellent fooling," and she sang a touching ballad with a pathos that went straight to the hearts of her hearers, because it was perfectly genuine and unaffected. Miss Brandram's part is small and not over grateful. Need I say that she played it artistically, or that her fine voice and singing were prominent features in the musical part of the entertainment? The chorists of both sexes, too, were as thoroughly efficient as Savoy chorists have ever been. I can pay them no higher compliment. To say that the scenery, costumes, and appointments were picturesque, tasteful and splendid is only to repeat what has been truthfully said about every one of Mr. Carte's successive productions. The military uniforms (temp. George III.) and historical toggery of the Murgatroyd ancestral apparitions were triumphs of theatrical tailordom, inspired by antiquarian research.
The music of "Ruddygore" is so melodious and graceful throughout that it may be accepted as a supreme illustration of the principle or is it an instinct? that has guided Arthur Sullivan during his brilliant career as an operatic composer, viz., that beauty is the soul of Art. Whilst Wagner, Berlioz, Brahms, Saint Saens, and other modern composers of indisputable genius have strenuously endeavoured to prove that ugliness is artistic, our leading English musician has stuck to beauty, and has been amply rewarded for his unswerving constancy. Unless I be much mistaken, "Ruddygore" will rank amongst his chefs d'uvre. Its most fascinating numbers are a duet (Act I.) for soprano and tenor, "The Battle's Roar"; a delicious madrigal (Act I.), "Where the Buds are Blossoming"; and a ballad (Act II.), "In Bygone Days." Excellent of their kind are the robust sea song, "I Shipped, d'ye see"; the sprightly hornpipe that follows it; the plaintive ballad, "To a Garden"; the finale of Act I., "Oh, Happy the Lily"; and the grisly ghost song, "When the Night Wind," the orchestral accompaniment to which is unique in its dainty weirdness and wild witchery. The second act is less rife with memorable melodies than the first; but, en revanche, it is richer in those novel and subtle instrumental contrivances which Sullivan invents and elaborates with such amazing profusion and skill. There can be no doubt that by its admirable production of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's latest work the Savoy management has scored another of those shining and remunerative successes that its enterprise, intelligence, and good taste have repeatedly achieved and merited.
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 24 November 2000
updated by Jackie Flowers March 2001