The Gondoliers

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Review transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 4 January 2001
The Dramatic World. "THE GONDOLIERS." 
The Musical World 1889 December 14 69(59): 892 [unsigned review]

    The weekly journalist, amongst certain other advantages, possesses this at least over his brother of the daily journal, that he often escapes a great deal of trouble by the possibly unintentional kindness with which the latter sets forth, some days in advance of him, the details of the plot of new plays, operas, and the like. Thus all the world is perfectly familiar with the story of the new Savoy opera, produced last Saturday to the usual crowd of amateurs and others, to whom the first night of a piece by Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan is, not unnaturally, a "nuit blanche" in more senses than one. We say not unnaturally, because the passion for amusement is shared, more or less avowedly, by us all; and the present generation owes much to the ingenious collaborators who have so constantly provided it with refined, but not less real, amusement. Entering the Savoy one may leave behind him, to be well forgotten in the roaring Strand, his favourite theories on the value of the more professedly serious work attempted in other spheres by either artist. Here there can be no questionings, no blank misgivings. They have created for us a form of artistic entertainment peculiarly their own, in which, if more heroic qualities are lacking, there are present those not less desirable for "daily food," of wit and ingenuity in the story, of humour, grace, and wonderful craftsmanship in the music. Therefore, let us contentedly give thanks to the twin brethren who, returning to their older and happier manner, have presented us in "The Gondoliers" with so irresistibly bright and piquant a piece of work.
    As has been suggested, there is little need that we should repeat in all its details the quaint and ingenious story which Mr. Gilbert has devised. It is sufficiently characteristic, this story of the prince who, kidnapped in very early youth and entrusted to the charge of a "highly respectable gondolier" in Venice, has been brought up in such complete ignorance of his birth that when the search is made for him no one knows which of two boys he is, and accordingly both must be taken to Barataria to rule as dual king until the secret is solved. It is from this situation of course that Mr. Gilbert derives most fun. Being only one king the unhappy pair get rations only for one of them, and very amusing are the shifts to which they are put to eke out a respectable living. Through what straits the two are compelled to pass, together with the poverty-stricken Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro, and by what ingenious means the problem of the heirship to the throne is settled need not here be repeated. Sir Arthur Sullivan, it is to be gladly admitted, has in the setting of the story touched the highest point of success yet attained by him. The score is throughout a marvel of grace, melody, and skill. Lighter in character than the "Yeomen of the Guard," but not therefore trivial, every page abounds in haunting melodies or pieces of masterly orchestration. Tessa's song, "When a merry maiden marries;" the quartet, "Then one of us will be a Queen;" Marco's delightful air, "Take a pair of sparkling eyes;" the Cachuca; and above all the marvellously clever quartett, "In a contemplative fashion," are all instances of the felicity and genuineness of the composer's inspiration. If Art, as viewed from one side, may be defined as the perfect adaptation of technical methods to the expression of emotion whether sublime or ridiculous then "The Gondoliers" is, on its own plane, very nearly a perfect work of art. And as it lies on same plane with the mind of the great mass of amateurs it is safe to predict it for a lasting success.
    It remains only to speak of the performance, which was in all ways worthy of the occasion. To Mr. Rutland Barrington heartily welcomed back to his old stage and Mr. Courtice Pounds as the two heroes; to the sprightly Miss Jessie Bond and Miss Ulmar as Venetian girls;  to Miss Brandram as the Duchess, Mr. Frank Wyatt as the Duke, and Mr. Denny as the Inquisitor one comprehensive word of the highest praise must be accorded. A promising début was made by Miss Decima Moore as Casilda, who, although but in her eighteenth year, sang and acted with surprising verve and vocal skill. The mise en scène, it will readily be believed, was perfect in all points; and the same may be said of the manner in which the chorus and orchestra, under Sir Arthur's own guidance, discharged their duties.

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