Review transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 1 February 2001
THE new opera of Mr. Gilbert
and Sir Arthur Sullivan was produced at the Savoy on the 7th ult. with
enormous success, and at once bade fair to occupy the stage for a very
long time. At the premières of "Ruddigore" and the "Yeomen of the
Guard" the audience were not wholly free from misgiving as to the abiding
popularity of those works. It was felt that author and composer had turned
over a new leaf, and, in the act, passed from a page stamoed wit htheir
own individuality to one in which they could only hope for divided possession.
The question was whether, in the new work, they would persevere or retrace
their steps. Of the two courses the second obtained preference, and, amid
general approval, "The Gondoliers" made itself known as a comic opera of
the old type, full of Mr. Gilbert's strange conceits and curious inversions;
full, also of Sir Arthur Sullivan's most humorous music. For ourselves,
we share the general satisfaction. Our admiration for the "Yeomen of the
Guard" as a musical melodrama was strongly expressed, but the world must
have its laugh, and it is a good thing when men who can provoke mirth in
harmless fashion exercise their vocation.
Mr. Gilbert is funniest when he gets his two men (but only one king) on the throne of Barataria – a state which combines strict despotism with absolute equality, in which, therefore, the joint monarchs have to polish their one crown and furbish their solitary sceptre for themselves. The ex-gondoliers make themselves useful about the palace in truly Gilbertian fashion:–And noble lords will scrape and bow,
Then there is the picture of an easy-going king who promoted everybody:–Then we go and stand as sentry
So does the author's lively humour play with the grave and solemn personages of State, to the great delight of popular feeling, at a time when reverence for pomps and dignities is a diminishing quantity. How in every scene and situation, political, amorous, or festive, the Gilbert conceits abound, and the most respectable and venerated notions are presented standing on their heads, everybody can imagine, and will take for granted the fact that the book is thoroughly amusing.Lord Chancellors were cheap as sprats,
"The Gondoliers" contains some of Sir Arthur Sullivan's very best contributions to light music. In certain respects it is not up to the more serious effort made in the "Yeomen of the Guard," but as music for a comic opera we must pronounce it simply perfection. The melodies flow on as though unpremeditated, their spontaneity being no less delightful than their tunefulness and propriety of expression. They are, moreover, equally humorous with the words, and in some occult way, which, perhaps, the composer could not explain, seem to blend with the verbal expression till the two are one to the minutest shade. This is a merit all can feel, and goes far to make the songs and concerted pieces irresistible. Sir Arthur has scored his music simply, but with a dainty touch. He humours the quality of each instrument till it becomes completely individualised, and the orchestra appears as a merry company, not less full of fun than the occupants of the stage. At the same time there is a graceful and pleasing musical effect, gained by the exercise of consummate skill. Almost every number in the work might be put before a student of orchestration as an example not only of what to follow, but, much more, of what to avoid. We refrain now from mention of particular pieces. The music will, in a little while, be published, and then we may with more ease and advantage discuss the composer's method and its results. Enough now that whoever hears the music in "The Gondoliers," hears a good thing, full of life, vivacity, and point, but always refined and artistic.
The first performance was, as always at the Savoy, very complete and equally successful. All went well; the scenery and appointments gave delight to the eye; the orchestra and chorus, conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan in person, were excellent, and the principal artists, if not uniform in merit, were all more or less equal to the task assigned them. We may mention, with special approval, Mr. Wyatt, Mr. Brownlow, Mr. Denny (whose clear enunciation was a pattern for all to follow), Mr. Courtice Pounds, Mr. Barrington, Miss Ulmar, Miss Jessie Bond, and Miss Decima Moore, a young and engaging débutante who, to all appearance, has an excellent future. The reception of the opera was uproariously cordial.
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