THE last in the series of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan’s fantastic operas contains so much that is clever and original that it is a pity its effect should be marred to some extent by clumsy arrangement. In its original form, Mr. Gilbert’s “respectful perversion” of Tennyson’s ‘Princess’ consisted of five scenes played without break in the ordinary burlesque style. It is now arranged in a prologue and two acts, the first and third divisions being brief, while the second is so abnormally long that a sense of fatigue cannot be resisted despite the author’s whimsicalities and the composer’s admirably conceived numbers. One or two of the lyrics could be spared, and with a little compression of the dialogue the piece will be improved in symmetry and balance. In the endeavour to assign to the new work its proper musical position in the list which begins with ‘The Sorcerer,’ we are reminded of the difficulty a composer must experience in maintaining any semblance of freshness in his method after working in one groove for so long a time. Sir Arthur Sullivan is not to be blamed because in ‘Princess Ida’ we meet with rhythms, phraseology, and tricks of orchestration which sound familiar. There is rather cause for wonder that in his latest effort there is so much that strikes the hearer as spontaneous, daintily expressed, and even beautiful. The composer is never more happy than when he reproduces the mannerisms of former musical epochs, and there are two or three numbers which will compare favourably with anything he has previously accomplished in this direction. The gem of the opera is the duet for Lady Blanche and Melissa, with its old-world grace; but scarcely inferior are a Handelian trio for the three sons of Gama, and a sham Anacreontic song for Cyril. In the concerted music Sir Arthur Sullivan displays a serious artistic purpose, and there is nothing that is unworthy of his reputation as a leading English musician. In this respect the new score will compare very favourably with that of ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ – his first great success in collaboration with Mr. Gilbert. The performance is more noteworthy for general smoothness and good ensemble than for the special excellence of any individual member of the cast. Vocally, Miss L. Braham, Miss Chard, Mr. H. Bracy, and Mr. Durward Lely are most entitled to approving mention. Mr. Grossmith has less to do than usual, but he makes the most of his opportunities. The mounting of the piece is on the sumptuous scale always observed at Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s theatre.
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 9 November 2000
updated 18 March 2007