WHEN Sir Arthur, then Mr., Sullivan
commenced that collaboration with Mr. W. S. Gilbert which has since yielded
such an extraordinary meed of popular approval, musicians gave utterance
to some feeling of regret that the ability and talent of one of our representative
composers should be frittered away in the composition of burlesque music.
Six years have elapsed, and Sir Arthur Sullivan has carefully felt the
pulse of the public to whom he has appealed, giving a higher artistic impress
to each successive work as he believed it was safe to do so. "Patience"
and "Iolanthe" were on the whole a considerable advance upon "The Sorcerer"
and "H.M.S. Pinafore," and by general consent the Music of "Princess Ida"
shows yet further progress towards that intellectual standard which should
be the goal of every earnest composer. This comparative excellence is the
more apparent because Mr. Gilbert's share in the work is confessedly weaker
than usual. There are some extremely whimsical ideas in his libretto, but
it has the disadvantage of being a renovated version of an unsuccessful
play, and it has its dull as well as its brilliant moments. On the other
hand, the score is free from the slightest suspicion of vulgarity; and
though much of the music is a réchauffé of earlier
works, the composer has preserved a certain refinement of manner which
conveys a sense of charm to cultured listeners. It would serve no useful
purpose to analyse the opera in detail, but we may call attention to Sir
Arthur Sullivan's felicitous reproductions of old world rhythms and cadences,
and also to his masterly use of the orchestra. In this last respect the
superiority of his work to those of foreign composers of light comic opera
must be manifest to any attentive listener. There is not one among the
performers who is entitled to special commendation, but the ensemble is
little short of perfection, and the orchestra and chorus are of first-rate
quality. If "Princess Ida" is as successful as it appears to be, Sir Arthur
Sullivan may be encouraged to devote his gifts to higher purposes in the
domain of the lyric drama.
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 13 November 2000
updated 18 March 2007