Three notices in The Musical World 1881 April 30 59(18)

1.  OPERA COMIQUE. The Musical World 1881 April 30 59(18): 269 [unsigned review reprinted from the Daily Telegraph]

    Patience; or Bunthorne's Bride, is the name of Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan's new opera; and, this being the name of it, those who know how fond Mr. Gilbert is of tripping people up along the beaten tracks of thought will suspect that Patience does not embody the chief interest of the piece, that she is not Bunthorne's bride, and that, in point of fact, Bunthorne has no bride at all. It is even so, "and that's the humour of it." The work presents itself as an "æsthetic opera," and, having regard to circumstances not mentioned, perhaps because easily imagined, Mr D'Oyly Carte considered it advisable to state formally that the libretto was completed in November last. As far as reference is here implied to Mr. Burnand's æsthetic play, The Colonel, the announcement may be regarded as superfluous. Although Mr Gilbert sometimes chooses to economize his ideas by using them again and again, no one suspects him of lacking originality so far as to be obliged to borrow from other people. More important is it to observe that the caustic, satirical dramatist did not keep his eyes shut to a tempting theme till the opportunity had almost passed. Mr Gilbert, we may well believe, marked Messrs Maudle, Postlethwaite & Co. for his own before those worthies figured in the pages of Punch. He could hardly do otherwise without abandoning his mission. Who but he should hold up to boundless ridicule the silly creatures now doing their little best to make true art contemptible through exaggeration, antics, and slang? He was necessary, and had he held back sensible folk would have cried out for him. His holding back, however, was not likely. It is far more easy to imagine the grim delight with which the dramatist took up his keen and acrid pen, while the only danger was that circumstances might postpone the bringing forth of his work till the latest social "fad" had vanished before universal and inextinguishable laughter.

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    We shall not stop to compare the libretto of the new opera with any of its precursors among Mr. Gilbert's works. Nor would it show much discretion to point out instances wherein the author, even when not avowedly engaged in caricature, throws all sense of probability to the winds. Mr Gilbert does nothing without a purpose, and often those who think they have caught him tripping find themselves enmeshed in a net cunningly spread by sly and subtle hands. We may take it that whenever the dramatist employs a serious moment in turning a summersault he knows perfectly well what he is about. Plays of this sort are, in point of fact, not for criticism by any standard save such as they themselves supply. Do they make an audience merry? Do they hurl darts at the follies of society with such good temper that thosewho feel the blow are among the first to laugh? If so, their modest, yet not unuseful purpose is answered, and their right to applause asserted. wherefore should it be said that in Patience, Mr Gilbert repeats himself a good deal, that the idea of unselfish love as worked out by his heroine complicates the story without proportionate effect, and that the denouement is weak, the best answer lies in the peals of joyous merriment that accompany the play from beginning to end. As regards technical workmanship, we only anticipate a general opinion when we say that the dialogue here and there lacks the brilliancy expected from Mr Gilbert, and that the lyrics are models of easy rhyme and rhythm, as well as full of mingled humour and pathos. Mr Sullivan's share in this piece should command the warmest praise. Sensible people do not look to operas like Patience for startling music, or even for that which absorbs the attention. Indeed, music of such a kind would be out of place. It would disturb the balance of the entire work, because while some modern criticism contends against resolute opposition that on every lyric stage music should take a subordinate place, here its inferiority admits of no debate. "The play's the thing" beyond all question; Mr Sullivan's work being simply to supply for its lyrics such graceful, refined, and artistic strains as please without distraction. This duty he has performed most admirably. In the first place, he again illustrates a happy and, for a task of the kind, indispensable power of seizing the idea of the verse and giving it expression by the simplest of purely artistic means. Mr Sullivan never pulls against but always with his poet, while if beguiled into the regions of commonplace, he knows how to say even ordinary things with an accent of superiority that compels attention. For proof of all this we need not look beyond the music of Patience, no fewer than seven numbers of which were encored and repeated on Saturday night. The strength of the composer is not put forward at the outset. His introduction, for example, would on ordinary occasions pass unnoticed, and the numbers immediately succeeding, though pretty, are not remarkable. When however, we come to the Colonel's song about the Heavy Dragoons, Mr Sullivan's humour flows in a full stream, while the ensemble for officers and ladies appears as a capital example of its kind. Other noticeable pieces are Bunthorne's song, "If you're anxious for to shine," with its delicate and charming orchestration; the duet for Patience and Angela, "Long years ago, fourteen may be," also beautifully scored; the charming madrigalian dialogue, "Prithee, pretty maiden," for Patience and Grosvenor; a well-written sestet with chorus, "I hear the soft note;" Lady Jane's mock sentimental ditty, "Silvered is the raven hair," with its Handelian recitative; the spirited duet for Bunthorne and Lady Jane, "So go to him, and say to him," and its thoroughly funny companion for Bunthorne and Grosvenor, "When I go out of door." In all these appear the ideas and the hand of a musician who has something to say and knows how to say it. What though the work be not of an exalted kind? Excellence consists largely in fitness.
    Of the performance we can only speak briefly, nor is there need, seeing its well-nigh uniform merit, for the many words that provoked criticism demands. It will be understood that the scenery and dresses were as perfect as thought and money could make them; that the stage, under Mr Gilbert's exacting eye, was a model of well-ordered arrangement; and that every performer, down to the humblest, knew what he had to do, and was competent. A better ensemble could hardly have been desired. As Patience, Miss Leonora Braham looked pretty enough to account for her hold upon the rival poets' hearts, while she acted throughout with the simplicity becoming her character, and sang like the clever artist the public for some time known her to be. Miss Alice Barnett, provided with a part written up ostentatiously to her wealth of physical development, kept the audience in a roar. Her merit as a comedian could have had no better assertion, while her delivery of the song already referred to showed vocal powers of no mean order. Misses Bond, Gwynne, and Fortescue were graceful and pleasing representatives of the leading rapturous ones; while the quaint humour of Mr G. Grossmith as Bunthorne, the dry fun of Mr Barrington as Grosvenor, the energy of Mr Temple as the Colonel, the true comedy of Mr Thornton as the Major, especially in the æsthetic scene, and the good singing of Mr Lely as the Duke, all more or less contributed to the success indubitably gained. Mr Sullivan conducted, and, at the close, was called forward, with Mr Gilbert, to receive an assurance that Patience; or Bunthorne's Bride, had set sail with a favouring gale. D.T. [Daily Telegraph]

2. "TYRRELL OF THE MARSH." PATIENCE; OR, BUNTHORNE'S BRIDE. The Musical World 1881 April 30 59(18): 271

    The most precious of delectable sensations is assuredly that of Laughter at the Utterly Nonsensical; wherefore thanks are due to Mr. Gilbert for having once more provided us with a stimulant thereto in the shape of Patience; or Bunthorne's Bride. In saying this, we must take occasion to differ with the strictures of certain critics. Whereas these critics have approached the latest offspring of Mr. Gilbert's curious brain in a wrong spirit, it behoves us to underline their mistaking Humour for Irony, and Extravaganza for Parody. Somebody has defined Irony as Earnestness concealing Jest, and Humour as Jest concealing Earnestness. Mr. Gilbert's drolleries certainly belong not to the first category, they rather form part of a Humour-growth which is of very recent date, and whereof, indeed, the author of the "Bab Ballads" may be called inventor. This humour while very free in construction and sore phantastic in its "too all but" aimlessness, is nevertheless the most puissant of laugh-compellers; and if Patience be not absolutely brimming over with it, what we find is so good that at the end a feeling of gratitude is paramount in sane minds. As for the general scope of the piece, enough stress has been laid on the absence of any serious attempt at satire. Still, as a summing up of what is here said and not said, I may be suffered to pronounce that the duets, "Hey, but I'm doleful, willow, willow, waly," "Sing hey to you, good day to you," and "Conceive me, if you can," are likely to convulse frames of feathered bipeds in such exceeding wise as only masterstrokes of genius can do.      TYRRELL OF THE MARSH.


3. OPERA COMIQUE. The Musical World 1881 April 30 59(18): 271 [unsigned review reprinted from the Graphic]

Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride, produced on Monday night, before a densely crowded audience, was a success about the genuine nature of which there can be hardly two opinions. Often as Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan have wrought together they have seldom done so with happier effect. Words and music fit each other so thoroughly that they might be almost accepted as the emanation from one brain, and that brain taking a view of things quite independent of the ordinary cast of thought. When Mr. Gilbert writes verse and dialogue that would seem altogether absurd but for the assumed gravity of the actors to whom they are confided, and Mr. Sullivan invents music which might be wedded to wholly different utterances, it should not be looked upon as a mistake on the part of the musician, who rather aids than impeded the object his literary confederate has in view; and that as Corporal Nym would say "is the humour of it." After the lengthy notices of Patience with which the public has been favoured by our daily contemporaries, it would be superfluous to describe the purport, much more so to unwind the plot, of this new proof of its joint authors' unexampled fecundity in a peculiar direction. That it is a satire upon a tendency in certain social circles to counterfeit what can only be counterfeited by exaggeration in ridiculous proportions, under the cloak of an enthusiasm which by a stretch of the imagination alone can be regarded as genuine, need not be told. How Mr. Gilbert has again succeeded in embodying his idea by aid of the shadowy personages with which his fancy teems, but which are no more real than the images delirium paints upon darkness, may at once be guessed by those acquainted with The Sorcerer, H.M.[sic] Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, &c. That, according to his generally adopted custom, he has performed his task without affording reasonable cause of offence to the most sensitive, is so much added to the credit of a burlesque inimitable in its way. The sham "æsthetic," Reginald Bunthorne, and the "idyllic poet," Archibald Grosvenor, represented with consummate address, the one by Mr Grossmith, the other by Mr Rutland Barrington, are as harmless types as could well be imagined, while the women, one and all, including the four principals, Ladies Angela, Saphir, Ella and Jane (Misses Bond, Gwynne, Fortescue, and Barnett), the last as imposing and masculine as her three companions are feminine and shy, form a bevy of mad-cap maidens as unobtrusive as they are inviting. The Dragoons, too Colonel Calverley, Major Murgatroyd, and Lieut.-Duke of Dunstable (Messrs Temple, Thornton and Lely) a sturdy set of warriors, whose affections are temporarily thwarted, now by the influence of the "fleshly" (why not robust?) poet, Bunthorne, now by that of the "idyllic" Grosvenor, but who eventually, assuming the garb and gesture of the "æsthetes," so fascinate the æsthetically-given maidens that, though not quite reaching their ideal standard, as represented at the outset by Bunthorne, are unanimously proclaimed "too all but," harmoniously chime in with the rest; and so does the pretty milk-maid, Patience, who, while not destined to be "Bunthorne's Bride," becomes, eventually, the bride of Grosvenor, his more acceptable competitor. In Patience, charmingly portrayed by Miss Leonora Braham, we have a real touch of nature, which gives light and life to the whole. Mr. Sullivan's music is too sterlingly good to be dismissed with a bare recognition of its worth; but space compels us to defer our notice until next week. The performance, directed by the composer himself, was admirable from beginning to end; and when, after the fall of the curtain, Messrs Sullivan and Gilbert appeared, they were enthusiastically cheered. Graphic.


transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 11 and 19 November 2000