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ST DAVID’S PLAYERS

Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon

Written by W S Gilbert

Composed by Arthur Sullivan

  • SYNOPSIS

     

    Prince Hilarion has been waiting for this day for twenty years — he and his father King Hildebrand are assembled with a crowd of courtiers and subjects to meet the girl to whom he was betrothed as a baby — the beautiful Princess Ida.

    However, although Arac, Guron and Scynthius (her brothers) and King Gama (her father) arrive, Ida is not with them because she has founded and shut herself away in Castle Adamant — a women’s university from which men are barred on pain of death.

    Angered by this breach of the betrothal contract, Hildebrand tells his son to go to Castle Adamant and threaten invasion, arresting the four visitors and holding them prisoner with the promise of hanging if Hilarion is unsuccessful.

    His son, however, plans a different kind of invasion — one of charm and gentleness — together with his loyal friends Cyril and Florian.

    no men allowed!

    At Castle Adamant, new recruits are admitted and all students hear from Lady Psyche why men should be rejected and from Lady Blanche how sternly this is applied in the college.

    After an inaugural address by their principal and Blanche’s lament that

    she is not in charge of the college, they return to their diligent studies, leaving the coast clear for the three boys to climb stealthily over the castle walls. The boys soon realise that the only way to remain there for the task in hand is to dress up as women and present themselves to Ida as girls who wish to join her university. But entanglements ensue: when Psyche appears, Florian immediately warns of danger — she is his sister and will recognise him in spite of his new attire. Fortunately, Psyche is overcome by her attraction to Cyril,
    so all is safe for a while; but she explains to the boys that they are in danger … and why. Her explanation is overheard by Blanche’s daughter Melissa, but she immediately falls for Florian and all sing in joy that they have found out the real ‘truth’ about men. Enter Blanche, who has overheard tenor and baritone voices … but Melissa’s suggestion that if Hilarion wins Ida’s heart it will leave the Principal’s post vacant wins Blanche’s temporary silence.

    confrontation

    Thus the secret is safe … that is until Cyril has a little too much wine at luncheon and calls Hilarion by name. Ida backs away in horror, falls into the river, is saved by the courageous Hilarion, but refuses to pardon them and instead has them arrested.

    In the midst of all this, Hildebrand and his soldiers storm the castle and he reminds Ida of her infant betrothal.

    Her captive brothers, who have been brought with the soldiers, mention
    to her that their lives will be forfeit if she breaks the vow; but such is her determination that she ignores the potential guilt of fratricide and declares that she will die rather than be a wife — calling the girls to fight under
    her banner.

    The girls gather for battle with a rousing chorus, but soon reveal that they have neither the courage nor the inclination to fight and leave Ida lamenting alone that all seems to have crumbled around her. Into her moment of despair comes her father with news that Hildebrand actually has no desire to fight with women and offers her three brothers to fight for her. Gama begs her to accept the offer because he has been hideously tortured by Hildebrand who has made everyone so charming that he has nothing about which to complain (an activity on which he normally thrives). Ida’s heart is moved to pity and all are admitted within the castle walls. It is agreed that the three brothers will fight Hilarion and his two companions and the question of marriage will be decided by the outcome of that confrontation.

    Hilarion is victorious, Ida is reassured that Blanche will look after the college, is persuaded by the arguments of several who surround her and eventually admits that she does indeed love Hilarion — so all join in the finale song in celebration of their new-found romances.

     

  • MUSICAL SYNOPSIS

    ACT 1

    ACT 3

    Search throughout the panorama
    Florian, Chorus

    Now hearken to my strict command
    Hildebrand, Chorus

    Today we meet, my baby bride and I
    Hilarion

    We are warriors three
    Arac, Guron, Scynthius, Chorus

    If you give me your attention
    Gama

    P’raps if you address the lady
    Gama, Hildebrand, Chorus

    Oh, dainty triolet
    Hilarion, Cyril, Florian, Chorus

    For a month to dwell in a dungeon cell
    Ensemble

     

    Death to the invader!
    Melissa, Chorus

    I built upon a rock
    Ida

    Whene’er I spoke sarcastic joke
    Gama

    When anger spreads his wing
    Chorus

    This helmet, I suppose
    Arac, Guron, Scynthius, Chorus

    With joy abiding
    Ensemble

    ACT 2

    Towards the empyrean heights
    Psyche, Melissa, Sacharissa, Chorus

    Mighty maiden with a mission
    Chorus

    Minerva! Oh, hear me
    Ida

    Come, mighty must
    Blanche

    Gently, gently
    Hilarion, Cyril, Florian

    I am a maiden, cold and stately
    Hilarion, Cyril, Florian

    The world is but a broken toy
    Ida, Cyril, Hilarion, Florian

    A lady fair, of lineage high
    Psyche

    The woman of the wisest wit
    Psyche, Melissa, Cyril, Hilarion, Florian

    Now wouldn’t you like
    Melissa, Blanche

    Merrily ring the luncheon bell
    Chorus, Blanche, Cyril

    Would you know the kind of maid
    Cyril

    Finale
    Ensemble

     

  • DRAMATIS PERSONÆ

    King Hildebrand
    bass-baritone

    Hilarion
    King Hildebrand’s Son (tenor)

    Cyril
    Hilarion’s Friend (tenor)

    Florian
    Hilarion’s Friend (lyric baritone)

    King Gama
    (comic baritone)

    Arac
    King Gama’s Son (bass-baritone)

    Guron
    King Gama’s Son (bass-baritone)

    Scynthius
    King Gama’s Son (bass)

    Princess Ida
    King Gama’s Daughter (soprano)

    Lady Blanche
    Professor of Abstract Science (contralto)

    Lady Psyche
    Professor of Humanities (soprano)

    Melissa
    Lady Blanche’s Daughter (mezzo-soprano)

    Sacharissa
    Girl Graduate (soprano)

    Chloe
    Girl Graduate (speaking role/chorus)

    Ada
    Girl Graduate (speaking role/chorus)

    Chorus of Soldiers, Courtiers, Girl Graduates,
    Daughters of the Plough

  • TRIVIA

  • RECORDING REVIEWS

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    Princess Ida is, perhaps, not as overtly comic as most of the Gilbert and Sullivan series. As a ‘Respectful Operatic Per-Version’ (as Gilbert described the piece) of the long narrative poem The Princess by Tennyson, Gilbert had in fact already presented a version of the work on stage at the Olympic Theatre in 1870. In that version, which retained the title The Princess , the piece had been in five scenes with musical numbers set to existing melodies from operas by Auber, Offenbach, Rossini et al.

    For Princess Ida Gilbert retained much of his blank verse dialogue from the earlier work, wrote fresh lyrics for the musical numbers, tightened the action and converted the five scenes into a Prologue and Two Acts (later re-designated as Three Acts).

    The plot follows the poem fairly closely although whereas Tennyson’s Prince and his father are nameless, Gilbert gives them the names of Hilarion and Hildebrand.

    As for the music, the recently knighted Sullivan is on top form providing a score with many exquisite moments. Indeed, the second act is often dubbed ‘the string of pearls’ as there is a succession wonderful numbers which build up to one of the most exciting G & S Finales.

    Despite an initial run at the Savoy in 1884 of just 246 performances, Ida remained in the repertoire of the touring D’Oyly Carte companies right up to the outbreak of the second world war, during which the costumes and sets were destroyed in the blitz by a direct hit on the company’s East London stores. The opera returned to the repertoire during the London season of 1954/5 and was regularly performed up until the season of 1977/78. The company finally disbanded in 1982.

    Princess Ida arrived in the recording studio fairly late.
    His Master’s Voice had commenced recording ‘complete’ performances of the operas as early as 1917, but Ida did not reach the studio until 1924 and was, in fact, the last recording to be made acoustically.

    The main glory of this recording is the presence of the legendary Bertha Lewis as Lady Blanche. At this period, Blanche’s song ‘Come Mighty Must’ was still included in performance and it is wonderful to hear Lewis so forceably establish the character in a stately, well paced rendition, ending on a secure, full bodied, resounding bottom G. In fact, it was this note that proved to be the songs downfall in later productions as, with the tragic death of Lewis in 1930, her successor was found not to be able to manage the note, and so the song was cut in performance until 1977 (although amateur companies usually do include the piece).

    The recording is available from Sounds on CD

    Princess Ida next visited the recording studio in 1932. At this time Malcolm Sargent was the musical director at D’Oyly Carte and it is good to be able to compare his reading of the work at this time against the recording he made 33 years later.

    Here in 1932, Sargent conducts a tight, fast paced performance with some truly exciting and wonderful moments. The cast is led by the legendary Sir Henry Lytton who had first appeared in the chorus of the opera at the Savoy during the initial run in 1884. Here as King Gama he displays all the characteristics which maade him such a well loved D’Oyly Carte performer. Lytton is backed by the standard stage cast of the day (with the exception of George Baker (Florian) who never appeared on stage with the company, and the whole recording confirms why, for many who saw the company at this period, this was a D’Oyly Carte ‘golden age’.

    The recording is available from Sounds on CD, also from Pearl GEM0144, and from Conifer on the ‘Happy Days’ label 75605 52273 2 coupled with the 1930 Patience.

    I first became acquainted with this performance in 1967 when I discovered a copy of the first LP from the set in a record shop in Sevenoaks. The set had already been deleted and superceeded by the magnificent but less incisive recording directed by Malcolm Sargent and released in 1965. I later found the second disc in a shop in Tunbridge Wells.

    There is no doubt that here is the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company on top form. The recording (albeit mono) was undoubtedly the crowning glory of what affectionately came to be known as the ‘DECCA 1st series’ of D’Oyly Carte recordings (1949 - 1954).

    The cast is headed by Peter Pratt, a much underrated patter comedian who fell between two great names, Martyn Green and John Reed. Pratt gives a remarkable performance as the irritable and unlikeable King Gama and it is a great pity that many more of his performances were not committed to disc. He can be heard in the 1953 recording of The Sorcerer and the 1957 recordings of Mikado and Pirates. It is certainly understandable why the BBC engaged him as the lynchpin of the 1966 recordings of the complete G & S series.

    The part of King Hildebrand is played by another post war great, Fisher Morgan, another artiste who tends to have been sidelined by another great, Kenneth Sandford. Hilarion is entrusted to the ever popular Thomas Round and Florian to the charming and ever delightful Jeffrey Skitch. Cyril is played by Leonard Osborn, an ever popular tenor on stage but unfortunately nasal in the recording studio. Here he is less nasal, but in this his last recording with D’Oyly Carte, he does sound tired at times. This, however, does not detract from his overall performance. Donald Adams makes his mark as Arac giving us a glimpse of what was to come.

    In general the ladies are no less delightful. This recording emanated from the first post-war revival in London and therefore a ‘star name’ was bought in to play the title role. Muriel Harding would normally have played this role, but here, relegated to the part of Lady Psyche, she gives a memorable, charming and witty performance. As Lady Blanche, Ann Drummond-Grant makes a classic mark despite that fact that the role is shorn of the song ‘Come Mighty Must’ - what she could have done with this must remain a matter for speculation.

    Mellissa is said to have been Beryl Dixon’s favourite role and it certainly shows here in a wonderful perky and cheeky performance.

    On the original LP’s the voice of ‘star name’ Victoria Sladen, was very much disliked. What her performance on stage was like I do not know, although I understand that she was unpopular with the company in general. Miss Sladen was an accomplished opera singer, having performed at Covent Garden amongst other venues. It may be that her voice was just too operatic for G & S. Digitally remastered, the harsh edge seems to have been taken off Miss Sladen’s voice and although at times she sounds like a Brunhilde who has wandered into the wrong theatre, her performance is acceptable and does blend a little more comfortably than on LP.

    The chorus and orchestra under the batton of the inimitable Isadore Godfrey are quite frankly superb, the orchestra in particular sounding absolutely fabulous, and the performance rattles off at a cracking pace which is totally infectious and sweeps one along with it, and would have earned five stars but for Miss Sladen and the omission of ‘Come Mighty Must’.

    y Sounds On CD (see the ‘Sites of Interest’ link for details of how to order). It is also available on the Naxos label (8.110317-18) coupled with a 1931 recording of highlights from The Gondoliers, and there is an issue from AVID (AMSC898) which uses patter songs sung by Nelson Eddy as the filler.

    The recording has been reissued by Sounds on CD. It is also available on the Naxos label (8.110317-18) coupled with a 1931 recording of highlights from The Gondoliers, and there is an issue from AVID (AMSC898) which uses patter songs sung by Nelson Eddy as the filler.

    Of course everyone has personal favourites amongst the G & S recorded repertoire and certainly for me Princess Ida is far more immediate, far better paced, in the 1953 recording, (reviewed above) but suffers from an ageing Victoria Sladen in the title role although as stated, digital remastering seems to have taken the edge of the harshness in the voice that was such a problem on L.P.

    The 1965 recording presented here, has the advantage of Elizabeth Harwood and also the young Valerie Masterson making her recording debut as Melissa.

    John Reed as King Gama is remarkably subdued for him, but then he has little to do and the lack of dialogue deprives him of much of his vehicle. Kenneth Sandford however, turns in a wonderful King Hildebrand.

    Hilarion (Philip Potter) and his friends Cyril (David Palmer) and Florian (Geoffrey Skitch) have great fun in Act Two and the second act finale is a highlight.

    Ann Hood is memorable as Lady Psyche, whilst Christine Palmer makes her mark in the role of Lady Blanche, most especially in her act two duet with Melissa. Once again however, ‘Come mighty must’ is missing. Donald Adams turns in an amusing performance as Arac, ably supported by Anthony Raffell and George Cook.

    Sir Malcolm Sargent’s pacing may be more relaxed than one could wish but in general this is a beautiful recording.

    This is the first ever recording of Princess Ida to include the complete dialogue and the first modern recording to include Lady Blanche’s song ‘Come mighty must’.

    Sad to say this is a missed opportunity. Firstly the strong American accent displayed by several of the performers grates badly on the British ear. This is strange as the same company’s brilliant recording of Utopia, (Limited) does not suffer in this way.

    Secondly the overall direction, both musical and stage, is somewhat laid back - there is a lack of excitement in most of the musical numbers and the dialogue (although admittedly written in blank verse) is delivered in an unusually stilted style.

    Worst is the totally missed opportunity to give a ‘performance’ of Lady Blanche’s ‘Come Mighty Must’. The only previous recording of this number was by the legendary Bertha Lewis on the first complete D’Oyly Carte recording made way back in the early twenties and proving, despite all the surface noise, just what an impressive number this can be. Sadly Elaine Fox does not have the depth of voice or the full G & S contralto tone to give this number the power it deserves and she is further hindered by the incredibly slow pace at which the piece is taken.

    So sad that one of Sullivan’s most beautiful scores does not receive the performance it deserves here.

     This recording is available on the Newport Classic label (NPD 85675/2).

  • RESOURCES

    Most computers can already read PDF files. If you are unable to view these files, download the FREE Acrobat Reader from Adobe

    FREE downloads are available for these publications

      A new annotated libretto of Princess Ida

     

      Early D'Oyly Carte prompt book of
    Princess Ida

     

      Combined vocal score and libretto of Princess Ida,
    courtesy of
    Troupers Light Opera

The Gondoliers

The Grand Duke

HMS Pinafore

Iolanthe

The Martyr of Antioch

The Mikado

Patience

The Pirates of Penzance

Princess Ida

Ruddigore

The Sorcerer

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Thespis

Trial by Jury

Utopia (Limited)

The Yeomen of the Guard

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