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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon
Written by W S Gilbert
Composed by Arthur Sullivan
The Market Place of Speisesaal. All the members of Ernest Dummkopf’s theatrical troupe are enjoying the wedding breakfast in advance of Ludwig and Lisa’s wedding as the unpopular and miserly Grand Duke Rudolph has called all the local clergy to his palace to discuss the final details for his own marriage the next afternoon, to the wealthy Baroness Von Krakenfeldt.
As no parson will be free to marry Ludwig to Lisa until six o’clock that evening, and as the company is due to present a magnificent revival of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida at seven o’clock, there is no alternative but to eat the breakfast in advance.
The members of the company are all involved in a conspiracy to dethrone the Grand Duke (their secret sign is the eating of a sausage roll) band elect their manager, Ernest Dummkopf to the throne. This pleases Ernest as it will force the unpopular and haughty cockney comedienne, Julia Jellicoe, who insists on playing the leading role in all the company’s productions, to become his wife in order to ‘play the part’ of the Grand Duchess.
Unfortunately Ludwig reveals the plot to Rudolph’s private detective - the man ate three sausage rolls and so Ludwig has spilled the beans. Panic reigns - with the exception of the company’s solicitor, Dr. Tannhauser, who declares he has a solution.
All the laws of Pfennig Halbfennig run for 100 years, at the end of which time they lapse unless they are revived in the meantime. One of these laws governs the Statutory Duel which lays down that all disputes must be settled by the drawing of playing cards rather than swords or pistols. The man drawing the lowest card is declared ‘dead’ whilst the winner takes on all the ‘dead’ man’s responsibilities.
This law is due to expire at two o’clock the next afternoon. Ludwig
and Ernest must fight a Statutory Duel and the winner will go to the Grand Duke and denounce the loser as the moving spirit of the plot. He will receive a free pardon and the next afternoon the ‘dead’ man will be able to come back to life and carry on as if nothing had happened. The duel is fought - Ernest draws a king and Ludwig an ace - so Ernest is declared dead and goes off to the local cemetery whilst Ludwig goes in search of the Grand Duke.
At this point Rudolph himself arrives in the market place with his seven chamberlains to whom he gives instructions concerning his forthcoming marriage. He then indulges in a tête-à-tête with the Baroness. An examination of the daily newspaper reveals that Rudolph was betrothed in babyhood to the Princess of Monte Carlo, a fact he has not disclosed to the Baroness. However, as he points out, the marriage is null and void unless the Princess marries before she comes of age. As the Prince is penniless and cannot bring his daughter to Pfennig Halbpfennig, and as she comes of age at two o’clock the next afternoon, Rudolph has appointed that hour for his marriage to the Baroness.
The Baroness leaves happily and Rudolph settles down to read his detectives report, only to discover the news of the conspiracy. Poor Rudolph feels quite ill and when Ludwig arrives on the scene it is to find Rudolph a completely broken man.
Ludwig sees a simple way out of all his problems. He and Rudolph proceed to rig a Statutory Duel before the whole town. When the drawing takes place it appears that Rudolph draws a king and Ludwig an ace. Rudolph leaves amid wild ridicule and rejoicings. Ludwig’s first act as Grand Duke is to revive the law relating to the Statutory Duel, thus ensuring that neither Rudolph nor Ernest can come back to life. The one blot on the horizon appears in the form of Julia Jellicoe who promptly claims Ludwig as her husband. As theatrical contracts take precedence over marriage contracts, Julia’s claim is upheld and a distraught Lisa rushes from the scene as the curtain falls.
Entrance Hall of the Grand Ducal Palace-Next morning: Ludwig and Julia with their new made court, all dressed in the classical Greek costumes from their production of Troilus and Cressida have returned from the wedding, and Julia is just laying down in no uncertain terms, just how she intends to play the ‘part’ of Grand Duchess, when the Baroness arrives for her wedding with Rudolph. On finding that her husband to be had perished in a Statutory Duel the Baroness claims Ludwig as her husband. As the responsibilities of Grand Duke take · precedence over those of a theatrical manager, the law upholds the Baroness’ claim.
The company leave for another wedding while Julia bemoans her fate. She is confronted by Ernest who pleads with her to fly with him to London and become his wife. He will play broken English in London, just as Ernest is only a spectre, he cannot make her his wife, only his widow, and as his widow she would be bound to marry again within a month.
The wedding party returns and the Baroness is just getting tipsy on champagne when a herald appears and announces the arrival of the Prince of Monte Carlo and his suite. The Prince, accompanied by his daughter and an escort of second-hand nobles gleaned from the local theatre have arrived just in time to force the Grand Duke to marry the Princess.
Having been engaged to Rudolph for over twenty years, the Princess' claim is greater than that of the baroness. Ludwig is about to be dragged off for yet another wedding when Rudolph, Ernest and Dr. Tannhauser appear.
Dr. Tannhauser declares that there has been a mistake regarding the use of the Statutory Duel!
Won’t it be a pretty wedding?
Pretty Lisa, fair and tasty
Lisa & Ludwig with Chorus
Were I a king in very truth
Ernest with Chorus
How would I play this part
Julia & Ernest
My goodness me! What shall I do?
Ten minutes since I met a chap
Ludwig & Chorus
About a century since
Strange the views some people hold
Julia, Lisa, Ernest, Notary, & Ludwig
Now take a card and gaily sing
Julia, Lisa, Ernest, Notary, & Ludwig
The good Grand Duke
Chorus of Chamberlains
A pattern to professors of monarchical autonomy
As o’er our penny roll we sing
Baroness & Grand Duke
When you find you’re a broken-down critter
Finale, Act I
Come hither, all you people
Oh, a monarch who boasts intellectual graces
Ludwig with Chorus
Ah, pity me, my comrades true
Julia with Chorus
Oh, listen to me, dear
Julia & Lisa with Chorus
The die is cast
Lisa with Chorus
For this will be a jolly Court
Ludwig & Chorus
As before you we defile
Your loyalty our Ducal heart-string touches
Ludwig with Chorus
At the outset I may mention
Ludwig with Chorus
Yes, Ludwig and his Julia are mated
Take care of him — he’s much too good to live
Now Julia, come, consider it from
Julia & Ludwig
Your Highness, there’s a party at the door
With fury indescribable I burn
Baroness & Ludwig
Now away to the wedding we go
Baroness & Chorus
So ends my dream
Broken ev’ry promise plighted
If the light of love’s lingering ember
Julia, Ernest, & Chorus
Come, bumpers — aye, ever-so-many
Baroness with Chorus
Why, who is this approaching?
Ludwig & Chorus
The Prince of Monte Carlo
Herald & Chorus
His highness we know not
We’re rigged out in magnificent array
Prince of Monte Carlo
Take my advice — when deep in debt
Prince of Monte Carlo with Chorus
Hurrah! Now away to the wedding
Well, you’re a pretty kind of fellow
Grand Duke with Chorus
Happy couples, lightly treading
Rudolph, Grand Duke of Pfennig-Halbpfennig
a Theatrical Manager
his Leading Comedian baritone
a Notary high baritone
The Prince of Monte Carlo
a costumier any male voice
The Princess of Monte Carlo
betrothed to Rudolph soprano
The Baroness von Krakenfeldt
betrothed to Rudolph contralto
an English Comedienne soprano
a Soubrette mezzo-soprano
Members of Ernest Dummkopf’s Company:
Olga, Gretchen, Bertha, Elsa, Martha
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1901 — Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Single performance USA première
1905 — Southern Light Opera Company
1935 — Rock Ferry Operatic Society
1937 — Blue Hill Troupe
1938 — Savoy Company of Philadelphia
1949 — Gosforth Trinity Musical Society
1953 — Ayr Academy
1959 — American Savoyards, Monmouth, Maine — Professional
1965 — Geoids Amateur Operatic Society
1965 — Lyric Theatre of Washington
1969 — Batley Gilbert & Sullivan Society
1969 — Cockett Amateur Operatic Society
1970 — Burgess Hill Musical Theatre
1970 — Tynemouth Gilbert & Sullivan Society
1972 — Blue Hill Troupe
1974 — Cotswold Savoyards
1975 — Benfleet Operatic Society
1975 — D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, London — Professional Concert Production
1977 — Pittsburgh Savoyards
1977 — Scunthorpe Gilbert & Sullivan Amateur Operatic Society
1978 — Light Opera of Manhattan — Professional
1978 — Torbay Gilbert and Sullivan Society
1978 — Newcastle University Gilbert and Sullivan Society
1979 — Light Opera of Manhattan — Professional
1979 — Plymouth Gilbert & Sullivan Fellowship
1980 — Melrose Operatic Society
1980 — Savoyaires, Chicago
1980 — Stamford Gilbert & Sullivan Players
1981 — Lamplighters Musical Theatre
1981 — Leicester Gilbert & Sullivan Operatic Players
1981 — Ohio Light Opera — Professional
1981 — Orpheus Club, Glasgow
1981 — Peterborough Gilbert and Sullivan Players
1982 — Brussels Gilbert & Sullivan Society — Concert Production
1982 — Great Yarmouth Gilbert and Sullivan Society
1982 — Savoy Company of Philadelphia
1983 — Northampton Gilbert & Sullivan Group
1983 — PHEOS Musical Players
1984 — Ardensingers
1984 — Hartley Gilbert & Sullivan Society
1985 — The Vale Musical Society (Tring)
1986 — Cotswold Savoyards
1986 — Durham Savoyards, North Carolina
1986 — St David’s Players, Exeter
1987 — Bath Gilbert & Sullivan Society
1987 — Blue Hill Troupe
1988 — Birmingham Savoyards
1988 — Blackburn Gilbert & Sullivan Society
1988 — Bournemouth Gilbert and Sullivan Operatic Society
1988 — Grosvenor Light Opera Company
1988 — Newcastle University Gilbert and Sullivan Society
1988 — Valley Light Opera (Massachusetts)
1989 — East Norfolk Operatic Society
1989 — Worcester Gilbert and Sullivan Society
1990 — Kingsbury Amateur Operatic Society
1990 — Orpheus Club, Glasgow — European Year of Culture Production
1991 — Edinburgh Gilbert & Sullivan Society
1991 — Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, Minnesota
1991 — Harrogate Gilbert & Sullivan Society — Directed by John Reed
1991 — Leicester Operatic Players
1991 — Sainsbury Singers
1991 — Scunthorpe Gilbert & Sullivan Amateur Operatic Society
1992 — Light Opera Works, Chicago
1992 — Off-Monroe Players, Rochester, NY
1992 — Rose Hill Musical Society
1993 — Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, Minnesota
1993 — Three Towns Operatic Society
1994 — Ipswich Gilbert & Sullivan Society
1994 — Savoy Company of Philadelphia
1994 — Thespis, etc., Media, PA, USA
1995 — Ohio Light Opera — Professional
1995 — Ridgewood (New Jersey) Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company
1995 — Washington Savoyards — Professional Principals/Orchestra
1996 — Chapel End Savoy Players
1996 — Cotswold Savoyards
1996 — Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, Chicago — Concert Production
1996 — Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine
1996 — Marton Operatic Society, Blackpool
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1997 — Madison Savoyards
1998 — Poynton Gilbert and Sullivan Society
1999 — Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society
2000 — Durham Savoyards, North Carolina
2001 — Godalming Operatic Society
2001 — Melrose Operatic Society
2001 — Off-Monroe Players, Rochester, NY
2001 — Putteridge Bury Gilbert & Sullivan Society
2001 — The Savoy Singers, Camberley
2001 — Stamford Gilbert & Sullivan Players
2001 — Valley Light Opera (Massachusetts)
2002 — Gosforth Trinity Musical Society
2003 — Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, Minnesota
2003 — Ohio Light Opera — Professional
2003 — Sheringham Savoyards
2004 — Dore Gilbert & Sullivan Society
2004 — Rome Savoyards. Italy
2005 — Blue Hill Troupe
2005 — Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Chester County
2005 — Halifax Gilbert & Sullivan Society
2005 — Milborne Port Opera
2006 — Edinburgh Gilbert & Sullivan Society
2006 — Grosvenor Light Opera Company
2006 — Southampton Operatic Society
2006 — Sudbury Savoyards
2006 — Uplands Arts Gilbert & Sullivan Society
2006 — Wolverton Gilbert & Sullivan Society
2007 — Stanford Savoyards
2008 — Gilbert & Sullivan Players of Nova Scotia
2009 — Savoynet Performing Group, Buxton
2010 — Birmingham Savoyards
2010 — Off-Monroe Players, Rochester, NY
2010 — Ridgewood (New Jersey) Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company
2010 — Victorian Light Opera Company, Maryland
2011 — Newcastle University Gilbert and Sullivan Society
2012 — Finborough Theatre, London — Professional
2012 — Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, Buxton — Professional
2012 — MIT Gilbert & Sullivan Players, Massachusetts
2012 — New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players — Professional
2012 — Ventura County Gilbert & Sullivan Repertoire Company
2013 — Lyric Theatre of San Jose
2013 — St Andrew’s Operatic Society
2014 — Bethany Lutheran College
2014 — Gilbert & Sullivan Opera, Victoria, Melbourne
2014 — Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, Minnesota
2014 — Oxford University Gilbert & Sullivan Society
2014 — Pocket Theatre Company
2014 — Pocket Theatre Company (Harrogate G & S Festival)
2014 — Savoyaires, Chicago
2014 — Shropshire Orpheus Savoyards — Concert Production
2015 — The Gilbert & Sullivan Society (Torbay)
2016 — Godalming Operatic Society
2020 — Madison Savoyards
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Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not necessarily represent the views of St David’s Players
The Grand Duke has always been the most unjustly neglected of all the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. First produced in 1896 the piece must have seemed slightly old-fashioned when compared with the new craze - the musical comedy - and such frivolous pieces as The Geisha which was currently playing to packed houses at the Gaiety Theatre. Most of the opening reviews were excellent, but, with Sullivan away on the continent and therefore not able to be consulted, Gilbert panicked and uncharacteristically made a number of poorly judged changes both to the dialogue, and by cutting three numbers from Act Two. In actual fact the opera is no longer or complicated than a well produced Gondoliers or Yeomen. The works greatest glory is its magnificent score - here Sullivan really does excel himself.
One of the great problems for any society wishing to perform this work, is that of finding a stage director and a musical director who understand the piece. The Grand Duke is not your standard ‘Savoy’ opera as it is unlike any other piece in the Gilbert and Sullivan series except, perhaps, Thespis, with which it shares similarities. Not least of those similarities are the broader style of the piece – it has a kinship with the burlesque traditions of the Gaiety Theatre where Thespis was first staged at Christmas 1871, and also with the French farce, and unless this is understood by both stage and musical director, any production can feel tedious and lifeless. A well produced, uncut, Grand Duke zips along at an incredible pace, but in 50 years of acquaintance with the opera I have only ever seen one production that comes anyway near to what is needed.
A radio presentation in the mid-sixties featuring ex-D’Oyly Carte patter man Peter Pratt is available on CD from Premiere Opera, Italy, and this together with a couple of amateur productions in London at around the same time seemed to mark a turn in the work’s fortunes, and a concert performance by D’Oyly Carte in 1975 seemed to set the seal on this with The Grand Duke being now performed regularly in two, three or four productions a year in the UK. A further professional concert production at Oxford in 1996 was also very well received.
Even before D’Oyly Carte bit the bullet in 1975, The Grand Duke began to appear on LP. During the 60’s the Lyric Theatre of Washington issued a set of 3 discs and in 1974 the Parish of Cheam Operatic Society went into Pearl’s recording studios and issued a 2 disc set of their recent production. That production sadly felt a need to make drastic cuts to both score and dialogue and whilst the recording was of great interest (as it was the only commercially available recording at that time in the UK), subsequent recordings make the Cheam effort nothing more than an interesting curiosity.
The 1973 recording made by the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society is currently available from Sounds On CD VGS230.
The recording is virtually complete (just a few minor cuts) and
was recorded in a studio immediately after a very successful
Cast and orchestra are uniformly excellent and American accents are at a minimum. The lynch-pin role of Ludwig is played excellently by the late Stephen Poulos who went on to sing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The musical director is a youthful Eric Stern. Overall this is an excellent production, well paced, running for 2h 25m which compares favourably with Gondoliers and is slightly shorter than Utopia.
Chris Webster of Sounds on CD has done wonders with the transfer. The master tapes are lost but Chris has managed to make an excellent transfer from two sets of very clean and unblemished LPs.
The D’Oyly Carte recording of 1976 was the direct result of the concert performance of the opera given at the Savoy Theatre on the 5th April 1975 during the D’Oyly Carte centenary season.
I have always suspected that the intention (as with Utopia on the previous evening) had been to stage a full production as the parts of Viscount Mentone and Martha (speaking roles only) were cast and announced in ‘The Savoyard’, but also suspect that rehearsal time and cost did not allow for this. Asking the company to learn two operas with which most of them would have been totally unfamiliar and at the same time give 8 performances a week of their usual repertoire at Sadler’s Wells would have been a terrific burden
John Reed adds the role of Rudolph, the Grand Duke of the title, to his rosta of G & S Patter roles, graciously leaving the immense part of Ludwig to the inimitable Kenneth Sandford. Julia Goss is superb as Juilia Jellicoe, the English comedienne starring with the German theatrical troupe; her mad scene is chilling and her extended number ‘All is darksome’ is magnificent. John Ayldon is excellent in the small role of the Prince of Monte-Carlo and went on to make the roulette song truly and notoriously his own.
Musical gem is followed by musical gem from the overture to the finale with the Act Two opening chorus, ‘As before you we defile’ a definite highlight among highlights. Chorus and orchestra are magnificent and there is a very definite feel of joy at being able to sing something that was new to the company as a whole.
The set has been re-packaged at mid-price by DECCA with the original artwork. Two pieces of Sullivan’s incidental music for Shakespeare’s Henry VIII are used as a filler for the second disc. DECCA 473 635-2
The Ohio Light Opera recording emanates from their stage production of 2003 and I have to say that as a record of a live production of an operetta, which (to judge by the applause at the end of each act) was enthusiastically received, this is an excellent recording. As a representation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Grand Duke it falls way short. Such a pity as many of the criticisms that I had of the same company’s Princess Ida have been addressed, as indeed they were in Utopia.
To the British ear the most unpalatable aspect of any recording of G & S Opera, or indeed any European work, made in America, is the accent. In Ida this was a real problem, in Utopia it was almost conquered, here in Grand Duke it is almost non-existent although the word ‘Can’t’ still defeats the performers.
The real gripe with this recording is the amount of totally unnecessary musical (and some of the dialogue) cuts and the disc break - why oh why does the break come in the middle of the Act One finale during the ‘O horror’ sequence? With disc one timed at 63:27 and the second half of the finale timed at just 8:19, left on disc one this would have made a total of just 71:46. With some discs running to 80 or more these days, this disc break is totally unacceptable. Even with a multi-deck player, the play-out of disc one and the play in of disc two time at 0:10 making it impossible to hear the finale without a break.
Ohio bill the opera as a ‘Romantic comic opera’ and play it very much as they play Kalman or Strauss. Why? This is Gilbert and Sullivan. It may not be their best work (I don’t know anyone who would claim that it is), but a well played and paced Grand Duke can, and does, sparkle like champagne. Here we have a very good white wine but there is not a bubble in sight. My guess is that the stage and musical director fell into the trap I mentioned at the beginning of this article, in that they tried to treat Grand Duke as just another Savoy opera – they just did not realise that it needs a completely different approach.
The cuts that are made are of the nature of ‘all or nothing’ and in some cases are unintelligent. We lose the second verse of ‘Strange the views’, very sad as the first verse is excellently sung, not to mention the fact that having given the reason why duelling is unacceptable we are denied an explanation of the Pfennig-Halbpfennigian solution.
The second verse of ‘As o’er our penny role’ is cut. This seems to be a tradition, but as the preceding dialogue has also been reduced to a very bare minimum, this reduces Rudolph’s, and even more so, the Baronesses’ role to a practically nothing.
The Act One Finale begins very strangely with the ‘Tall snobs’ verse of the Ludwig/Rudolph duet. It is quite common to cut this down by a verse but I have never heard the first ditched in preference to the second. And whilst on the subject of this finale, it was here that Ted Christopher’s (Ludwig) habit of speaking his lines very much in the vein of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady became annoyingly apparent. It was also with the ‘Jolly jinks’ sequence that the overall lack of pace in some of the numbers (but not all) becomes apparent.
Ludwig’s Greek pronunciation in ‘At the outset’ is dubious to say the least, Julia misses the lines ‘I have a rival, frenzy thrilled I find you both together’ at the beginning of her mad scene which actually makes a nonsense of the whole scene as I don’t suppose that anyone would realise that she is ‘acting’ a mad scene. ‘Come bumpers aye ever so many’, ‘The Prince of Monte-Carlo’ and ‘We’re rigged out in magnificent array’ are all shorn of their second verses.
When one considers that the two discs of Ohio’s Utopia run for 75:35 and 71:16 with barely a cut in site, one has to wonder why so many musical cuts have been made in Grand Duke. Does Ohio not have any confidence in its ability to present the opera successfully in its uncut form? There is more than enough time on the discs to include the entire music and most of the dialogue cuts.
All this said however, this is a pleasant recording, which, although it claims to be the ‘First Complete Recording’, cannot perhaps be so considered by anyone who owns either the UMGASS or D’Oyly Carte recordings reviewed above.
The recording is on the TROY label - TROY631632, and is available in the UK from Amazon.
Yet another upturn in the fortunes of The Grand Duke came in 2012 with no less than three professional revivals. The first of these was a single, but complete and fully staged performance in New York – for some reason The Grand Duke has held a place in the professional repertoire in the USA since its first production in 1936. The second was a small scale production at the Finborough Theatre in London – that said the Finborough increased the size of their company to 19 and director Martin Milnes created a sparkling production which clearly understood the difference between this opera and the rest of the Savoy series. The most significant production however, was that at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival where two full-scale performances were staged to great acclaim. Andrew Nicklin, stage director, certainly understood what the piece was about but in some ways appears not to have had the courage to go quite far enough – the cast however, many of whom had been in the Finborough production, certainly had the idea.
The lynch-pin in any production of The Grand Duke has to be Ludwig, and in this case Stephen John Davis excelled, going over-the-top to just the right extent, and very ably supported by Victoria Joyce as Julia Jellicoe. Julia is, of course, the G & S soprano exception that proves the rule in that she is, to put it bluntly, a bitch – and herein lies the clue to Gilbert’s intentions behind the opera – it’s not about royalty, or the vagaries of legal systems – it’s a satire on the theatrical ‘star’ system that he so despised, but saw creeping into the D’Oyly Carte Company itself – and when a stage director and his company realise this, then they have found the key to unlocking the delights of The Grand Duke – unlike any other Savoy opera Gilbert is actually satirising the theatre and theatrical conventions themselves.
The two performers mentioned above are supported by an exceptional cast of principals and chorus who make this whole production a truly sparkling affair and a most persuasive case for the rehabilitation of this much neglected piece.
Fortunately for us today the production was recorded and released both on compact disc and on DVD, although the DVD is currently not listed. However, a request to the shop via their email address should be productive and a copy should be forthcoming. A 10 minute preview is available on YouTube. Do watch out for the inspired performance of John Savournin in the cameo role of the Herald in Act Two – ‘Allo ‘Allo eat your heart out!!
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