The Grand Duke; or, The Statutory Duel, is the final Savoy Opera written by librettist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan, their fourteenth and last opera together. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 7 March 1896, and ran for 123 performances. Despite a successful opening night, the production had a relatively short run and was the partnership's only financial failure, and the two men never worked together again. In recent decades, the opera has been revived professionally, first in the US and then in the UK.
The curtain rises on the market square of Speisesaal where Ernest Dummkopf's acting troupe is rehearsing for a production of the Greek tragedy Troilus and Cressida. Beneath the theatrical veneer, a conspiracy is afoot among the thespians to overthrow Rudolph, the Grand Duke. Ludwig, the Company comedian, who is engaged to Lisa, the Company soubrette, admonishes everyone that it is forbidden to allude to the conspiracy without first exchanging the secret sign.Synopsis complet
Ludwig, meanwhile, inadvertently betrays the conspiracy. A plan is conceived whereby Ludwig and Ernest will fight a statutory duel and the winner will denounce the loser to the Grand Duke. They draw cards and as Ludwig wins, he goes off to tell the Grand Duke of the conspiracy.
Unaware of the intrigue surrounding him, Grand Duke Rudolph prepares for his wedding to the Baroness von Krakenfeldt. The Baroness reveals that Rudolph was betrothed in infancy to the Princess of Monte Carlo, which poses a problem for both couples.
In the meantime, Ludwig approaches the Grand Duke in order to reveal the plot and finds him greatly agitated. Ludwig hatches a plan by which a statutory duel will be rigged and Rudolph will lose. Ludwig becomes the new Grand Duke. However, Julia, the prominent "English" actress of the troupe, points out that according to her contract she is required to play the part of the Grand Duchess. Lisa is disconsolate, but the show must go on and Ludwig is carried around the stage triumphantly.
As the curtain rises on Act II, Ludwig gloriously presents his plan to manage the Grand Duchy. The Baroness arrives, announcing that Ludwig is required to assume all of the late Duke's responsibilities, including the Baroness herself, and everyone goes off to celebrate the wedding of Ludwig and the Baroness.
Meanwhile, the Prince and Princess of Monte Carlo arrive on the scene. The Princess, finding that Ludwig has taken over all of the extinct Grand Duke's responsibilities, happily asserts a prior claim to marriage over the other Grand Duchesses. The company prepares for yet another wedding! At this moment Rudolph and Ernest appear, denouncing Ludwig as an imposter. A legal oversight is revealed and all is happily resolved.
Génèse du musical
During the production of Gilbert and Sullivan's 1889 comic opera, The Gondoliers, Gilbert became embroiled in a legal dispute with producer Richard D'Oyly Carte over the cost of a new carpet for the Savoy Theatre and, more generally, over the accounting for expenses of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership. Sullivan sided with Carte (who was about to produce Sullivan's grand opera, Ivanhoe), and the partnership disbanded. After The Gondoliers closed in 1891, Gilbert withdrew the performance rights to his libretti and vowed to write no more operas for the Savoy. The lawsuit left Gilbert and Sullivan somewhat embittered, and though they finally collaborated on two more works, these suffered from a less collegial working relationship than the two men had typically enjoyed while writing earlier operas.
Gilbert and Sullivan's penultimate opera, Utopia, Limited (1893), was a very modest success compared with their earlier collaborations. It introduced Gilbert's last protege, Nancy McIntosh, as the heroine, who received generally unfavourable press. Sullivan refused to write another piece if she was to take part in it. Discussions over her playing the role of Yum-Yum in a proposed revival of The Mikado led to another row between Gilbert and Sullivan that prevented the revival, and Gilbert's insistence upon her appearing in his 1894 opera, His Excellency, caused Sullivan to refuse to set the piece. After His Excellency closed in April 1895, McIntosh wrote to Sullivan informing him that she planned to return to concert singing, and so the obstacle to his further collaboration with Gilbert was removed. Meanwhile, Sullivan had written a comic opera for the Savoy Theatre with F. C. Burnand, The Chieftain, but that had closed in March 1895.
Gilbert had begun working on the story of The Grand Duke in late 1894. Elements of the plot were based on several antecedents including "The Duke's Dilemma" (1853), a short story by Tom Taylor, published in Blackwood's Magazine, about a poor duke who hires French actors to play courtiers to impress his rich fiancee. The story also contains the germ of the character of Ernest. In 1888, "The Duke's Dilemma" was adapted as The Prima Donna, a comic opera by H. B. Farnie that contains other details seen in The Grand Duke, including the Shakespearean costumes, a prince and princess who make a theatrical entrance. In addition, the plot shows similarities with the first Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Thespis, in which a company of actors gain political power. Gilbert read a sketch of the plot to Sullivan on 8 August 1895, and Sullivan wrote on 11 August to say that he would be pleased to write the music, calling Gilbert's plot sketch "as clear and bright as possible". The theme of Ernest (and then Rudolph) being legally dead while still physically alive was used in earlier works by Gilbert and, separately by Sullivan, for example Tom Cobb (1875) and Cox and Box (1867). Gilbert sold the libretto of the new piece to Carte and Sullivan for £5,000, and so he took no risk as to whether or not it would succeed.
Mr. and Mrs. Carte hired a new soprano, the Hungarian Ilka Pálmay, who had recently arrived in England and quickly made a favourable impression on London audiences and critics with her charming personality. Gilbert devised a new plot line revolving around Pálmay, making her character, Julia, an English actress among a company of German actors, with the topsy-turvy conceit that her "strong English accent" was forgiven by her audiences because of her great dramatic artistry. Rutland Barrington's role, Ludwig, became the leading comedian of the theatrical company and the central role in the opera. Gilbert had paired the title character with contralto Rosina Brandram, causing Sullivan to suggest some different pairings of the characters, but Gilbert and the Cartes disagreed; Mrs. Carte went so far as to caution Sullivan that his ideas would upset the casting. Unhappily for Gilbert, three of his usual principal players, George Grossmith, Richard Temple and Jessie Bond, who he had originally thought would play the title character, the prince and the princess, all left the company before rehearsals began for The Grand Duke, and so he reduced the size of these roles, further changing his original conception.
While Gilbert and Sullivan finished writing the show, the Cartes produced a revival of The Mikado at the Savoy Theatre, opening on 6 November 1895. Rehearsals for The Grand Duke began in January. Sullivan wrote the overture himself, effectively weaving together some of the best melodies in the opera. Gilbert made a few additional changes to the libretto shortly before opening night to avoid giving offense to Kaiser Wilhelm, possibly at the request of Sullivan, who valued the Kaiser's friendship. These included changing the name of the title character from Wilhelm to Rudolph.
Original production and reception
The opera premiered on 7 March 1896, and Sullivan conducted the orchestra, as he always did on opening nights. Costumes were by Percy Anderson. The opening night was a decided success, and the critics praised Gilbert's direction, Pálmay's singing and acting, Walter Passmore as Rudolph, and the cast in general. There were some reservations, however. The Times's review of the opening night's performance said:
“The Grand Duke is not by any means another Mikado, and, though it is far from being the least attractive of the series, signs are not wanting that the rich vein which the collaborators and their various followers have worked for so many years is at last dangerously near exhaustion. This time the libretto is very conspicuously inferior to the music. There are still a number of excellent songs, but the dialogue seems to have lost much of its crispness, the turning-point of what plot there is requires considerable intellectual application before it can be thoroughly grasped, and some of the jests are beaten out terribly thin."
The reviewer stated that the jokes might be funnier if the dialogue between them were "compressed". The Manchester Guardian concurred: "Mr. Gilbert's tendency to over-elaboration has nowhere shown itself so obtrusively.... Mr. Gilbert has introduced too many whimsical ideas which practically bear no relation to the story proper". Although the audience greeted the new piece enthusiastically, neither partner was satisfied. Sullivan wrote in his diary, "Parts of it dragged a little – dialogue too redundant but success great and genuine I think.... Thank God opera is finished & out." Gilbert wrote to his friend, Mrs. Bram Stoker: "I'm not at all a proud Mother, and I never want to see this ugly misshapen little brat again."
After the opening night, Sullivan left to recuperate in Monte Carlo. Gilbert reacted to the reviews by making cuts in the opera. These included three songs in Act II, and commentators have questioned the wisdom of these particular cuts, especially the Baroness's drinking song and the Prince's roulette song. The Grand Duke closed after 123 performances on 11 July 1896, Gilbert and Sullivan's only financial failure. It toured the British provinces for a year and was produced in Germany on 20 May 1896 at the Unter den Linden Theatre in Berlin and on a D'Oyly Carte tour of South Africa the same year. After this, it disappeared from the professional repertory, although Gilbert considered reviving it in 1909.
Analysis and subsequent history
The Grand Duke is longer than most of the earlier Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and more of the libretto is devoted to dialogue. Gilbert's cutting of parts of the opera after the opening night did not prevent it from having a shorter run than any of the earlier collaborations since Trial by Jury. In addition to whatever weaknesses the show had, as compared with earlier Gilbert and Sullivan pieces, the taste of the London theatregoing public had shifted away from comic opera to musical comedies, such as A Gaiety Girl (1893), The Shop Girl (1894) and An Artist's Model (1895), which were to dominate the London stage through World War I. One of the most successful musical comedies of the 1890s, The Geisha (1896), competed directly against The Grand Duke and was by far the greater success.
After its original production, The Grand Duke was not revived by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company until 1975 (and then only in concert), and performances by other companies have been less frequent than most of the other Gilbert and Sullivan operas. 20th century critics dismissed the work. For example, H. M. Walbrook wrote in 1921, "It reads like the work of a tired man. ... There is his manner but not his wit, his lyrical fluency but not his charm. ... [For] the most part, the lyrics were uninspiring and the melodies uninspired." Of Gilbert's work in the opera, Isaac Goldberg opined, "the old self-censorship has relaxed", and of Sullivan's he concludes, "his grip upon the text was relaxing; he pays less attention to the words, setting them with less regard than formerly to their natural rhythms".
In the first half of the 20th century, The Grand Duke was produced occasionally by amateur companies, including the Savoy Company of Philadelphia and the Blue Hill Troupe of New York City, who pride themselves on producing all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In America, it was mounted by professional companies, including the American Savoyards, beginning in 1959, and the Light Opera of Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s. The BBC assembled a cast to broadcast the opera (together with the rest of the Gilbert and Sullivan series) in 1966 (led by former D'Oyly Carte comic Peter Pratt) and again in 1989. Of a 1962 production by The Lyric Theater Company of Washington, D.C., The Washington Post wrote, "the difficulties were worth surmounting, for the work is a delight. ... Throughout the work are echoes of their earlier and more successful collaborations, but Pfennig Halbpfennig retains a flavor all its own."
Since the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company released its recording of the piece in 1976, The Grand Duke has been produced more frequently. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players produced a concert version in 1995 and a full production in 2011. Writer Marc Shepherd concluded that the work "is full of bright comic situations and Gilbert's characteristic topsy-turvy wit. Sullivan's contribution has been considered first-rate from the beginning. The opera shows him branching out into a more harmonically adventurous Continental operetta style." The first fully staged professional revival in the UK took place in 2012 at the Finborough Theatre in London, starring Richard Suart in the title role, with a reduced cast and two-piano accompaniment. The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company presented a full-scale professional production with orchestra at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival later in 2012.
Liste des chansons
Includes parts of "The good Grand Duke", "My Lord Grand Duke, farewell!", "With fury indescribable I burn", "Well, you're a pretty kind of fellow", "Strange the views some people hold"
1. "Won't it be a pretty wedding?" (Chorus)
1a. "Pretty Lisa, fair and tasty" (Lisa and Ludwig with Chorus)
2. "By the mystic regulation" (Ludwig with Chorus)
3. "Were I a king in very truth" (Ernest with Chorus)
4. "How would I play this part" (Julia and Ernest)
5. "My goodness me! What shall I do?", "Ten minutes since I met a chap" (Ludwig and Chorus)
6. "About a century since" (Notary)
7. "Strange the views some people hold" (Julia, Lisa, Ernest, Notary, and Ludwig)
8. "Now take a card and gaily sing" (Julia, Lisa, Ernest, Notary, and Ludwig)
9. "The good Grand Duke" (Chorus of Chamberlains)
9a. "A pattern to professors of monarchical autonomy" (Grand Duke)
10. "As o'er our penny roll we sing" (Baroness and Grand Duke)
11. "When you find you're a broken-down critter" (Grand Duke)
12. Finale, Act I
"Come hither, all you people" (Ensemble)
"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 and Lisa with Chorus)
"The die is cast" (Lisa with Chorus)
"For this will be a jolly Court" (Ludwig and Chorus)
13. "As before you we defile" (Chorus)
14. "Your loyalty our Ducal heart-string touches" (Ludwig with Chorus)
14a. "At the outset I may mention" (Ludwig with Chorus)
15. "Yes, Ludwig and his Julia are mated" (Ludwig)
15a. "Take care of him – he's much too good to live" (Lisa)
16. "Now Julia, come, consider it from" (Julia and Ludwig)
17. "Your Highness, there's a party at the door" (Chorus)
17a. "With fury indescribable I burn" (Baroness and Ludwig)
18. "Now away to the wedding we go" (Baroness and Chorus)
19. "So ends my dream", "Broken ev'ry promise plighted" (Julia)
20. "If the light of love's lingering ember" (Julia, Ernest, and Chorus)
21. "Come, bumpers – aye, ever-so-many" (Baroness with Chorus)
22. "Why, who is this approaching?" (Ludwig and Chorus)
23. "The Prince of Monte Carlo" (Herald and Chorus)
24. "His highness we know not" (Ludwig)
25. "We're rigged out in magnificent array" (Prince of Monte Carlo)
27. "Take my advice – when deep in debt" (Prince of Monte Carlo with Chorus)
28. "Hurrah! Now away to the wedding" (Ensemble)
28a. "Well, you're a pretty kind of fellow" (Grand Duke with Chorus)
29. "Happy couples, lightly treading" (Ensemble)
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