Friday 8 May 2020

Despard and Margaret's duet from Ruddigore

From 22:25

Ruddigore is one of the Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy Operas that contains some of their very best (and most distinctive work), has an unique and appealing flavour, and can be wholly satisfying in performance. But it requires a good production to yield its full promise.

(By contrast, shows like Trial by Jury, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado are extremely robust, and almost production-proof.)

There are many delights, but my favourite is the above duet between the reformed villain and sobered-up madwoman, Despard and Margaret. Despard used to be a professionally evil (in an operetta way) squire, and Margaret was his crazily-in-love sidekick. Due to the usual plot nonsense, they change and lead a stiflingly respectable life; which is described in the song "I once was a very abandoned person".

This is remarkable for its striking melody and dark, plangent orchestration, which is like nothing else I have ever heard; the wonderfully witty lyrics; and the idiomatic musical setting of these lyrics - so that they yield their full humour.  (Which is even better in performance, after seeing the earlier behaviour of these characters.)

I once was a very abandoned person – 
Making the most of evil chances. 
Nobody could conceive a worse 'un – 
Even in all the old romances. 
I blush for my wild extravagances, 
But be so kind 
To bear in mind, 
We were the victims of circumstances!...
That is one of our blameless dances.

I was once an exceedingly odd young lady – 
Suffering much from spleen and vapours. 
Clergymen thought my conduct shady – 
She didn't spend much upon linen-drapers. 
It certainly entertained the gapers. 
My ways were strange 
Beyond all range – 
Paragraphs got into all the papers... 
We only cut respectable capers

I've given up all my wild proceedings. 
My taste for a wandering life is waning. 
Now I'm a dab at penny readings. 
They are not remarkably entertaining. 
A moderate livelihood we're gaining. 
In fact we rule 
A National School. 
The duties are dull, but I'm not complaining... 
This sort of thing takes a deal of training!

If you stick-around after the duet, you will hear the famous patter trio "My eyes are fully open"; each verse of which has no space for breathing, and so needs to be sung as-rapidly-as-possible in order to get through without dropping a beat or omitting a word.

My eyes are fully open to my awful situation – 
I shall go at once to Roderic and make him an oration. 
I shall tell him I've recovered my forgotten moral senses, 
And I don't care twopence-halfpenny for any consequences. 
Now I do not want to perish by the sword or by the dagger, 
But a martyr may indulge a little pardonable swagger, 
And a word or two of compliment my vanity would flatter, 
But I've got to die tomorrow, so it really doesn't matter!

If were not a little mad and generally silly 
I should give you my advice upon the subject, willy-nilly; 
I should show you in a moment how to grapple with the question, 
And you'd really be astonished at the force of my suggestion. 
On the subject I shall write you a most valuable letter, 
Full of excellent suggestions when I feel a little better, 
But at present I'm afraid I am as mad as any hatter, 
So I'll keep 'em to myself, for my opinion doesn't matter!

If I had been so lucky as to have a steady brother 
Who could talk to me as we are talking now to one another – 
Who could give me good advice when he discovered I was erring 
(Which is just the very favour which on you I am conferring), 
My existence would have made a rather interesting idyll, 
And I might have lived and died a very decent indiwiddle. 
This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter 
Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter! 


David Stanley said...

Memories of misspent youth. I made the scenery for Ruddigore but the pinnacle of my operatic career was Sergeant of Police in Pirates of Penzance. Character forming?

Karl said...

Playing in the orchestra for Savoy operas including Ruddigore was one of the better pastimes by which I avoided completing my doctorate. I have always loved Despard and Margaret's duet. Not that Despard is made any more likable by his transformation from wicked baronet to education bureaucrat. As a reader of this blog, I can see now that he has merely exchanged Luciferic villainy for Ahrimanic.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - Ha!

a_probst said...

He had to influence other composers to do it, but Schubert finally got the librettist he deserved-- Humphrey Gilbert!