Sunday 12 April 2020

High points in Gilbert and Sullivan's Princess Ida

Overall, Princess Ida is one of the less successful Gilbert and Sullivan Savoy Operas, needing an excellent production to come-off well.

Perhaps this is because the dialogue is in blank verse, and because the musical quality is uneven. However, at its highest points, several of the songs are unsurpassed.

Indeed this trio of three young rascals pretending to be girls, in order to break-into a women's college (which I have written about before), is IMO probably the best of any G&S opera. Listen to the melodic continuo-style bass; the deft modulation for the baritone's third verse; the joyous re-harmonisation of the final chorus repeat.

Sullivan uses the same style of Handelian pastiche in a bass-baritone aria, which has brilliantly clever lyrics by Gilbert:

This helmet, I suppose 
Was meant to ward off blows 
It's very hot 
And weighs a lot 
As many a guardsman knows 
So off that helmet goes 

Yes, yes, yes! So off that helmet goes 

This tight-fitting cuirass 
Is but a useless mass 
It's made of steel 
And weighs a deal 
This tight-fitting cuirass 
Is but a useless mass 
A man is but an ass 
Who fights in a cuirass 
So off goes that cuirass 

Yes, yes, yes So off goes that cuirass 

These brassets, truth to tell 
May look uncommon well 
But in a fight 
They're much too tight 
They're like a lobster shell 

Yes, yes, yes They're like a lobster shell 

These things I treat the same 
I quite forget their name 
They turn one's legs 
To cribbage pegs 
Their aid I thus disclaim 
Though I forget their name 
Their aid I thus disclaim

The other of my gems comes in the middle of the Act 1 Finale: on this recording it commences at 1:25 with some introductory recitative from the first/ highest tenor (unusually, there are two tenor leads in this opera - a reason why the show is difficult for amateurs to produce, since even one decent singing and acting tenor is hard to find...).

The song with chorus (by the same three chaps who later sing the trio above) begins at 2:03 with "Expressive glances/ Will be our lances" and is - for my money - absolutely unique in its style and completely successful. The orchestration is gorgeous - the rising arpeggiated (harp-like) string figure during the chorus adds so much. But it is the sheer melodic beauty that I love so much.

All combined with delightfully 'flowery' lyrics:

Expressive glances 
Shall be our lances, 
And pops of Sillery 
Our light artillery. 
We'll storm their bowers 
With scented showers 
Of fairest flowers 
That we can buy! 

Oh, dainty triolet! 
Oh, fragrant violet! 
Oh, gentle heigho-let! 
(Or little sigh). 
On sweet urbanity, 
Tho' mere inanity, 
To touch their vanity 
We will rely!

When day is fading, 
With serenading 
And such frivolity 
We'll prove our quality. 
A sweet profusion 
Of soft allusion 
This bold intrusion 
Shall justify. 
This bold intrusion 
Shall justify. 

Chorus: Repeat

We'll charm their senses 
With verbal fences, 
With ballads amatory 
And declamatory. 
Little heeding 
Their pretty pleading, 
Our love exceeding 
We'll justify! 
Our love exceeding 
We'll justify! 

Chorus: Repeat.

1 comment:

Ron Tomlinson said...

We have gained a huge amount of pleasure from your musical highlights and recommendations, Bruce. Whether it be Steeleye Span, The City Waites, simian recorder players, G & S or Handel -- to name just a few. Thank you very much!