New Edition of Yeomen from Oxford University Press

February 7th, 2017

The Yeomen of the Guard
Edited by Colin Jagger
Consultant Editor: David Russell Hulme

Full Score: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016; xxxvi + 420pp.
Vocal Score: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016; vi + 210 pp.

If this review is destined for a “too long; didn’t read” folder, let me begin with the Cliff’s Notes version: this is a terrific new edition of The Yeomen of the Guard.

Once upon a time, Oxford University Press (OUP) promised a multi-volume critical edition of the G&S operas. Ruddigore came out in 2000 (ed., David Russell Hulme). But then, OUP got cold feet — scared off by cheaper and less carefully-edited Dover editions of PinaforePirates, and Mikado. After many dormant years, their original plan for Yeomen was to publish only the vocal score, and make the full score available for hire. Happily, they changed their minds. I would not be nearly as pleased with OUP’s vocal score, if I did not have the benefit of the editorial rationale and commentary found only in the full score.

Colin Jagger has researched the sources thoroughly and documented his findings in over thirty pages of commentary. His approach is sensible, and in tune with the most recent scholarship. The score is beautifully presented, and practically free of mechanical errors. None of the few outright mistakes that I noted were serious: the occasional missing stem, bracket, caption, or the like.

You will not go far astray if you accept the OUP text as it stands, but the real value of the edition is to study the commentary, and draw your own conclusions. Like most editors, Jagger is more convinced of the correctness of his text than he ought to be. But where he makes a musical decision that is at all arguable, he always explains himself. You may disagree, but most of his choices are at least reasonable. I might classify a few as blunders, but none are very significant; there are many others where he’s not clearly wrong, but I’d make a different choice.

In hundreds of places, large and small, the text differs from other editions. This is to be expected, when an editor works from early manuscript sources, and takes no reading for granted merely because it is “traditional.” Due to these differences, I would not recommend carrying the OUP score into rehearsal, if most of your colleagues are carrying Chappell or Schirmer. A musical director should either mandate OUP for everyone, or no one.

I am going to dive into detail, and at times I will be very picky. If I seem disappointed in any aspect of what Jagger has achieved, please remember the Cliff’s Notes version: “this is a terrific new edition of The Yeomen of the Guard.”

At the front of the full score, there is a preface (2½  pages), a description of sources (3 pages), a section on editorial method credited to “David Russell Hulme with Colin Jagger” (4½ pages), commentary on individual numbers (12½ pages), and five appendices (7 pages). The first three of the appendices contain a potpourri of source descriptions and commentary that really belong in earlier sections—more on this later. The remaining appendices contain alternative versions of dialogue and lyrics from an early pre-production prompt book. There’s an even larger cache of unused lyrics in the Gilbert Papers, and these are not included.

The list of sources seems exhaustive, including Sullivan’s autograph score (Aut); two early manuscript full scores and a set of manuscript band parts copied in America; an early full score published in Germany; the D’Oyly Carte engraved band parts from the 1920s; three states of the Chappell vocal score; surviving Gilbert manuscripts for most of the lyrics, including some not published; the license copy of the libretto; seven states of the Chappell libretto; five early prompt books; and modern editions, such as those by Schirmer, Kalmus, and Eulenberg.

The editions, impressions, issues, and states of the published libretti and vocal scores have never been comprehensively identified. Two copies may seem identical, but may differ in subtle ways that can only be detected by comparing them page by page, letter by letter. I have been researching them for decades, and I still discover new ones (“new to me”) periodically. It is devilishly difficult to be sure you’ve found them all.

Unfortunately, the three substantively different states of the Chappell vocal score that Jagger identifies as Ch1Ch2, and Ch3, should really be four. It appears he consulted the first, second, and fourth, and did not realize there was a third. In the discussion below, I shall refer to the missing intermediate source as “Ch2½”. Even this is not really the full story. The first impression of Ch1 was published with an errata list—mentioned in the edition, but not itemized. These errors were corrected in a second impression, and it is this source that the edition polls.

The states of the libretto are numbered L1 to L7, but only L3 is polled consistently—this being the final issue of the original run of performances. The individual issues and impressions are not described in any detail. If you had a Chappell Yeomen libretto in your possession, you would have a tough time figuring out which of Jagger’s seven it corresponded to—if any.

The edition owes a clear debt to the Gilbert & Sullivan critical editions that have gone before. The only credit goes to the OUP Ruddigore, whose discussion of Sullivan’s working methods is incorporated by reference: this is essential, if you want to fully understand the editorial rationale. There is no bibliography, and there are no citations to secondary sources. Where Jagger quotes a non-textual source, such as a letter or diary entry, he does not provide an attribution.

The section on editorial method that is attributed primarily to Hulme is in a noticeably different style, and is the best written; Hulme has been working in the field for decades, and his experience shows. He may assume too much of the reader. He describes the edition’s text as “eclectic,” a term from the broader field of textual criticism: it means that the main text is derived from multiple principal sources, not just one. Some may be puzzled by Hulme’s mention of “accidentals,” which does not mean sharps, flats, and naturals; but rather, punctuation, word division, hyphenation, capitalization, and other formalities of the literary presentation of the libretto.

This edition brings together, for the first time, all of the major deleted passages from the opera: Wilfred’s song, “When jealous torments rack my soul”; Meryll’s song, “A laughing boy but yesterday”; the third and fourth Yeomen’s couplets in the Act II finale; and Sullivan’s original 6/8 setting of Fairfax’s Act I song, “Is life a boon?”

OUP’s Ruddigore relegated all of the deleted material to appendices, forcing the performer to jump back and forth between the middle and the end of the book. This is a serious inconvenience, bearing in mind that the inclusion of these passages is one of the edition’s main attractions. Yeomen mostly avoids that mistake. Only the earlier setting of “Is life a boon?” is confined to appendix purgatory—and this is the least likely of these passages to make it into a stage performance. Oddly, the band parts place both versions of “Is life a boon?” in continuity sequence—granting the players a convenience denied the conductor.

The three lost songs present an editorial challenge. They are not in Aut. The primary source is an American copyist’s manuscript, which was made at the time of the New York premiere. A second copyist’s manuscript, made years later, includes Wilfred’s and Meryll’s songs, and on a separate sheet gives Horn parts for the former, which are curiously lacking in both manuscripts; these parts don’t quite agree with the rest of the number. There are other discrepancies, both in words and music, which Jagger resolves as best he can.

There is a curious problem concerning the cue line to Sergeant Meryll’s song: “He’s a brave fellow, and bravest among brave fellows, and yet it seems but yesterday that he robbed the Lieutenant’s orchard.” Both this line and the song were late additions to the opera. When the song was cut, so was the cue line. However, the cue line makes a re-appearance in the 1890 prompt book and later issues of the libretto. Jagger deems it “clear”—on what basis is beyond me—that the re-introduction of the cue line was an error, and the main text advises that it should be performed only when the song is. One is, of course, free to disregard this advice.

The editorial explanation for these numbers is a bit difficult to follow. There is a brief description of the American sources in the “Sources” section. Longer descriptions, repeating much of the same material, occur in Appendix B. Most of the musical commentary is given in continuity sequence, but portions of it are relegated to Appendix B, as well. This is an extremely unhelpful arrangement.

A variety of justifications is given for the inclusions of these passages. According to Jagger, Wilfred’s song is “possibly the finest of all the ‘lost songs’”; it “plays an important musical role in the continuity of the piece” (although that role is not explained), and “it is well worth including….” Sergeant Meryll’s song is “accomplished though unremarkable.” The earlier version of “Is life a boon?” is “perhaps overly florid, but in many ways…a fascinating song, with the second verse beginning in a different key and with an interesting ending uniting the two verses and keys.”

The third and fourth Yeomen’s couplets are “retained here for reference,” and appear in a smaller print. The use of smaller print occurs in a couple of other places, too: an alternative set of words (appearing only in Aut) at the end of Elsie’s Act I song; and the “nestling near…dropped a tear” lyrics in the Act II finale.

For “Rapture, rapture,” Sullivan wrote three different codas. A ten-bar coda was never published. In the full score, this appears immediately after the main number; in the vocal score, it is relegated to a second appendix, a truly bizarre decision. As usually heard today, there is a seven-bar coda that modulates into the key of the Act II finale; Jagger suspects this was intended “to deter applause.” (In my experience, that usually doesn’t work.)  Previously published vocal scores have the revised coda without the modulatory chords, which Jagger concludes “must to some extent have had Sullivan’s blessing.”

Several musical numbers are transposed to different keys in later sources. Phœbe’s opening song, in D-flat in Aut and vocal scores, is in E-flat in the modern D’Oyly Carte band  parts. Her second song, in E-flat originally, is in F in the modern band parts. Jagger does not mention the possibility (indeed, the likelihood) that Sullivan authorized these higher keys at the 1897 revival, which he conducted, and where soprano Florence Perry played Phœbe.

Most perplexing, “I have a song to sing, O!” was originally in D, but both the modern band parts and Ch2½ transpose it to E-flat. Sullivan’s approval is hard to deny, as the instruction “In E-flat” is written in pencil in Aut. And yet, the preceding number clearly prepares for a modulation to D, and the reprise in the Act II finale remains in D, so it is difficult to think of a good reason for the change. Jagger comments on the problem, but the edition prints the number only in Sullivan’s original key.

I will be critiquing Jagger, at times, for decisions he got wrong. I ought, in fairness, to begin with a few of the bigger ones he got right.

In “The pris’ner comes,” there is traditionally a tubular bell, which tolls every two bars. It is almost never heard as Sullivan wrote it. In Aut, the bell continued to toll into the Allegro agitato, up to where Fairfax sings, “I and my comrades sought the pris’ner’s cell” — the last toll coming on the word “cell.” In the original production, the bell was not rung by the principal percussionist, who must also play the timpani during the same passage. Once the opera went on tour, it must have become impractical for the company to carry an extra person just to play the bell, so it stopped tolling before the percussionist picked up his timpani mallets.

It is traditional to play “The pris’ner comes” much slower than the adjoining material, and this is obviously not what Sullivan wanted. At the Allegro agitato, the composer wrote “doppio movimento,” meaning “twice as fast.” As the passage is in cut time, this would ensure that the bell strokes continue to come at the same intervals as before.

In the Act II finale, the “Oh, day of terror” section has never appeared in print correctly. Ch1 has a clear error in Dame Carruthers’s part. Ch2½ attempted to correct this, but in so doing, dropped Kate’s part and made other mistakes, which OUP rectifies.

The words “I have a song to sing, O!” appear six times in the opera. In the traditional libretti and vocal scores, there are two responses to this. On four occasions, it’s “Sing me your song, O!” Twice, it’s “What is your song, O?” In the prompt book for the original production, Gilbert altered the latter: it should be “Sing me your song, O!” every time. OUP makes this correction.

Other corrections come from this same prompt book. In Act I, Dame Carruthers refers to the “stern [not grim] old fortalice.” Later in Act I, Point can “teach us with a quirk [not quip].” In Act II, Point “wishes he were [not was] dead.”

One will find many little fixes so subtle that the average listener might miss them. In the Act I finale, we’re used to hearing Fairfax sing this:

But Sullivan entered a change in Aut that the vocal scores failed to pick up, and this was never corrected until Jagger noticed it:

“Hark! What was that, sir?” brings two changes of similar subtlety. After Meryll’s “What can it mean?” the orchestra’s next few bars are traditionally heard like this:

In Aut, the third bar is different:

A few bars later, the traditional orchestration sounds like this:

In Aut, the second bar has F Major, rather than E minor, harmony:

These examples are curious, in that the published vocal scores and the D’Oyly Carte band parts are in agreement with the first excerpt in each case; nevertheless, OUP follows Aut, which shows no sign of revision.

Everyone to have edited a Sullivan opera has recognized that the composer’s autograph scores are incomplete. The text of an opera evolved during rehearsals, and Sullivan was not careful to write down every little change that he agreed to. Vocal scores, published weeks or months after the premiere, often have readings that disagree with the autographs, and that cannot rationally be attributed to error. No one thinks that the publishers of Sullivan’s vocal scores deliberately rewrote his works. But vocal scores were usually in preparation while the piece was still in rehearsal, and there was no assurance that every detail made it into print right away—or ever.

The libretto presents further problems, since Gilbert made changes on his own. Like Sullivan, Gilbert was not careful to ensure that every decision was published immediately. Many of Gilbert’s changes were first documented in prompt books, and not reflected in the printed libretti until many years later — if they were at all.

An additional problem is that the D’Oyly Carte organization—despite its claimed fidelity to the original texts—is known to have made unauthorized changes, long past the creators’ lifetimes. When Chappell began to re-issue the vocal scores and libretti after World War I, it brought them into conformance with the performance standard prevailing at the time, which included long-unpublished changes that Gilbert and Sullivan demonstrably approved, the company’s newly-minted “tradition,” and a vast middle ground of “plausible changes” whose authorship cannot now be determined.

What is an editor to do? One strategy is to consider only those sources directly associated with Gilbert and Sullivan: manuscripts and first-editions that they supervised. This approach maximizes the chances that every word and note was desired by the creators at some point; but it undoubtedly misses later changes that they weren’t sufficiently careful to publish at the time of the original productions. Let us call this approach “conservative.”

The opposite strategy is to accept most changes found in later sources, save obvious errors or those known to be unauthorized. This approach scoops up more of Gilbert and Sullivan’s later thoughts, with the risk that the editor might print some readings that seem reasonable, but that aren’t actually the the creators’ work. Most editors are conservative, and therefore reject this approach. They’d rather risk omitting a reading the creators approved, than take a chance of printing one they did not.

There are selfish reasons for an editor to be conservative: it’s an approach that produces a text with more pronounced differences from the established tradition. This means that there are more so-called “errors” that the editor can claim to have fixed, allowing more chances for self-congratulation, and giving the edition more of a raison d’être. It also increases the chances that a musical director who chooses the OUP score will be compelled to mandate it for the whole cast, as the differences will be too great to tolerate the score’s co-existence in the rehearsal room with older, presumably more corrupt, sources.

In Ruddigore, Hulme had it easy: after the original production, D’Oyly Carte laid the opera aside for decades. Changes that first appear in twentieth-century sources are highly unlikely to be Gilbert and Sullivan’s. We also know that when Rupert D’Oyly Carte revived Ruddigore, he believed it was unplayable as originally written, and that it had to be revised. In contrast, Yeomen never went out of the repertory, and it was considered one of its creators’ best works: it wasn’t seen as needing much help.

Jagger appears to realize that some readings first printed long after 1888 are authorized—or, at least, could be. He cites sources printed as late as the 1920s, and occasionally, even adopts readings from them. But he is still mostly conservative. His four main  sources are Sullivan’s autograph (Aut), the first edition of the libretto (L3), the first edition of the vocal score (Ch1), and a prompt book from the first production with Gilbert’s handwritten amendments. Into a base text derived from these documents, he selectively imports a few readings from later sources that he considers authoritative.

The rationale for this approach is open to question. Once an editor concedes that later sources contain some readings that are authorized, it is highly likely that there are many others he has missed. The Shakespeare scholar T. H. Howard-Hill made this point in a 1989 journal article:

Whenever we admit the existence of a single authorial substitution in a text we must concede the probable presence of others which will always escape detection. The number of authorial variants which can be proved to be authorial in origin in any individual case…is always much smaller than the total number of authorial variants. It is manifestly ridiculous to believe that every variation a revising author introduces will bear the mark of his genius so that the variant will not only improve the text but improve it in a manner that only the author could. (T. H. Howard-Hill, “Modern Textual Theories and the Editing of Plays.” The Library. Sixth Series, Vol. XI, No. 2 (June 1989): pp. 99–100.)

The correct approach, Howard-Hill contends, is that if a later source contains some new readings that we deem authoritative, the balance should tip in favor of including all of them, save obvious mistakes and those that are demonstrably the work of later hands.

It is a favorable development in Sullivan scholarship that Jagger at least cites the later sources, and is open to considering them, but he far too confident in his ability to winnow the wheat from the chaff. Variants in the second edition of the vocal score (published after Sullivan’s death) are relegated to Appendix A, whose contents are described as “readings that Gilbert & Sullivan would not have recognized.” Some readings in the second edition are baldly stated, without justification, to be “unauthorized” or “not authorized.”

In fact, very few of the readings discussed in Appendix A, are so obviously corrupt that one could confidently say Gilbert and Sullivan wouldn’t have recognized them. Indeed, Jagger adopts a number of these, so the statement is wrong on its face. What’s worse, most of the passages discussed in Appendix A are also in the main commentary, so, to get the full history, you must flip back and forth from one to the other. If you want to understand what the editor did, and why, this is the edition’s most annoying feature.

A few examples will illustrate the contradictions that I am referring to. In the coda to the overture as usually played, there are grace notes in the flute and piccolo parts, as follows:

The grace notes are not in Aut or either of the two American copyist manuscripts. They are in an early set of American band parts and the D’Oyly Carte printed band parts. Jagger includes them in brackets, because they are “undoubtedly effective.”

In Phœbe’s opening solo, Ch3 introduces the direction “meno mosso” (meaning “slow down”) at “Tis but a little word,” with “a tempo” (return to tempo) at “An idle breath”; and similarly in the second verse. Jagger claims that “a simple analysis of Sullivan’s melodic and rhythmic structure shows that he would never have sanctioned this.” What that analysis is, he does not say.

A similar situation occurs in “I’ve jibe and joke,” at the end of the opening section (“…and know no fear”). Ch2½ introduces a “rall.” Jagger omits it, and merely notes the alternative in an appendix.

In the opening chorus, the Yeomen sing the following:

Notice that the triplet on the words “Here at” does not extend to the second tenors, who would sing the word “at” a fraction of a beat later than the rest of the men. This is what appears in Aut and Ch1. Jagger deems it “open to debate” whether Sullivan actually wanted this, and he lets it stand. One must turn to Appendix A, to learn that Ch2½ (he says Ch3) alters the second tenor part to match the rhythm of the other singers.

In Elsie’s Act I song, Sullivan wrote the following:

This is how it appears in the Aut and Ch1, but Ch2½ alters Elsie’s note on the word “this” from C-flat to D-flat. Jagger prints the D-flat in cue-size as an alternative, claiming that “it is likely that Sullivan would have encouraged the use of an appoggiatura.”

In “Who fired that shot?” Aut has f where the chorus sing “Anyhow the man is dead….” Vocal scores have a crescendo, with f two bars later; Jagger follows Aut, which he says, “seems more reliable.” But ten bars later (“matters very little”), vocal scores have stringendo, which Jagger prints, even though it is not in Aut.

At the end of the number, Aut and Ch1 have a coda as follows:

Ch2½ and the D’Oyly Carte band parts have a coda three bars shorter. This, Jagger says, clearly represents a much later (unauthorized) performance tradition.” How that is clear, I am not so sure.

In the “Jack and Jill” trio, Jagger prints the following passage:

In Aut, the oboe doubles Phœbe on the word “free,” but rests on the word “degree.” Here, Jagger sides with the D’Oyly Carte printed band parts, as “it seems a repeat [of the earlier bar] is intended.”

In the Act II finale, the chorus response to Point’s “I have a song to sing, O!” offers a fascinating window into how a passage can change, over time. Aut has ff with accents on each word of “Sing me your song, O,” just as in the response to Elsie’s verse. Ch1 has f without accents, and with “dim.” over the final held chord. Finally, Ch3—which Jagger asserts “can be disregarded”—has the familiar pp dynamic, which makes the most pronounced contrast to the loud, accented version that comes a few moments later.

In G&S vocal scores, optional high notes tend to appear in later editions, and Yeomen is no exception. Whether Sullivan would have approved is unknown, but OUP treats these high notes as unauthorized. So, in Elsie’s Act I song, she takes the low F on “No matter how,” and Fairfax takes the low A-flat on “Scarce a word of them is true!” The octave-higher alternatives are not shown.

When the editor of a Sullivan edition comes from a chiefly musical background, the dialogue often gets short shrift. Alas, that has happened here. Textual notes for the dialogue are much less thorough than for the music. You will find many unfamiliar readings in the main text, for which Jagger provides no explanation whatsoever. The problem is not merely the lack of commentary: in many places, Jagger has chosen the demonstrably wrong readings.

A bit of background: In 1890, Gilbert believed his partnership with Sullivan and Carte was over. To protect his rights, he arranged for an assistant to copy the production prompt books for all of the operas they had written to date. These are collected in the Gilbert Papers in the British Library. Every scholar to have considered these prompt books has concluded that the readings they transmit were almost certainly authorized.

Since Jagger’s musical commentary considers sources up to the 1920s, there can be no principled justification for almost entirely overlooking, without a word of explanation, a libretto source from 1890. He was aware of this prompt book—it is in his list of sources—but he didn’t check it thoroughly. Had he done so, I’ve no doubt he would have concluded that its readings generally belong in the main text.

As with the music, the printed libretto sources for Yeomen continued to change, up to the 1920s. I have already discussed the contentious status of variants that appear years after the creative period. Jagger’s approach to the dialogue is conservative, as it is with the music. But dialogue variants from the later sources are not cited with the same diligence as musical variants. It does not seem to have been a priority. The decision to silently accept earlier readings, without comment, is not discussed. Was it deliberate, or an oversight? One cannot tell.

To give but a few examples—and I will confine myself only to dialogue variants documented in the 1890 prompt book that Jagger neither adopts, nor comments on:

  • In the dialogue before Leonard’s entrance, Meryll says “Amen!” (OUP) rather than “Amen to that!” (prompt book)
  • In the dialogue after his entrance, Leonard says, “…wrap it up, lest it take cold and die,” omitting the word “carefully”
  • In the second dialogue with Wilfred and Phœbe, after here “Wilfred—and alone!” the usual next line is omitted: “Now what could he have wanted with her? That’s what puzzles me!”
  • In the same dialogue, Wilfred says “In the nice regulation of a screw…,” rather than “thumbscrew”
  • In the dialogue after the “Jack and Jill” trio, Point says “…let it pass this once,” not “let it pass”

There are many more changes that first appear in printed libretti after 1890, most of them not discussed at all in the commentary. I won’t enumerate them; you get the idea.

Even where he does emend dialogue, Jagger’s textual notes can be rather careless. After “When our gallant Norman foes,” in the original libretto, Phœbe says, “Father! No reprieve for the poor gentleman?” On the authority of an earlier prompt book, he correctly alters it to, “Father! Has no reprieve arrived for the poor gentleman?” But the commentary merely states that the change was not made in the published libretto “until much later” — but when? He does not say.

The failure to systematically poll the 1890 prompt book leaves Jagger in quandaries that he could have resolved rather easily. The original libretto gives Phœbe no entrance for the dialogue that precedes “When our gallant Norman foes,” and this puzzles him:

Gil[bert] was extremely careful about marking such things, so it seems unlikely that she came on with Dame C. or during the dialogue, but perhaps at some point during [the preceding number].

Gilbert, in fact, was anything but careful about marking such things: inconsistent entrances and exits abound in the early libretti. Finding no entrance, Jagger elects not to give her one. The 1890 prompt book resolves it: Phœbe enters at the same time as Dame Carruthers—precisely the solution that Jagger found “unlikely.”

Likewise, the original libretto lacks entrances for Phœbe, Dame Carruthers, Meryll, or Wilfred in the Act II finale; and again, Jagger declines to supply them. Had he checked the 1890 prompt book, he would have found entrances for three of the four clearly marked. (It has no separate entrance for Meryll, but it has one for the “Warders,” a group that Meryll can readily be assumed to accompany.)

Within the lyrics, some of Jagger’s decisions will be debated, but he has at least documented his reasons. In the opening chorus, the Yeomen “enjoy talking [not telling] over our impetuous May and June.” This comes from Aut, but no other source has it: to Jagger, telling is “grammatically suspect.”

In “I have a song to sing, O!” Aut has “soul was sore [not sad]” in the second verse. This is surely a slip, as the “house that Jack built” repetition is the whole idea of the song. Yet, Jagger lets it stand because L3 had it too. Authas  “soul was sore” again in the Act II finale, but in this case, Jagger does not print it, because L3 has sad. With the ghost of Gideon Crawle at our side, we can say with confidence that the L3’s reading in Act I is an error.

In L3, the Act I finale has the following couplet:

The man we sought, as truth will show,
Had vanished into empty air!

But the chorus repeat has:

The man they sought with anxious care
Had vanished into empty air!

Sullivan gave both versions of this couplet to Fairfax and the three yeomen accompanying him, and then restated both versions of it with the full ensemble. Later libretti and vocal scores eliminate the “truth will show” couplet (even though it rhymes with “hunted low”), in favor of repeating “anxious care.” OUP follows the early sources, and prints both.

In the final ensemble of Act I (“All frenzied with despair”), the early sources give separate words for Elsie and Point. These words disappear in later libretti, as well as in Ch2½. OUP retains them.

In a few places, Jagger declines to make a decision where I believe he should. Seventeen bars before the end of the overture (where the vocal score has fff dynamic), Sullivan entered “Picc.” on the Flute 2 staff, and “change to Picc.” four bars earlier, but without crossing out any notes. The change requires further alterations: a flautist cannot switch to piccolo in the space of one eighth note at Allegro time, as the OUP edition would have her do. Jagger deems the last bars of flute harmony “a shame to lose,” so he leaves them intact—and leaves the musician with a part that is literally impossible to play.

In the Act I finale, the Lieutenant “tells off FAIRFAX and two others to bring the prisoner to execution.” In the music, Sullivan wrote parts for Fairfax and three others. The 1890 prompt book shows only two yeomen accompanying Fairfax. Yet, there are programmes from late in the original run, in which a Third Yeoman is credited. At some point the Third Yeoman definitely was deleted—maybe on Gilbert’s watch, maybe not—and this is reflected in Ch2½. Jagger elects not to resolve the inconsistency: he leaves the original stage direction in place, but also retains the Third Yeomen’s part in the music.

In “Hereupon we’re both agreed,” Sullivan introduces the following rhythmic figure:

Later in the number (when accompanying the voices), Sullivan writes it this way:

Jagger deems it “very unlikely” that Sullivan wanted them to be different, but he declines to make a decision, leaving the inconsistency for the conductor to resolve. Similarly, in “Strange adventure,” Sullivan at first wrote the following:

At the repeat, Sullivan wrote the slurs differently:

This time, Jagger finds it “difficult to say” whether this was intentional, and allows it to stand.

At the beginning of “I have a song to sing, O!” Sullivan wrote the following:

Every other time in the entire work that the same phrase occurs, Sullivan articulated it like this:

Jagger preserves this difference, for the peculiar reason that the vocal score did so too.

In “Rapture, rapture!” he makes a better choice. The following rhythmic figure recurs throughout the number:

Wherever there is a slur on the first two eighth notes of a bar, Sullivan sometimes wrote a staccato dot only on the next note, and sometimes on all remaining notes of the bar. Here, Jagger normalizes to the first form, though the commentary (presumably written after engraving) reaches the opposite conclusion: “Most likely, Sullivan would have expected all non-slurred quavers to be staccato here, but, to be consistent, OUP adopts the single dot after a slur throughout.”

In the Act II finale, the following peculiar passage occurs:

Notice that the word “cloyed” is set as a two-syllable word. Sullivan wrote that in Aut, and it was dutifully copied into Ch1. Jagger notes how awkward it is: the three female principals have just sung “cloyed” as a one-syllable word, and it is clearly meant to rhyme with the “–loyed” of “unalloyed,” also set as one syllable. Nevertheless, he lets it stand, which I would classify as a blunder. (Ch2½ altered it, to what I am sure was the intended reading: sopranos and men sing “cloy’d” on dotted half notes; altos sing “cloyed” on two slurred notes, as one syllable.)

The editor of any Sullivan score must decide how much of the composer’s notation to modernize. The Broude editions preserve Sullivan’s practice of writing separate stems for each syllable sung under eighth or sixteenth notes. Oxford follows the modern practice of beaming them together, relying on slurs to signal melismatic passages. Both publishers print the vocal parts above the violin staff; Sullivan wrote them between the violins and violas.

In his autograph scores, Sullivan used both English and Italian names for the instruments of the orchestra. The OUP score normalizes them to English, which seems sensible, although it seems a bit jarring to see “Vcl.” as an abbreviation on the later pages of movements, when “Cello” appears on the first page.

OUP retains Sullivan’s keys for the transposing wind instruments. A note in the score states that modern transpositions (e.g., Horns in F) are available in the rental band parts. Oxford preserves Sullivan’s use of alto clef for the first and second trombones; the band parts offer the alternative of bass clef.

Sullivan followed the nineteenth-century German practice of writing horn parts that transpose up when in bass clef, but down when in treble clef. OUP alters them to transpose down in all cases, as modern horn parts do. Sullivan’s clarinet transpositions in this opera are inconsistent. I won’t bore you with the details, but there doesn’t appear to be a musical justification, and yet, Jagger lets them stand.

In Sullivan’s early vocal scores, the women’s chorus are sometimes described as “sopranos and altos,” and other times as “first and second sopranos.” OUP’s Ruddigore used the former, this edition the latter. This could confuse some readers, and for no good reason. When the original production of Ruddigore closed, Sullivan didn’t fire the altos, and replace them with second sopranos. It was just a different term to describe the same singers. Here, the modern term (alto) should have been used.

The edition is let down occasionally by its physical presentation, which I attribute to OUP, not the editor. OUP’s Ruddigore full score is about 1.5cm taller and 1.5cm wider than the Yeomen score. It doesn’t sound like much, but when coupled with wider margins, all of the staves in Yeomen are about 15–20% reduced, with a corresponding reduction in font size for things like tempo markings, lyrics, and so forth. The fact that Yeomen has a larger orchestra does not entirely account for this. The opening page of the overture requires 14 staves for both operas. Ruddigore is conspicuously easier to read.

There are some numbers where Sullivan used repeat bars for strophic material in Aut, but Ch1 wrote out multiple verses in full. “Were I thy bride” and “’Tis done! I am a bride!” are examples of this. Jagger (or OUP) prefers to repeat, finding it “more economical with layout and page-turns.” This is debatable—turning forward is usually easier—but that was the decision. It makes the edition a handful of pages shorter, and hence saves a few pennies. I suspect that was the motivation.

The dialogue in the full score is about 25% reduced in size, and this is frankly inexcusable, in that most dialogue scenes conclude with about half the page unused. To print the dialogue at a reasonable size, the full score would have to be, perhaps, four pages longer — insignificant for a volume this expensive. The dialogue in the vocal score is printed at a more normal size, although it still feels slightly cramped.

Where there are full-page systems on facing pages, the staves occasionally fail to line up. For instance, the oboe occupies the second staff of p. 10, but the third staff of p. 11: the piccolo staff needed to appear on p. 10 with rests, so that the other staves would line up. The typesetter usually got it right, but missed this easy fix on several occasions.

In “I’ve jibe and joke” and “Were I thy bride,” Sullivan divides the violins into three and four parts respectively. The modern convention is to bracket all of the violin staves together, and to put a further bracket around the divided staves. OUP’s typesetter omits the former. In the overture, where there are no divisi staves, the bracket is missing altogether. All the other numbers have it, so this is just a slip.

The full and vocal scores list for $90 and $22.95 respectively; you’ll find them discounted on Amazon. These are fair prices. In contrast, the Schirmer and Kalmus vocal scores (the latter a Chappell reprint) are $25 and $24.95 respectively. Kalmus published the only other full score of Yeomen, in 1979—and it was terrible. It appears to be out of print, but I paid $95 for it in the 1980s!

Both volumes are paperbacks, and for the full score this seems like a short-sighted decision. Critical edition full scores, which are expected to take a beating over many decades, are usually cloth-bound, as OUP’s Ruddigore was. On the other hand, you save a bit of money: the Ruddigore full score currently lists for $130.

All of this may seem extremely fussy: what is more important is that OUP has published an edition that rewards such detailed study. Were I a musical director, I would accept most of Jagger’s musical decisions and reject a few. In the dialogue, to which Jagger paid less careful attention, I would reject most of his decisions and accept a few.

If the ups and downs of my criticism leave you in a quandary, let me remind you of the Cliff’s Notes version: this is a terrific new edition of The Yeomen of the Guard.

Review: The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan

September 21st, 2016


The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan: 20th Anniversary Edition
Introduced and Edited by Ian Bradley
New York: Oxford University Press, 2016
xvi+1267 pages

“If at first . . . .” The old proverb usually ends with, “. . . you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

With Ian Bradley’s Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, the opposite is true. His success as an annotator of the Savoy operas has granted him the rare opportunity to improve on the first volume of five operas published by Penguin in 1982. This was followed by six more operas in 1984.

In 1996, the first Oxford edition included the contents of the two Penguin volumes (with substantial corrections) and added two operas: Utopia, Limited, and The Grand Duke. A 2001 paperback re-issue “incorporated several further corrections and amendments.”

This new edition, on the twentieth anniversary of the first Oxford edition, incorporates additional corrections and adds Thespis, the last opera missing from the earlier volumes. It was issued simultaneously in hardback and paperback, costing (as I write this) $75.00 and $39.95 respectively on Amazon.

Bradley’s first two volumes contained a multitude of errors that I imagine would embarrass him now. At the time, I thought, “that was that.” And if this were the typical Gilbert and Sullivan book, that would be that. But because those volumes enjoyed some success, the Oxford edition of 1996 followed, and then the paperback reprint of 2001, and now this presumably final edition, each better than the last.

I cannot be entirely objective about these books. Michael Walters and I have recently published the first volume of The Variorum Gilbert and Sullivan, which covers some of the same ground as Bradley does—particularly, variant and deleted passages in the Savoy operas. In our general introduction, Walters and I subjected Bradley to harsh critique, particularly for his failure to clearly state his sources.

But I certainly think that every G&S fan ought to have a copy of Bradley in at least one of his iterations, if not all of them. Bradley covers considerable ground that the Variorum does not—especially, definitions of obscure terms and phrases. Besides that, the Variorum is a five-volume project whose completion is still years away. And despite Bradley’s omissions and occasional mistakes, I think there are many readers for whom he provides just the right amount of detail. He has sold more books in the last 35 years, and deservedly so, than Walters and I ever will.

Bradley has added an almost entirely new seven-page Introduction that serves as a “state of the union” for G&S aficionados, circa 2016. He concludes, as he has been saying in other forums for quite some time, that the Savoy operas are very much alive and well, despite those who would condemn them as relics of the past.

If you already have an earlier Bradley, you probably don’t need this one, unless you’re a completist like me. On a spot check, the 13 operas carried over from the last edition are lightly edited, but not altered very significantly. The book is set in a completely different typeface that feels, on the whole, a bit more “roomy” and easier to read than the setting of the 1996 edition, despite taking up less space.

A few years ago, I offered a list of the ten best Gilbert & Sullivan books. I cannot remember the other nine, but Bradley was on the list, and I stand by that. With this new edition, an indispensable work has become even better.

Announcement: The Variorum Gilbert & Sullivan, Volume I

December 19th, 2015

Michael Walters and I are pleased to announce publication of The Variorum Gilbert & Sullivan, Volume I, the essential textual reference to the first four operas by Gilbert and Sullivan: Thespis, Trial by Jury, The Sorcerer, and H.M.S. Pinafore. Ordering information is at the bottom of this post.

So…what’s a Variorum? The term, Latin for of various people, refers to an edition that presents the variant states of a text, with editorial commentary. This is the first of a five-volume variorum of the Gilbert & Sullivan libretti, documenting their evolution from pre-production drafts and the early productions, through revivals, twentieth-century D’Oyly Carte amendments, and the contributions of later editors and editions.

The book is 781 pages, of which the first 169 are a general introduction that discusses the partners’ working methods, a survey of the sources and the textual problems they present, and the editorial process. Each opera also has a separate detailed introduction that discusses its textual history, sources, and issues. The introductions are substantial resources in and of themselves: that of Pinafore runs to over 100 pages.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.We have researched hundreds of manuscripts, libretti and scores, including many prompt books and early drafts never before published, such two early plot sketches of Thespis, and Gilbert’s first draft plot of H.M.S. Pinafore. (I don’t want anyone to be misled: the two Thespis plot sketches are a total of five pages, the Pinafore plot draft seven pages. I think you’ll enjoy reading them, but the book isn’t worth it for those items alone.)

Also included are deleted passages (cancelled lyrics and songs) and supplemental material, such as “An Elixir of Love,” the short story that inspired The Sorcerer, presented with the original Gilbert drawings as it appeared in Christmas 1876 issue The Graphic, with variants noted from its re-publication in Gilbert’s 1890 compilation of short stories, Foggerty’s Fairy and Other Tales.

There are, of course, many collected anthologies of Gilbert’s libretti. Most offer the texts with no analysis at all, or with mainly non-textual commentary (e.g., production practice; definitions of obscure words and phrases). Reginald Allen edited what he took to be the first-night libretti in The First Night Gilbert and Sullivan; Ian Bradley quoted many of the pre-production drafts and variant readings in The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. But neither explored the full textual history of Gilbert’s libretti systematically.

Walters and I present, for each libretto, the text that we believe Gilbert and Sullivan would have settled upon, had they taken the time to resolve all of the discrepancies amongst the various sources. That they did not do so themselves may seem surprising, but they were practical men of the theatre: their aim was to produce the operas for immediate critical and popular success, not to establish texts for later generations. They never reconciled the many disagreements between the published libretti, vocal scores, and the texts as actually performed at the Savoy.

Textual criticism isn’t an exact science: other editors would reach different conclusions. But as this is a variorum, variant readings that have any reasonable claim to authority share the page with the libretto text, so that readers can judge for themselves the basis of our decisions. We also consider all of the surviving drafts, discarded versions, and other historically important sources—even if the latter did not have the authors’ approval or willfully contravened it. Those who have wondered about the provenance of a variant passage will now have its textual history.

Beyond the value of establishing a text, a variorum serves other purposes. Performers may choose to restore material that the authors had rewritten or cut. Alternative readings shed light on the history of a work’s creation and reception. From the evolution of the texts, we learn more about the thought processes of the men who created them and the cultural climate in which they worked. Even their rejects make compelling reading. Their discarded drafts are the residue of a creative process that was often more complex, and less linear, than would be apparent from the familiar biographies.

Walters and I, at one time, thought we could accomplish all of this for the whole canon, in one book. We now find that we have enough material for five volumes. The second volume (with Pirates, Patience, and Iolanthe) will follow eventually, and so on to the end. Some of you may be aware that Walters and I have been working on this for a long time: 35 years, believe it or not. I cannot claim that we always used that time productively; nevertheless, there’s decades of work invested in this first volume of four operas.

The Variorum Gilbert & Sullivan, Volume I, is published in hardcover with a dust jacket, and is available from Lulu.com for $40 plus shipping, at this link: http://bit.ly/1QRRi1z. Further information will be updated, as need be, at the Variorum web site: oakapplepress.com/variorum.html.

 

Review: The Pirates of Finance

November 15th, 2014

Note: This review was posted to Savoynet on July 16, 2013.

Last night was the premiere of The Pirates of Finance at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The show was written by Hartford, Connecticut, resident Charles Veley, to a Sullivan score. The work has been under development for the past several years, with amateur performances at the G&S Festival in Gettysburg, and a reading by the Blue Hill Troupe in New York. This is its first professional production.

As the show begins, Frederick Freemarket (Preston Ellis) has just become CEO of the family investment company, which he inherited upon his uncle’s sudden demise. The company is worth twelve billion dollars, but its bank accounts are frozen due to over-leveraged investments in derivatives. Trying to help him out of this mess, are Clara Calculor, the CFO (Deborah Jean Templin); and Prudence Peergroup, the head of HR (Amber Nicole Guest).

Bill Brilliant (Jacob Thompson), the IT geek, thinks he can get the firm out of its predicament with his latest invention, the Cash Machine, a program trading system that looks like a NASA satellite. Except: he hasn’t quite got all the bugs out of it.

On Frederick’s first day as CEO, the lovely Elsie Gardener (Heather Lunstedt) shows up and asks for a job as the company nutritionist. (The script has more nutrition jokes than you ever thought possible.) Frederick falls instantly in love with her, and hires her on the spot, though we soon learn she’s hiding a dark secret. After Elsie spurns his advances, Frederick bans office romance across the company, to the frustration of Bill and Prudence, who are in a relationship, unbeknownst to their colleagues. Bill woos Prudence with hilarious Ralph Rackstrawish dialogue, as spoken by an IT nerd.

If those weren’t enough troubles, Frederick learns that he owns only half the company, and J. Geoffrey Behemoth (Christopher DeAngelis), a corporate raider, has bought the other half. He turns up with a chorus of comely analysts, sings the expected patter song, and reveals his evil plan to force Frederick out, take over the company, and put the Cash Machine to nefarious use.

The story ends with the usual Gilbertian twist — a few of them, actually — and by the finale, the whole company pair off, in Savoy fashion. The satire isn’t subtle, and with its reference to risky mortgage-backed securities, feels a bit dated already. But the production (in two acts, and a shade over two hours) sails along, thanks to Gary Slavin’s buoyant direction and witty choreography. I don’t think I ever stopped smiling, not even for a moment.

The music is drawn from the scores of eight G&S operas, especially Pirates and Iolanthe. The company posted brief excerpts on YouTube, which give a sense of the large concerted passages. After watching that clip, you’ll see links to a number of rehearsal videos, which feature actor interviews and other brief musical excerpts.

Just about all the material for the analysts is terrific, especially an “Andrews Sisters”-esque trio at the beginning of Act II, set to “We are dainty little fairies” from Iolanthe. Midway through Act II, a chorus of SEC regulators stopped the show. You read that right. The big ensembles are almost all successful, but the piece ends weakly, with an unimpressive Act II finale.

The capable orchestra consists of two keyboards, violin/viola, and percussion. A G&S fan shouldn’t have much trouble identifying the tunes (they’re listed in the program too), but they won’t all come to you immediately, as many of them are considerably transformed, and deployed in unexpected ways.

As a poet, author Charles Veley isn’t a Gilbert, but who is? Some of the lyrics are noticeably force-fit, perhaps as many as half. Even where that’s the case, the sparkling direction and energetic ensemble cast (mostly Equity) carry the day. I’m not going to critique performers individually, but the men’s diction was generally better than the women’s, and there is one performer that I’d replace entirely due to her diction. Fortunately, it was not on her to carry the show.

Costume Designers Anne Auberjonois and Amy Price dress the cast smartly in modern clothes. The unit set by David Goldstein consists mainly of a desk on wheels and movable partitions that the actors push around. Goldstein’s lighting missed its mark occasionally, but perhaps this will be corrected for later performances.

Overall, it is a great success for the company, and well worth seeing. Tickets are only $25, and there are three remaining performances: Thursday at 5pm and 9pm, Saturday at 9pm, in the Alice Griffin Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd Street near Tenth Avenue.

he Mountebanks: New Edition of the Full Score

November 15th, 2014
The Mountebanks, Full Score
Robin Gordon-Powell and J. Donald Smith, eds.
London: The Amber Ring, 2013
Two Volumes, with an Introduction

Robin Gordon-Powell and J. Donald Smith have recently published a new edition of the full score of The Mountebanks under Gordon-Powell’s “Amber Ring” imprint, which has been responsible for numerous path-breaking Sullivan editions, including the scores of The ContrabandistaIvanhoeThe Beauty Stone, and numerous orchestral works. The latter two operatic editions formed the basis for recent professional recordings. Perhaps, one of these days soon, The Mountebanks will follow.

The edition became possible when Smith acquired Alfred Cellier’s manuscript score from the estate of the late Fredric Woodbridge Wilson, who, much like Fafner in Wagner’s Ring, chose during his lifetime to sit on his hoard without telling anyone or doing anything with it.

The manuscript alone would have been enough to form the basis of an edition, but Smith tracked down multiple sets of orchestral parts and pre-production libretti, all of which differ from each other and the manuscript, as do the two published vocal scores. Smith also tracked down the performance history of the opera beyond the original London run (on tour in Britain, in Australia, and in America), which is itself a fascinating story not fully documented before. Smith explains all of this in a detailed introduction, copiously footnoted.

Making sense of so many conflicting sources cannot have been an easy job. When Gordon-Powell agreed to the project, I suspect he little reckoned what he was in for. It was certainly not due to commercial demand, since there has not been a full production with orchestra since the 1960s, nor are any in the offing. But a full production is not possible without orchestra parts, and these haven’t been readily available since D’Oyly Carte withdrew the piece from the rental market decades ago. If there is to be a Mountebanks revival, this score makes it now possible.

(After I posted the above to Savoynet, Ian Bond posted one correction: “One very obvious error made by Marc in this is that there has been at least one full production of MOUNTEBANKS with full orchestral accompaniment since the 1960′s, that by Ramsgate Operatic (Kent UK) in 1982 for which musical director James Gillespie transcribed a set of band parts from an original set owned by a private individual in Australia. Mr Gillespie made the trip to Australia specifically to copy the parts. Sadly his dedication did not pay off in terms of performance as the production was at best mediocre and at worst utterly dire. There we two other productions that I have a note of, one by the Polytechnic Operatic Society of London in 1968 and the other by the University of London Opera Group in 1992 – the latter was with two pianos (which was also available on video) –I do not have information about the Polytechnic production so do not know if an orchestra was used.”)

Alfred Cellier, the composer of The Mountebanks, died before opening night, leaving the house musical director, Ivan Caryll to finish the score. Smith has demonstrated that practically all of the music was Cellier’s, although Caryll completed some of the orchestrations and made the usual alterations required in practically any stage work as it proceeds through the last rehearsals and faces the reactions of an audience.

The edition offers every note in any of the extant sources, including some alternate endings in Caryll’s hand and passages reconstructed from the parts that are lacking in the manuscript. Variants are explained in the introduction and in footnotes throughout the score. To the director seeking to revive the opera would fall the complex task of deciding which version to perform and to mark up old vocal scores, since the Amber Ring has not published a companion vocal score for this edition. For the most part, the edition is neutral about which version of The Mountebanks is best: it is up to each interpreter to decide.

There is one significant blunder. There are several alternative passages for Act I that are presented as appendices to the second volume, which contains Act II. I can scarcely imagine the logic for printing these passages, presumably to allow them to be performed, but putting them in a different volume than the rest of the material to which they are connected. For the conductor who wanted to use this material, swapping volumes for just a few pages of score would be extremely inconvenient. The edition is not consistent in this regard: an alternative ending to Act I, No. 6, in Ivan Caryll’s hand, is printed in the first volume, immediately after the ending Cellier wrote. All of the alternative passages should have been handled this way. At the very least, the Act I appendices should have been printed at the end of the first volume.

The editor of a scholarly edition of a comparatively obscure opera faces a dilemma: should he try to “make a case” for the work, or simply present the facts of its gestation and allow the reader to judge? In his introduction, Smith doesn’t quite make a full-throated defense of the opera, but he leans in that direction, and it doesn’t quite add up. He says that the sources “reveal a picture of a master playwright and lyricist at work to create a coherent entertainment,” while saying nothing about the libretto’s abundant examples of incoherence. Like most late Gilbert, this libretto sprawls and meanders, lacking the tight focus of Gilbert’s best work. This fact (I think few would dispute it) goes unacknowledged. Smith says that Sullivan rejected the libretto repeatedly for “alleged artificiality,” at least insinuating that Sullivan’s allegation might not be fair, but he doesn’t explore the point.

It is hardly surprising that the introduction describes the opera as “unjustly neglected” and “certainly…an equal to Sullivan’s operas with other librettists.” But Sullivan’s operas with other librettists are themselves anything but equal to one another, so I am not sure what to make of this.

If there’s a case to be made for The Mountebanks, it requires productions and recordings, preferably good ones, and this edition now makes them possible. Don Smith and Robin Gordon-Powell are to be commended for undertaking this Herculean effort, essentially on spec. Of the music itself I have little more to add, except that it is attractively typeset with Gordon-Powell’s usual typographic beauty and exemplary attention to detail.

Broude Brothers Pinafore Vocal Score Critical Edition Published

November 15th, 2014

H.M.S. Pinafore
Critical Edition of the Vocal Score
Edited by Percy M. Young
Broude Brothers Limited: New York & Williamstown, 2012
xvii+300 pages

Broude Brothers has, at long last, published the companion vocal score to go with the critical edition of the full score that appeared in 2003. I’m a member of the editorial board of Broude project, and I also made a number of specific contributions to this volume. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to review it. I can, however, tell you what it is, and try to describe the audience to whom it would be useful.

Like the Oxford University Press Ruddigore (ed. David Russell Hulme), the Broude Pinafore relies on original sources and is skeptical about admitting 20th-century performance practice that is not attested in earlier documents. Obviously, the history of the two works couldn’t be more different. After an inauspicious first run, Ruddigore sat on the shelf for over thirty years before Rupert D’Oyly Carte brought it back to life. As the authors never touched the work again, it is comparatively easy to distinguish what Gilbert & Sullivan wrote, from what Harry Norris and Geoffrey Toye decided, decades later, that they ought to have written.

Pinafore, in contrast, was never out of the repertory. There were many changes over the years, but it is difficult to say when. And it is just as difficult to say which textual readings Gilbert & Sullivan actively preferred, those that might have entered the text on tour during their lifetimes without their participation, and those that changed after their deaths.

It is my personal view that much of the performance tradition was transmitted orally, and a traditional reading is not necessarily corrupt, just because it is not attested in any document that passed through the authors’ hands. Nevertheless, the Broude editors’ skepticism is entirely justified, and I think many scholars would take the same approach. When a tradition isn’t attested in documents, it becomes mere guesswork as to what Gilbert & Sullivan might have approved of.

What makes the Broude Pinafore and the Oxford Ruddigore similar, is that in both cases the editions contain many readings that will be unfamiliar to those who’ve come to rely on modern scores. So I wouldn’t recommend either edition to a performing group, unless you are prepared to mandate that everyone use that edition, or unless the musical director is willing to prepare and circulate errata lists.

The edition is also of interest to those curious about the textual history of the work, or who would like to know precisely what is or is not authentic in the standard scores. The vocal score contains considerably less background material than Broude’s companion full score (which currently sells for $300). Nevertheless, there are 40-odd pages of introduction and critical apparatus. In contrast, the Oxford Ruddigore vocal score has no introduction or apparatus at all.

The suppressed passages for Cousin Hebe and the original recitative preceding the Act II finale are offered as appendices, and there are three alternate endings (the original one, “Rule Britannia,” and the 20th-century ending). However, the volume does not include the same publisher’s edition of the suppressed ballad for Captain Corcoran, “Reflect, my child,” discovered and reconstructed by Bruce Miller and Helga Perry, which remains available separately.

Broude uses a very leisurely typographical style that is easy on the eyes, but requires a lot of page turns. Not counting prefatory material and appendices, there are 255 pages of score, including dialogue, as compared to the Dover score’s 212 pages (also with dialogue), the Schirmer score’s 167 pages (with dialogue), or the most recent Cramer score’s 150 pages (without dialogue).

The Broude Brothers vocal score costs $25.00 and is available from the publisher (broudebrothers at verizon.net or 800-525-8559).

“Helen D’Oyly Carte” by Brian Jones

March 2nd, 2012

 Helen D’Oyly Carte: Gilbert and Sullivan’s 4th Partner
By Brian Jones
London: Basingstoke Books, 2011
150 pages

joneshelen_cover.pngIn 1984, I attended a talk by Arthur Jacobs, whose biography of Arthur Sullivan was then new. In the Q&A, he was asked why no one had written a biography of Helen D’Oyly Carte. Jacobs replied that he didn’t think there was enough available information about her. Helen is, of course, a recurring figure in the history of the Savoy Operas, but she is usually portrayed in a supporting role, not as one worthy of study in her own right.

Cunningham Bridgeman, who with François Cellier wrote one of the first histories of the G&S partnership, thought differently, suggesting that “it is confidently anticipated that the life-work of Helen Lenoir . . . may yet form the subject of a separate volume.” It took ninety-seven years for someone to prove Bridgeman right, and Jacobs wrong, but Brian Jones has now done it.

Jones’s account of Helen’s early family life and brief career on the stage will be new to most readers, as will her impressive education. Helen was in the first class of four women admitted to London University, completing all the requirements for a degree of “Mathematics and Mechanical Philosophy.” She was arguably better educated than Gilbert, Sullivan, or Carte. As Carte would relate in an 1885 interview:

Miss Lenoir . . . can draw up an ‘ironclad’ agreement as well as any solicitor. On international copyright and dramatic rights she is probably one of the best living authorities; her knowledge is derived from practical litigation as well as text books. Before she came to me Miss Lenoir had passed with honours examinations at the University of London that would have entitled her to a BA degree had it then been given to women.

Despite that, the best job she could find, at first, was as a governess. She then went on the stage and found her way into Carte’s employ in 1877. Before long, she was authorized to sign letters in his name. By 1880, she was sent to New York to run Carte’s U.S. business, at a time when there were few women in theatrical management. Between 1880 and 1884, she spent entire winters in New York, returning to London over the summer months to manage Carte’s provincial tours. From 1880–87, she made at least fifteen trips back and forth between the two countries.

In 1885, Carte’s first wife, Blanche née Prowse, died of pneumonia. Exactly how Carte’s relationship with Helen became intimate is not known. Jones tells the story of their marriage through a remarkable resource: the 1888 diary of Lucas D’Oyly Carte, Richard’s older son. That volume has never been quoted at all, in any source I’m aware of. To this diary Jones devotes his longest chapter, allowing Lucas’s account to speak mostly for itself.

A fascinating series of entries comes on 6–7 April, when Carte takes Lucas and his brother Rupert to Manchester, where they take in three performances of Patience, with three different leading ladies, apparently scheduled that way so that he could assess their suitability for more prominent roles within his large organization.

It is clear from the diary that Helen had become a de facto member of the family; still, the marriage seems to have come as a surprise to the children. On 11 April 1888, Lucas writes: “Dinner with HL, Father, us, Mr. Stanley, and Mr. Fladgate. Afterwards Father [told us?] of his intentions [double-underlined] for the following day. Billiards.” The family honeymooned in France, with the children joining the newlyweds.

Although Jones finds enough material to justify a full biography of the woman he calls “Gilbert and Sullivan’s 4th Partner,” there is a good deal of what might be called filler. Many historical incidents are described without any new information. A chapter on the construction of the Savoy Theatre provides welcome detail, but barely mentions Helen at all, as she had no significant role in that project.

The one period in her life that Jones covers inadequately is 1906–09, when Helen mounted the first repertory seasons at the Savoy. Many letters passed between Gilbert and Helen: the librettist was particularly irked at the casts, which Helen chose without consulting him, and which he considered inadequate. Jones neither quotes nor mentions any of those letters (now residing in the British Library), which makes me wonder if he was aware of them. It is a rather substantial omission.

I wish that were the only problem. The book reads like a very rough draft. There is scarcely a page without a mechanical or other error. Many passages are so disorganized that you would think a family friend who knew nothing about Gilbert and Sullivan, had typed the author’s preliminary notes into a word processor, and then published them with no editing at all.

Most of the time, you can at least grasp Jones’s meaning. Except when you can’t. On p. 39, “When Helen came back to Carte’s office in autumn 1877, she must have been excited by the new technology involved.” No technology is mentioned. On p. 46, “The casting of Blanche Roosevelt as Josephine [in New York] was a further clue.” A clue of what?

On the same page, “She took the United States to her heart, and the United States developed a similar affection for Helen.” No evidence is shown of great affection by either party, and certainly not the entire United States, most of which she is not known to have visited. After the failure of The Chieftain, “Much credit for the wisdom of the next choice [The Mikado] must go to Helen” (p. 108), but it is not explained how she had anything to do with it.

Thoughts, abilities, and emotions are attributed to Helen without basis. “Helen was . . . aware of contemporary tastes” (p. 46). When two of the touring companies mounted a benefit for Helen, she “won their hearts because of . . . her mathematical ability to make the journey from theatre to theatre smooth and rapid” (p. 63). “Helen, with her academic background in Mechanical Philosophy must have particularly welcomed the freedom from gas lamps” (p. 92). These seem to be guesses, not facts.

The lack of known letters from Richard D’Oyly Carte to his son is supposedly “because Helen was capable of keeping the family in touch with one another” (p. 74). Did Carte really delegate family correspondence to her, even before they were married? Lucas’s diary mentions letters from Helen; it doesn’t mean that Richard wrote none.

Jones  frequently expresses himself awkwardly. For instance, on p. 45, “In 1878, copyright protection for works originated in London was inadequate.” What he means is, “In 1878, copyright protection in America for works originated in other countries was inadequate.” The inadequacy wasn’t specific to London-based authors, nor did every other nation share the peculiarities of U.S. law.

On p. 119 comes the following strange sentence: “At the start of the previous chapter, near the cartoon of Barrington in The Vicar of Bray it became clear in the 1890s that Richard D’Oyly Carte was a chronically sick man.” Syntactically, Jones is suggesting that a cartoon of Barrington had sickened Carte. What he means is that at the start of the previous chapter, at around the point where a cartoon of Barrington is shown, Jones has already told us that Carte was sick. The actual passage Jones has in mind isn’t on the same page as the cartoon anyway.

There are many factual errors, some of which could be typos. On p. 42, “Carte’s Second Pinafore Company was performing HMS Pinafore for the first time in the provinces” (in late 1879). Actually, it was a different company that had done so, a year earlier. Jones gets it right, four pages later.

On p. 46, the date of the premiere of The Pirates of Penzance is given as December 1878 (it should be 1879). On p. 105, Nancy McIntosh’s role in Utopia, Limited is given as “Princess Selene,” not Zara. (He is probably mixing it up with Fallen Fairies, in which Nancy did play Selene.) On p. 121, the closing date of The Emerald Isle is given as “9 November 201” [sic].

He repeats Leslie Baily’s well known error that Carte’s famous demonstration from the stage of the new Savoy Theatre, in which he broke an electric light covered in muslin to show it would not catch fire, occurred on the first night. As long ago as 1958, Reginald Allen had shown that this happened months later, as the electric lighting on the stage wasn’t even working on the first night.

On page 38, Nancy McIntosh is described as Gilbert’s ‘adopted’ daughter, quoted thus, but without explanation. On p. 131, the word adopted appears without quotes, but a footnote explains that “Nancy McIntosh as an adult was too old to be legally adopted.” Why make the error at all, only to correct it?

The name of the former curator of the G&S Collection at the Pierpont Morgan Library is given as “Frederic” Wilson (p. 4) and “Rick” Wilson (p. 73), neither of which is correct: it is either “Fredric” or “Ric”.

Jones adopts a not-quite-chronological order, and as a result, tells much of the story twice. Impresario Michael Gunn’s wife, Bessie Sudlow, was introduced to him by Richard D’Oyly Carte. This anecdote is related on pp. 19–20 and p. 37. In 1877, Helen had received an offer to perform in India, which she accepted initially, but then declined after deciding to remain with Carte. This story occupies a third of a page on p. 23, and then half a page on p. 40.

Pages 46–47 describe Oscar Wilde’s lecture tour to America. Helen also arranged a lecture tour for one Matthew Arnold; his story is told on 57–58. Both are then re-told, in almost identical words, on pp. 66–67. Details of the production of Pinafore in New York on 1 December 1879 are given on p. 46 and again on p. 62, right down to the detail of W. S. Gilbert’s participation in the chorus, wearing a fake beard.

Sometimes a sentence is repeated on the same page, or even the same paragraph. For instance, on p. 103, the command performance of The Mikado is described in the second paragraph, and again in the fourth. Frank Desprez’s authorship of the libretto to Carte’s operetta Happy Hampstead is told twice, a few lines apart, on pp. 34–5. Jones also discusses the piece on p. 31, attributing its lyrics to Carte himself.

The circumstances of the “piracy” of Pinafore, the lack of copyright protection, and so forth, are told twice between pp. 41–46, with (in some cases) the identical sentences repeated within a page or two of one another. The material is so disorganized that one not familiar with the facts would be completely lost. For instance, in describing the Paignton performance:

However, the first pages of music had not been received in London and the performance was postponed. . . . The music arrived in Torquay from London on 29 December, to give the Pinafore company only one rehearsal of the completed piece. They would have known most of act one and something of act two.

So, “the first pages of music had not been received,” but somehow the cast “would have known most of act one and something of act two.” In fact, the music was sent in two shipments, and it was the second act they received first, exactly the opposite of what he says.

Most astoundingly, an interview that Helen gave with the Philadelphia Times in 1881 is quoted at length (2 full pages) from pp. 47–49, and then quoted again, at similar length, starting on p. 63. A comparison of the two versions shows numerous differences of wording and punctuation. I don’t know which one is correct. Perhaps neither.

On many occasions, Jones prints the same material twice, but differently. George Edwardes (then called “Edwards”) came to work at Carte’s office in the late 1870s on Michael Gunn’s recommendation. Jones quotes Gunn’s letter thus on p. 20:

This is George Edwards. Give him a job, pay him a pound a week, and make sure he earns it.

And thus on p. 37:

This is George Edwards. Give him a job, pay him a pound a week and see that he earns it.

Carte’s ancestors were named “Cart”. Where did the extra ‘e’ come from? On p. 28:

. . . Richard Carte added an e to his surname to avoid confusion with Britain’s other top flautist Thomas Card.

On p. 37:

The e in Richard D’Oyly Carte had been added by his father, who wanted to distinguish himself from another Richard Cart who was already established as a musical performer.

After Helen and Richard were married, the members of the touring “E” Company presented them with a pair of silver candlesticks, with an inscription that read, in part:

We . . . hope the accompanying offering . . . will give you a tithe of the pleasure in acceptation that we experience in presentation.

Jones prints it in facsimile on p. 87. On p. 88 he quotes it inaccurately:

We . . . hope the accompanying offering . . . will give you a taste of the pleasure in anticipation that we experience in anticipation.

On p. 99 is the well known Gilbert quote after the production of The Gondoliers, but oddly garbled:

. . . it gives me the chance of shining through the twentieth century with a reflected light.

It is quoted correctly on p. 102:

It gives one the chance of shining right through the twentieth century with a reflected light.

On page 69, a letter from Carte to Helen is quoted from Leslie Baily, The Gilbert and Sullivan Book, p. 163. Actually, it is on p. 263 that book, but let that pass. Baily begins the quote with, “Knowing your peculiar disposition as I do. . . .” Jones replaces “peculiar” with “particular”.

A quote on p. 120, attributed to Cellier and Bridgeman, is incorrect: a semi-colon is replaced with a comma, and the words “distinguished medical attendant” are replaced with “doctor”.

Late in life, Gilbert testified before a parliamentary inquiry on theatrical censorship. A quote on p. 130 is from this inquiry:

. . . there was no preliminary correspondence. There was some feeling afterwards he simply took my property and laid an embargo upon it.

Jones cites no source, but Dark and Gray, p. 149, word and punctuate the passage thus:

. . .there was no preliminary correspondence—there was some afterwards—he simply took my property and laid an embargo upon it.

I checked every quote that I could. In not one case is Jones accurate. Not one. This is a sad state of things. There is a much larger quantity of quotes that I could not check, but many of them have garbled syntax, with punctuation or even entire words clearly missing. I have to assume they are mere paraphrases, one and all.

This is to say nothing of the many mechanical errors, missing punctuation, quotes opened but not closed, non-sequiturs, incomplete ideas, facts told out of sequence, and so forth. The carpet quarrel, for instance, is described after the opening of Ivanhoe, when the two actually happened in the reverse order. I think Jones knows this, but the general reader would be confused. I could go on, but behold, I have said enough.

The book is copiously illustrated, although many of the illustrations lack captions, and at times one has to hunt through the text to figure out what they are. There is also an index, which is quite as full of errors and omissions as the rest of the book.

It is not for me to guess what went wrong. Jones served capably for many years as editor of both The Savoyard and the W. S. Gilbert Society Journal. His other book, an excellent biography of Henry Lytton, was not beset by similar problems. Perhaps it had an outside editor, and this one did not. G&S fans will no doubt be grateful to learn about a strong, talented woman, who is long overdue her moment in the sun. To tell her story was obviously a labor of love for Jones, who says he spent thirty years on it. His abundant affection for the subject is not diminished by his many errors.

But Helen, who was so careful, accurate, and well organized in everything she did, would be aghast that the only biography she is likely ever to have, is so full of mistakes. I have never seen anything quite like it.

*

Postscript: I recommend this book despite its many errors. Fortunately, the audience for such a volume is likely to consist mainly of G&S fans, who are more likely to forgive the mistakes and less likely to be misled by them. Nevertheless, the book could have been so much better. There are plenty of capable people in our community who would happily have edited the book gratis, or at least have read a manuscript and pointed out the more egregious slips. There is nothing to be done about it now, but I still endorse the book, faults and all.

Pirate King by Laurie R. King

March 2nd, 2012

Pirate King
By Laurie R. King
New York: Bantam Books, 2011
304 pages

pirateking_cover.jpgThere is a crucial reason why Arthur Conan Doyle tells most of the Sherlock Holmes stories through the eyes of the detective’s less brilliant companion, Dr. Watson. Doyle needs a character who can reveal Holmes’s deductions, while at the same time being astounded by them. This is something that neither Holmes himself nor an omniscient moderator could do.

The lack of a Watson is what dooms Laurie R. King’s Pirate King, the G&S-themed eleventh book in a series featuring Holmes and his young wife, Mary Russell. She’s a kind of “junior Holmes,” possessing many of his remarkable abilities, but to a lesser degree. She is also a crashing bore, as she has none of the eccentricities that make Holmes the riveting character he is.

She is also the narrator, and her humility leaves her unable to astonish the reader with her deductions, the way Holmes always astonished Watson. Her limitations are apparent when Holmes enters the story, but he is present for only about a quarter of the novel. The rest of the book feels like marking time for his arrival.

The story takes place after World War I, when Holmes is about three times Russell’s age. In their scenes together, their relationship seems sterile and passionless: more like a business arrangement. Watson and Holmes showed more genuine affection for one another than this pair. I assume the earlier books made a more credible case for their marriage, but I am left with no burning desire to read them.

The story concerns Fflyte Films, which is making a silent film about a company that is producing a version of The Pirates of Penzance. The director, Randolph Fflyte, has such a passion for realism that he insists on filming on location in Spain and Morocco, and hiring locals with no acting experience as pirates. Scotland Yard believes that someone in Fflyte’s orbit is involved in smuggling.

As the Yard has no jurisdiction in Spain, our old friend, the ageless Inspector Lestrade (with Mycroft Holmes as a behind-the-scenes puppet-master), arranges for Russell to offer herself as traveling secretary to the film’s producer, Geoffrey Hale, so that she can find out if anything nefarious is going on. Naturally, there is, although it takes hundreds of pages before the author finally gets around to it. For a long while, it feels more like a soap opera than a detective novel.

While we wait for anything resembling a real mystery, Russell immerses herself in the film production, surrounded by the film crew and the cardboard cut-out actors and actresses who are to play the roles in Pirates, if ever the troubled film can ever get underway. (Oddly enough, they all know the words and music of the opera by heart, even though they would never have the chance to use them in a silent film.) For much of the book, Russell’s main role is as chaperone for the girls playing General Stanley’s daughters, and she is quite the kill-joy.

Obviously, the book is full of G&S references, most of which are accurate (the libretto is misquoted once or twice), but like Sir Despard’s penny readings, they are not remarkably entertaining. The book is tedious, the narrative dull, the story plodding and preposterous. Of course, many of the original Holmes stories likewise defied rational belief. It was Holmes himself who brought them to life. Mary Russell is as dull as a dishrag.

The Pocket Guide to Gilbert and Sullivan

September 2nd, 2011

The Pocket Guide to Gilbert and Sullivan
By Diane Canwell and Jonathan Sutherland
Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2011
186 pages

sutherland_canwell1.jpgTo the Mikado’s list of punishments can be added a new horror: being forced to read The Pocket Guide to Gilbert and Sullivan by Diane Canwell and Jonathan Sutherland. This is an abominable, pointless book, poorly written and full of errors. At 5 3/8 by 8 1/2 inches, it is not really pocket-sized, either.

The publisher, Pen & Sword, specializes in military, maritime, and aviation history. Canwell and Sutherland are house authors, having written such classics as Air War East Africa 1940–1941, Farming Industry, Zulu Kings and their Armies, and Unsolved East Anglian Murders. In all, I count 22 titles for the pair, none of which have anything to do with theatre history—except this one.

The book jacket tells us that the husband-and-wife team “are passionate about musical theatre and Jon worked for London Sadler’s Wells when D’Oyly Carte performed Gilbert & Sullivan for five months each season.” Sutherland’s recollection of his own biography is incorrect. The D’Oyly Carte never had a five-month season at Sadler’s Wells: seasons there varied from eight to fourteen weeks.

I frequently considered giving up on this book, and finally did so around page 160, by which time I had noted 140 errors, and I didn’t write down every one I saw. Perhaps the book’s only virtue is that a lengthy first-night press review (usually that of The Times) is quoted for each opera. These are practically the only well written pages that are free of factual error.

It would be pointless to list all of their mistakes, but I’ll quote a few illustrative examples:

On pp. 1–2: “Although [Richard] D’Oyly Carte died in 1901, his name would also live on . . . as The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, which continues to exist and to perform Gilbert and Sullivan works to this day.” Where can I book tickets?

On p. 5: “Gilbert went to King’s College . . . to study law.” He did not study law there.

On p. 6: “By the time [Gilbert] was 24 he had written 15 theatrical works; each time they were rejected.” What works? Rejected by whom?

On p. 22: “Gilbert and D’Oyly Carte went to Sullivan’s house and Gilbert read the libretto [of Trial by Jury] to him.” Carte did not go to Sullivan’s house.

On p. 27: “As soon as Trial by Jury was up and running D’Oyly Carte tried to get Gilbert and Sullivan together again to write a full-length comic opera.” No, he tried to revive Thespis, and then suggested another one-act piece.

On p. 27: “Trial by Jury’s end did not come as a result of lack of interest, but in the illness of Fred Sullivan.” It continued to be performed, both with and without Fred Sullivan.

On p. 30: “Sullivan had also struck up a friendship with Mary Frances Ronalds. . . . In fact it is almost certain that she was his mistress.” Almost??

On p. 31: “Mrs Howard Paul was selected to play Lady Sangazur [sic]. . . Many of the other members of the cast were students. . . .” Huh?

On p. 38: “Soon Richard Temple . . . would join the company in time for HMS Pinafore.He was in The Sorcerer too.

I could go on for hours, but I will not.

There is an astounding quantity of typographical and mechanical errors, such as:

  • The London landmark “Charring [sic] Cross”
  • The American city of “Lewisville” (they mean Louisville)
  • Sullivan’s friend “George Groves” (they mean Grove)
  • The G&S characters “Council,” “Munthorne,” “Gianett,” and “Ph?be” (I am not making this up)
  • “Frederick,” rather than “Frederic,” in Pirates
  • Fred Sullivan was to have had a “principle” [sic] part in The Sorcerer
  • Gilbert and Sullivan “complimented [sic] one another very well.”
  • Hilarion is to “woe” (not woo) Princess Ida
  • “The Witches [not Witch’s] Curse”
  • The Yeoman of the Guard (throughout the book)
  • In the plot summary of The Gondoliers, the “Palmieris [sic] family”
  • “Blind man’s bluff” (should be “buff”)
  • In The Grand Duke, the Baroness is Rudolph’s “fiancé” (with one ‘e’)
  • “pompons” (where “pompous” is meant)
  • “National Training School of Music” (should be for Music)

The first-night reviews seem to have been lifted from the G&S Archive site. This would explain why the word “Yeomen” is spelled correctly in the review, but everywhere else in the book, they use “Yeoman.” It would also explain the repeated misspelling “Ph?be,” which on the Archive site is “Phœbe.” Apparently their software could not translate the ‘œ’ digraph.

The writing is extremely pedestrian. If it were the work of a child, perhaps you would be impressed. Here is a typical paragraph:

Gilbert and Sullivan would become the fathers of the modern blockbuster musical. They created a formula that almost guaranteed theatrical success. Their musicals were melodic and funny and they would continue to attract literally millions of fans to this very day. It was one of the first musical marriages; an artistic partnership, a testing one for the pair of them, and one that was often punctuated with disputes and quarrels. Yet their partnership would become the blueprint for the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lloyd Webber and Rice, to name but a few. Gilbert and Sullivan created 14 light operas and so popular would they become that they have been, and continue to be, performed by professional and amateur groups across the world.

Consecutive statements are often linked with “and,” “but,” or “in fact,” when they are unrelated to one another. An example comes on pp. 86–7: “Gladstone was amongst those who thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Iolanthe and in the spring of 1883 he would write to Sullivan, offering him a knighthood.” Both facts are true, but they were unrelated: the composer was knighted for his serious music, not his comic operas.

A similar example comes on p. 155: “Sullivan completed the Te Deum in July; this was his last piece of finished work, but it incorporated the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers in the last chorus.” Although both are true, the use of “but” suggests a non-existent relationship.

There are numerous misstatements about their works. Sullivan’s “In Memoriam” and The Golden Legend (called Longfellow’s Golden Legend, italicized thus, on a later page) are both described as oratorios. Gilbert apparently wrote a hitherto undiscovered play called The Sentimental Sweethearts. Sullivan wrote a hitherto unknown comedy called The Wicked World. His first opera, Cox and Box, was written in the 1870s. Later in his career, he managed to write The Gondoliers and Ivanhoe simultaneously. Sullivan did not just find Schubert’s Rosamunde; he completed it, as well.

I am sure that scholars will be delighted to discover Mrs. Ronalds’ recording of The Lost Chord, which we learn (on p. 30) was “one of the first ever recordings made in England.”

There is a chapter per opera, with a brief historical overview, a lengthy first-night review, the opening night cast, and a plot synopsis, the latter invariably incorrect. I could give many examples; for instance, in Trial by Jury: “Edwin . . . suggests that he will marry Angelina and then his new girlfriend the following day. The judge tells him that this is unlawful.” Actually, the judge says the idea is reasonable; it’s the counsel who points out that it is unlawful.

One will search in vain for the passage in The Mikado where Ko-Ko seeks to change the law against flirting, or the scene in Yeomen where Leonard helps to steal the keys from Shadbolt. In Ruddigore, we learn that in Act II Despard and Margaret have “rekindled their relationship,” not that they are married.

The book ends with twenty or so pages of biographies of Savoyards, but the selection is very eccentric. Why a bio for William Lugg (creator of Scynthius) but not Blanche Roosevelt (creator of Mabel)? Why Henry Lytton but not Bertha Lewis? The biographies are, of course, full of mistakes, just like everything else.

The book ends with a brief bibliography and a four-page chronology. There is no index.

There is a generous quantity of illustrations (all in black and white), many taken from the Library of Congress collection. I cannot imagine what prompted them to use this source, but it does at least mean that a good number of the illustrations aren’t the commonly seen ones. And every illustration included is a half-page where the authors cannot make any more errors.

Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody

August 8th, 2011

By Carolyn Williams
New York: Columbia University Press, 2010
454 pages, including illustrations and index

carolyn_williams_book.jpgW. S. Gilbert doesn’t rate highly in academic literary criticism. The English universities hardly credit him at all. Gilbert’s standing is better in American academia, but never before to the extent of a book-length study. That’s what we have here, a book of impressive depth by Carolyn Williams, professor of English at Rutgers University. Her specialty there is Victorian literature, theater, and culture.

I don’t want to suggest that studies of Gilbert by non-academics have failed to make a useful contribution to the field. But most of those studies are by G&S specialists, whose broader knowledge of Victorian culture is, like Gilbert’s Utopia, limited. As the theatrical precursors on which Gilbert was reared — burlesques, pantomimes, and extravaganzas — have disappeared from the modern stage, it takes real effort to hunt them down. This is what Williams has done.

After “discovering” G&S in graduate school, she spent ten years researching Victorian theater, to try to understand precisely what W. S. Gilbert was parodying. Williams puts Gilbert’s libretti in the context of the theatrical genres he lampooned. As she points out, a successful parody depends on the listener being able to recognize the prototype that is being imitated. It also extends the life of its model: thus, Gilbert’s Patience, for example, is practically the only artifact of aestheticism that has survived on the modern stage. If it wasn’t for Gilbert, we might not know of it at all.

Posterity remembers Gilbert because his works remain funny even if you don’t recognize the models they are based on. The universality of his libretti is what separates them from the mine run of burlesques that were a dime a dozen on the Victorian stage. Thus, audiences can and do laugh at Patience even if they have never encountered aestheticism.

Williams goes farther than anyone to find Gilbert’s antecedents. That F. C. Burnand wrote an aesthetic play, The Colonel, at around the time of Patience, is well known. Less known is the source both of them relied on, Morris Barnett’s three-act comedy The Serious Family (1849), or Barnett’s source, Jean-François Bayard’s Le mari à la campagne (The Husband in the Country, 1844).

While the Patience chapter is especially good (she devotes one to each opera), every one is full of fresh insights and a deep understanding of the theatrical and cultural currency that Gilbert had inherited.

Gender, along with Genre and Parody, is the third prong of Williams’s argument. It is also the weakest. Her thesis is that Gilbert’s characters “perform” their genders, and that while Gilbert seems to affirm traditional gender roles, he also subjects them to critique. She falls very much in the camp that Gilbert’s old ladies are parodies of the traditional pantomime dame, and thus they should not be seen as evidence of misogyny.

As the proverb tells, when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Gender is Prof. Williams’s hammer, and some of her arguments are force-fit. She plainly concedes that Yeomen is less useful to her, because it is “less centrally dedicated to gender issues,” and this leads her to underrate the work. She appears to overrate The Grand Duke because it happens to be congenial to her agenda.

She is a bit over-fond of the word “meditation,” as in, “Barataria is well cast as the setting for a farcical meditation on republicanism”; or, “marriage comes into this meditation on corporate entities formed from the hypothetical union of individuals”; or, “this opening scene of marriage [can be] recognized as part of the opera’s meditation on identity.” I never realized Gilbert was meditating so much. (He “meditates” in other chapters too, but in The Gondoliers chapter he does it three times within five pages.)

Notwithstanding this verbal tic, the book is fully accessible to a non-academic. It is written in an approachable style that any educated reader can easily grasp. Williams rigorously cites her sources, as any academic should. She is fully up-to-date on recent G&S scholarship, and has consulted every previous book I’m aware of that is at all relevant. The endnotes alone take up 50 pages. I would have preferred that those with substantive content (as opposed to mere source citations) had appeared as footnotes. It becomes tedious (and I finally gave up) checking each note, to see if she was actually adding to her argument, or just giving credit.

The book is reasonably free of factual error. I encountered a slip or two, but nothing serious. Contrast this with Gayden Wren, who despite a lifetime in G&S performing and directing, wrote a similar (but less sophisticated) book with errors by the bucketful.

The book is lavishly illustrated, with 21 color plates and dozens more in black & white. Consider it essential.