REVIEW OF AUSTRALASIAN PREMIERE OF 'THE GRAND DUKE'
"Bravo! amateurs. The praise is well deserved, for this is the third occasion on which the Amateur Operatic Society has "thrown convention to the winds," played an opera on lines of its own invention, and left it to a discriminating public to say whether it has done right or wrong. In the case of "The Monarch of Utopia," a local composition played some years ago, the financial part of the business was not altogether satisfactory. "Ruddigore," which followed later, caught the fancy of the public immediately, and proved one of the best paying speculations in the history of the society.
Now "The Grand Duke" submits his august self and court to criticism for the first time in the colonies. The performance of the opera may not reach the exacting standard of perfection set by its originators, Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan; it is not a professed attempt to do it better, or even as well, as a professional company, which is accustomed to this sort of thing every day of its existence, would do; but it is at least an honest endeavour on the part of the local society to give as faithful a representation as possible of a new and comparatively unknown work.
It is easy to discover the reason why this opera has not come out to the colonies before. It has been judged on its first act, which is an unwieldy piece of machinery in which all the complications of a particularly complicated book are hatched. Rather than alter Gilbert, managers fought shy of the piece altogether. But the second act is worthy of the best traditions of Gilbert and Sullivan conception. From out the fusty and tawdry surroundings of the impecunious German Court we are suddenly lifted into an atmosphere of Grecian art. The scene is a Greek hall, a study in pinks and grays and whites, where presently appear, threading their way among the splendid colonnades and statuary, Grecian men and maidens, carrying instruments of music and singing a Greek chorus. From this onward the opera moves with spirit and interest, and every moment some new melody or witticism charms or amuses. The whimsical Gilbert exhibits no weakening of his wit throughout the book, and he gets out of a most incomprehensible tangle of circumstances at the very end of the piece by one of his usual happy methods.
Sir Arthur Sullivan has given us some melodious numbers, best in the second part, but never dull or uninteresting, and if occasionally there is a haunting air of other days, or rather of other operas from his facile pen, the remembrance is not unwelcome. The orchestration is of a most delightful character, and the composer has given of his best in a number of choruses.
The story of "The Grand Duke, or the Statutory Duel," has already been told in these columns. Gilbert has certainly written better libretti, but his lyrics are good, and have been given with a lavish hand. For the fullest appreciation of the opera a higher plane of acting than amateurs can hope to attain, and an acquaintance with stage arts which only long practice could possibly give, is demanded. Therefore our amateurs are placed at a disadvantage in having to be judged upon the first production of a piece for which they have had no model for imitation, and few opportunities for rehearsals on a properly appointed stage. For this reason some of the performers were frequently inaudible last night, and some of the principals had obviously been unfortunate enough to catch "a fog (sic) in their throats." When they are free of colds, and that nervousness traditional to a first night, there are the highest prospects for a pleasant opera season.
The success of the evening was achieved by the Grand Duke himself (Mr. W.P. Bastin), who gave the best eccentric character study of many such that he has given in Wellington. The low-conditioned, avaricious ruler, with a permanent pain "in his internal economy," was reproduced with much force, and in the scenes with the well-groomed stage warrior Ludwig (Mr. W.D. Lyon), the contrast of character and make-up was strikingly effective. The part of Ludwig does not give Mr. Lyon the scope he has had in former Gilbertian characters, except in the second act, and here he exhibited much of his old fire and fun-making proclivities.
Mr. George parsons succeeded in losing his identity in teh part of the notary, Dr. Tannhauser, whose legal advice plays a prominent part in the plot, and he will do better vocal work when he recovers his voice.
Mr. E.J. Hill made an energetic theatrical manager (Ernest Dummkopk), and in the second part scored heavily with an interpolated song, "Julia, Darling Julia," a lyric written and composed specially for this production by Mrs. and Mr. Alfred Hill (of Sydney).
Another part which calls for special mention is that of the Prince of Monte Carlo (Mr. H. Plimmer), who, with the Princess (Miss Winnie Birch) and a motley retinue, made an effective entrance towards the end of the second act.
Miss Violet Mount made her debut in a playing part as the prima donna of the opera, Julia Jellicoe. Miss Mount's ability as a singer is well known, but as an actress she is unable, as yet, to give a particularly telling reproduction of a comedienne's part.
The soubrette Lisa was prettily represented by Miss Spiller, Miss Alice Maginnity took the unthankful part of a lady of uncertain age (Baroness Von Krakenfeldt), Miss Birch gave satisfaction in her small part, and various others filled minor roles.
Of the mounting and dressing of "Grand Duke," nothing but praise can be given. The scenic artist, Mr. Claude Whaite has scored a triumph, especially with the setting to the second act, which took twenty-five minutes to build up. It is one of the finest stage pictures ever seen at the Opera House.
The work of the chorus, taken as a whole, reflects credit upon the stage manager (Mr. Alf. Levi) and the conductor (Mr. Maughan Barnett). Mr F. Roberts was responsible for the mechanical effects. As to the work of the orchestra, which was of full operatic strength, and was led by Her M. Hoppe and Mrs. Levi, suffice it to say that Sir Arthur Sullivan's music was given with the very best effect.
"The Grand Duke" will be repeated this evening.
Wellington Evening Post. June 21t, 1900.
Editor's note: A few performances later the paper said "The piece went with much spirit, and the performers are now one and all familiar with their work, ensuring an even and satisfactory production. Encores were numerous, and handsome bouquets were handed out to Misses Mount and Spiller in recognition of their vocal efforts."
The Henry Company will open at the Opera House on Monday night in the farcical comedy "Charley's Aunt". Of a recent performance an exchange says:- "Mr. Haygarth, who enacts the role of a lady from Brazil, 'where the nuts come from", has a thorough conception of the immense possibilities for screaming comedy presented by the grotesquely ridiculous character, and, in addition, he possesses the nicely-balanced mental and physical capacity necessary to an artistic portrayal of the part. The clever comedian is supported by an excellent company, and the piece is well staged." The box plan for the season is to be seen at Holliday's.
Wellington Even Post. Saturday July 14th, 1900.
THE DOG SHOW
A record list of entries and a record in quality of dogs at tomorrow's show makes the members of the Committee of the Kennel Club on the best of terms with themselves, and they have good reason to be satisfied with their labours. At the Drillshed will be gathered many dogs that have been winners at the Crystal Palace (London), at Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Sydney, and Melbourne, and all the champion dogs of New Zealand. Scotch visitors to the show will see no less than nine Scotch terriers benched. A number of valuable imported dogs will also be included in the show,a nd the judges will be hard put to it to allot the prizes for the best dog shown. The entries for this prize include Mr. Paul Hunter's Belton Rock, a champion setter; Mr. Horrax's collies, Herward and Honeydew; Dr. Anson's Dandy Dinmont, Dr. Newman's wavy-coated retriever and Airedale, Mr. Webster's prize-taking fox-terrier, Mr. A. B. Sturat's deer-hounds and Scotch terriers.
Wellington Even Post. Thursday August 23rd, 1900..
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