"The Grand Duke"

or "The Statutory Duel"

Potted Plot|History|First Night Critics| Did You Know?| Original Cast| Behind the Scenes

Picture of first night programme

First performed at the Savoy Theatre, London, on the 7th March 1896

The market-place of Speisesaal, in the Grand Duchy of Pfennig Halbpfennig.

The members of a theatrical company, of which Ernest Dummkopf is the manager, are celebrating the forthcoming marriage of Lisa, the soubrette, to Ludwig, the principal comedian.

Several complications come to light. There appears to be a conspiracy to depose the Grand Duke and put Ernest Dummkopk in his place. Those involved with the conspiracy have a secret sign - the eating of a sausage-roll!

The Grand Duke Rudolph has summoned a convocation on all clergy to settle details of his own marriage to the wealthy Baroness von Krakenfeldt. That means no parson will be available to marry Lisa and Ludwig until 6pm. As the company are to presentTroilus and Cressidaat 7pm there is nothing for it but to have the wedding breakfast in advance.

Ernest arrives. He is confident that he will succeed Rudolph as Grand Duke. He agrees that members of his company will be given official positions if he is elected.

To Ernest's delight, the leading actress, the beautiful Julia Jellicoe, points out that as a leading lady she should become Grand Duchess.

Suddenly Ludwig arrives all agitated. He has given away the plot to the Duke's detective, mistaking him for a conspirator.v The Notary, however, has an idea. He points out that there is an old law involving a procedure known as the Statutory Duel. To avoid bloodshed the drawing of cards decides an issue. The loser is announced officially dead and the winner takes over all his assets and responsibilities. They will lull the Grand Duke's suspicions by letting it known that they, the actors, have discovered the plot. Ludwig and Ernest can fight a Statutory Duel. As the Act is due to expire the following day, the loser will shortly become 'officially' alive again. The duel takes place and Ludwig wins.

Enter the Grand Duke Rudolph. He is meanly and miserably dressed in old and patched clothes. He is also very weak and ill from low living. Rudolph congratulates himself on the fact that the Baroness's income is considerable while her ideas on economy are on a par with his own.

The Baroness, herself, appears with the news that she has discovered that Rudolph was betrothed in infancy to the Princess of Monte Carlo. Rudolph says that the contract will become void if the Princess has not married by the time she becomes of age - as she will do tomorrow.

Left alone, Rudolph reads the report of his private detective and is plunged into despair of the plot to depose him.

Ludwig comes along and seeing Rudolph in such a state suggests that the two of them fight a Statutory duel with cards. By cheating Rudolph shall be 'killed'. Ludwig will take his place and, when the law becomes void the next day, Rudolph can 'come to life' again.

In the presence of all the public they stage a violent quarrel. Rudolph draws a King. Ludwig draws an ace. Rudolph is 'killed' and Ludwig hailed as the Grand Duke in his place.

"Oh, a Monarch who boasts intellectual graces
can do, if he likes, a good deal in a day -
Can put all his friends in conspicuous places,
With plenty to eat and with nothing to pay!"

Julia Jellicoe points out that, as leading lady , she, and not Lisa, must now marry Ludwig. As Lisa goes off weeping the act ends.

Act two is set, the following morning, in the entrance hall of the Grand Ducal Palace.

All the members of the new court, wearing theirTroilus and Cressidacostumes, greet the newly-married Ludwig and Julia.

Lisa, still distressed at losing Ludwig, begs Julia to look after him dutifully.

An angry Baroness von Krakenfeldt bursts in. Ludwig tells her that the law about the Statutory Duel has not expired because he has revived it for another hundred years. Those who have been 'killed' remain dead. The Baroness is delighted. Ludwig has resumed all Rudolph's responsibilities so he is now bound to marryher. It is now Julia who is left weeping.

Ernest arrives to claim Julia but is informed by her that, as the law has been revived for another hundred years, he will remain legally 'dead'.

The Prince of Monte Carlo arrives with his daughter. He has invented the game of roulette and has made himself a fortune. He has brought his daughter who, still being under twenty-one, claims the Grand Duke in marriage.

All is resolved when the Notary appears and points out that there has been a mistake regarding Ludwig's card-duel with Rudolph. It seems that the ace must count as the lowest card. So, not having succeeded to the Dukedom, Ludwig has no power to revive the law.

All the couples happily pair off as the curtain falls.

Clickhere for a complete libretto to The Grand Duke.

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Patience Theatre Poster

On August 8th, 1895, Gilbert read Sullivan the first sketch of his latest opera, and left a copy for him to read over at his leisure. A few days later Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte met together to confirm that they would produceThe Grand Duke at the Savoy the following year.

While Gilbert worked on the new libretto, Sullivan went to Berlin to conduct the European première ofIvanhoe. It was not a great success.

Sullivan set about scoringThe Grand Duke in Berlin. When he returned to London he was anxious to begin working full time on the opera. In the meantime Carte brought backThe Mikado to fill the gap at the Savoy. The crowds flocked to this.

Gilbert was having great problems with the libretto to the new opera. He made so many alterations to the original plot that the whole work began to change dramatically - and not for the better!

In contriving the plot forThe Grand Duke, Gilbert drew upon two works by other authors - a short story calledThe Duke's Dilemma and a musical calledThe Prima Donna. Characters from both would eventually find their way into Gilbert's work.

One of the major devices of the libretto was the Anglo-German satire. The one 'English' character, Julia Jellicoe, was made to speak with a German accent while all the ostensibly German characters speak with English accents. Much is made of this in the dialogue.

The had the usual brilliant opening on March 7th, 1896, but collapsed at 123 performances, the shortest run of any Gilbert and Sullivan sinceThespis, their first, twenty-five years before. The Mikado came back and the takings at the Savoy soared again.

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First night critics


The Times
"The welcome accorded to a new Gilbert and Sullivan opera increases, perhaps not unnaturally, with each member of the famous series, and its warmth is all the greater on account of the regrettable intermissions in the partnership. But the former works themselves are, as usual, the severest critics of the newer; and, in the case of the opera produced on Saturday night, the recent revival of the best of the whole set inevitably provokes awkward comparisons. The Grand Duke is not by any means another Mikado, and, though it is far from being the least attractive of the series, signs are not wanting that the rich vein which the collaborators and their various followers have worked for so many years is at last dangerously near exhaustion. This time the libretto is very conspicuously inferior to the music. There are still a number of excellent songs, but the dialogue seems to have lost much of its crispness..."

Daily Chronicle
"Had Arthur Sullivan a reputation to make for vocal melody and graceful instrumentation, he could scarcely have submitted a better sample of workmanship than The Grand Duke. His music has all the olden attractiveness...For the time being he is the Sullivan of H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, and The Gondoliers."

"The first act contains a number of pretty choruses, some concerted vocal numbers as effective as usual, and a capital march of chamberlains, all neatly finished and in strict conformity with the pattern established for such things a good many years ago. That form of instrumental humour, in which Sir Arthur Sullivan has delighted ever since the famous 'bassoon joke' in The Sorcerer, finds excellent opportunity in a song in which the Grand Duke describes his ailments, to the accompaniment of some orchestral symptoms, so realistic as to be almost painful."

Sunday Times
"No number last night was more warmly applauded 'on its merits' than the superb (Act 2) processional chorus sung as the curtain rises on the lovely picture of the Grand Ducal Hall. This massive and impressive piece - worthy in every respect of the pen that wrote the choruses in The Martyr of Antioch- was splendidly given by the Savoy choristers. "

Musical Standard
"Mr. Gilbert is decidedly at his best in the second act, when we have left the tiresome Statutory Duet and Sausage Rolls far behind us. If the opera could only be compressed, for it becomes very wearisome in places."

"Walter Passmore, in the character of the stingy and dyspeptic grand duke comes nearer to Mr. Grossmith's level than he has done yet, and his delivery of the songs is in some respects very good."

Man of the World
"As the soubrette, Lisa, Florence Perry is delicious, but why does so sweet a morsel seek to add an inch to her altitude by wearing such monstrously ugly high heels to her shoes? The song, 'Take care of him - he's much too good to live', is one of the jewels of the piece, and it could not possibly have been delivered in better style."

Musical Standard
"The histrionic success of the piece is the English actress, Julia Jellicoe, of Mme. Ilka von Palmay. It was a whimsical idea to make the Germans speak pure English, and to give the part of the Englishwoman to a German singer...Mme. von Palmay has a pleasing voice of rare freshness, and her acting quite lifted the piece when she was on stage."

"That the new Savoy opera is a great success there can be no possible doubt. It may have faults; it may be inferior to more than one of its predecessors; but the fact remains that The Grand Duke is from first to last a delightful entertainment. It makes one glad that there are such men in the world as W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan - glad, above all, that they are once more pulling together in 'double harness'."

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Did you know?

In writing The Grand Duke Gilbert drew upon the work of other authors. The first was a short story called The Duke's Dilemma which was first published in 1853, and the second was a musical, based on the same source, entitled The Prima Donna. This had a short run in 1889.

New people had entered the company from time to time, and some the old ones were gone. Thus this opera was cast in a very different mold. A foreign actress, Ilka von Palmay, was imported to play Julia, on the theory that her accent would supply the seperation of languages that was needed between the citizens of Pfennig-Halbpfennig and Julia Jellicoe from England. She did well enough and stayed to play Elsie Maynard after The Grand Duke had closed.

Because of time restraints, very few of the Overtures were actually composed by Sullivan himself. Many were 'composed' by Hamilton Clarke but Sullivan did write three: Iolanthe, The Yeomen of the Guard and The Grand Duke.

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Behind the scenes

A few days after the opening ofThe Grand Duke, Sullivan went to the Riviera to recover from the ordeal of rehearsing a new opera with Gilbert in his now weakened condition. Shortly after his arrival he received a stinging letter from his still jealous former collaborator F.C. Burnand on the subject of Gilbert's libretto.
'Why reproach me?Ididn't write the book!! Another week's rehearsal with W.S.G. and I should have gone raving mad.'

Gilbert and Sullivan werenotworking well together in 1896 and the rehearsal text of the opera differs greatly from the version performed on the opening night. Songs that never made the final cut included "But half an hour ago I was a Ducal bride" (Julia, Baroness, Elsa, Ludwig and chorus); "He was my maiden's heart first Prince!" (Prince and Princess) and a trio followed by a quintete (Julia, Baroness, Elsa, Princess and Ludwig). The only number of the above that was partly set by Sullivan was the Quartet. Several verses in several numbers were also chopped.

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