Patience Trivia

Patience Trivia No. 1.

Patience was the sixth collaborative stage work by Gilbert and Sullivan. It opened on April 23, 1881, and had a run of 578 performances: longer than any previous G&S (the longest till then had been that of H.M.S. Pinafore, with 571) and later excelled only by The Mikado with 672.  Only one show had had a longer run in the history of the London musical theatre, Planquette’s operetta Les Cloches de Corneville with 705.

Patience Trivia No. 2.

Patience is, strictly speaking, the first Savoy Opera: it was transferred in the course of its run from the Opéra Comique theatre to the newly-built Savoy. The Savoy was the first theatre in London to have electric lighting, though gas lamps were installed as a failsafe. Two months after its opening, when the electric system was fully operational, Richard D’Oyly Carte demonstrated the safety of the new technology by wrapping an illuminated bulb in a handkerchief, breaking it with a hammer and displaying the unscorched cloth.

Patience Trivia No. 3.

The costume traditionally worn by Bunthorne, one of the poets in Patience, is a copy of Oscar Wilde’s famous outfit: floppy hat, big bow tie, velvet jacket and knee breeches, buckled shoes. The opera is a satire of the “aesthetic” movement in late-Victorian art and literature, in which Wilde was a central figure. To prepare American audiences for Patience, D’Oyly Carte persuaded Wilde to go on a lecture tour of the States, paying his expenses.

Patience Trivia No. 4.

The libretto of Patience contains numerous specific allusions to near-contemporary poetry in the “aesthetic” mode which the opera satirises. Lady Jane’s “Fools — fools and blind!” recalls a line from Swinburne: “Ye fools of fate: Ye fools and blind!”; and Bunthorne’s final lines “I shall have to be contented / With a tulip or lily” (rhyming with “die”) parodies the poem “Love-Lily” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which ends “Between the hands, between the brows, / Between the lips of Love-Lily”.

Patience Trivia No. 5.

Lieutenant the Duke of Dunstable is the only lead tenor part in the G&S canon without a self-contained solo number, but Gilbert originally wrote one for him: a cynical song proclaiming that men of rank can behave in ways that would not be tolerated in members of the lower orders: “Scandal hides her head abashed, Brought face to face with Rank and Money!” Sullivan’s setting is lost except for an accompaniment, but the melodic line has been conjecturally reconstructed and the number is now sometimes included in performances.

Patience Trivia No. 6.

The “Sir Garnet” mentioned in the Colonel’s first song in Patience is Field Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley, K.P., G.C.B., O.M., G.C.M.G., V.D., P.C., an Irish officer who served with outstanding distinction in the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, the Second Opium War in China, and numerous other campaigns. His “thrashing a cannibal” is a reference to his success in the Zulu War. He wrote an autobiographical memoir and works of military history, and had a reputation for smartness and efficiency. He is affectionately caricatured as Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance: “the very model of a modern Major-General”.

Patience Trivia No. 7.

Bunthorne: “Do you ever yearn?” Patience: “I earn my living.” This looks like a very poor pun, but it is much better than it appears: the process of causing milk to curdle by warming it with rennet, the first stage in making cheese, is called yearning or yirning — something which the dairymaid Patience would do regularly in the course of earning her living.

Patience Trivia No. 8.

In the original production of The Mikado, Ko-Ko (played by George Grossmith) carried an authentic Japanese sword, part of Gilbert’s own collection of Japanese curios. While being interviewed for a newspaper, Gilbert demonstrated this sword to the reporter, and claimed that it was this that had given him the idea of including an executioner among the opera’s characters.

Patience Trivia No. 9.

At the time of The Mikado, the rapidity and success with which Japan was transforming itself into a modern industrial state had led to a widespread popular interest in Japanese culture and a fashionable craze for collecting Japanese artefacts: Bunthorne’s line in Patience “I do not long for all one sees / That’s Japanese” is a sarcastic comment on this vogue. While the opera was being rehearsed, an elaborate Japanese exhibition opened at Knightsbridge, traditional arts and crafts being demonstrated by native Japanese in replica Japanese settings; and Gilbert hired members of this exhibition to teach Japanese movements and gestures to his cast.

Patience Trivia No. 10.

In the Bab Ballad “The Rival Curates”, the gentle clergyman Mr Clayton Hooper is furious at hearing of an even gentler clergyman, and sends his sexton and his beadle to bump him off if he does not agree to become less saintly: an idea which appears in a new guise in Bunthorne’s confrontation with Grosvenor in Patience.  The critic G.K. Chesterton commented that Gilbert had spoiled his own joke here: a fiery poet infuriated at being upstaged by a mild poet is certainly funny, but has not the inspired lunacy of a mild curate infuriated at being upstaged by a still milder curate.

Patience Trivia No. 11.

The original Fairy Queen, Alice Barnett, was nearly six foot tall and proportionally well-built: a fact which is pointedly referred to in her line “I see no objection to stoutness, in moderation” and the references to her curling up inside a buttercup, swinging upon a cobweb, etc.   She also created Lady Jane in Patience, who describes herself as “Not pretty – massive”.   The fact that she was much taller than George Grossmith, who played Bunthorne and the Lord Chancellor, added to the effectiveness of their comic interplay in both operas.

Patience Trivia No. 12.

Though Bunthorne in Patience traditionally wears a costume reminiscent of Oscar Wilde, his flamboyant personality and inflated literary style suggest a caricature of another representative of the aesthetic movement, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.  Swinburne and George Grossmith, who played Bunthorne in the original run, were both small and somewhat plain-featured men; prompting Gilbert to write, for Patience addressing Bunthorne, the lines “For you are hideous, undersized, And everything that I’ve despised!”  Those lines were cut before the first performance.