The Grand Duke Trivia

The Grand Duke Trivia No. 1.

By far the least successful opera during the original sequence of Gilbert and Sullivan’s productions was their last joint work, The Grand Duke, which had a continuous run of only 123 performances. Previously, the shortest runs had been those of Utopia Limited (245), Princess Ida (246) and Ruddigore (288). Many critics and G’n’S enthusiasts consider The Grand Duke to be a much better work, both in itself and in comparison to the others, than those figures suggest; but at the time its failure was the death-blow to the partnership.

The Grand Duke Trivia No. 2.

The clever sequence of rhymes “matter – clatter – at her – batter – flatter – latter” in a chorus towards the end of The Sorcerer pales in comparison with a song in The Grand Duke which begins “Well, you’re a pretty kind of fellow, thus my life to shatter O!” and proceeds for three verses, each with six rhyming lines.  The last rhyme-word in each verse is “matter” and the word “chatter” is used twice, giving a total of fifteen rhymes – the longest such sequence in all Gilbert’s works.

The Grand Duke Trivia No. 3.

The most elaborate instance of Gilbert’s dramatic trick of introducing a major character in the second act is in The Grand Duke, where not one but a whole group of new characters, the Prince and Princess of Monte Carlo and their various attendants, make their first appearance half way through Act II.  Gilbert’s plan had been to persuade Richard Temple and Jessie Bond, who had created many parts in the earlier operas but had by then left the company, to appear as the Prince and Princess, but neither could (in Jessie’s case, because she was about to get married).  As a result, Gilbert drastically shortened the parts, losing what would have been several effective musical numbers.

The Grand Duke Trivia No. 4.

Gilbert only once hired a performer with an established international reputation to perform in his operas.  This was Ilka Palmay, a Hungarian singer who had played in Vienna, Prague and Berlin before being engaged by Gilbert to sing Julia Jellicoe, the principal soprano part in The Grand Duke.  The character is the leading lady in an acting company; and Gilbert made comic capital of Ilka Palmay’s foreign accent by making her an English actress in a German troupe.  Another character says “Her dramatic ability is so overwhelming that our audiences forgive even her strong English accent”!

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