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Adapted from the book "Tit-Willow or Notes and Jottings on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas" by Guy H. and Claude A. Walmisley (Privately Printed, Undated)
"RUDDIGORE, or the Witch's Curse", was produced at the Savoy Theatre on 22 January, 1887, but, unlike all its predecessors, it was not considered entirely successful on the first night of its production, and until Gilbert had effected some alterations there were certainly a number of points against it.
Perhaps the greatest mistake of all was the original spelling, Ruddygore,
which was looked upon with great disfavour by most of the papers, and
various first-nighters wrote to Gilbert complaining that the title was
unsuitable. So an "i" was substituted for the "y",
although at one time,
as Gilbert himself announced at a dinner given in his honour some nineteen
years later, "it was not generally known that, bending before the
Press execration aroused by the awful title, we were within an ace of
changing it from Ruddygore to Kensington Gore, or Robin and Richard were
two Pretty Men." But Sullivan and Carte persuaded him to leave the
title alone and merely alter the spelling of the word Ruddygore.
The Murgatroyds were cursed by a witch whom the first Baronet burnt on
village green; from that time onwards each successive Baronet was
compelled to commit one crime a day, or else die in torment.
Although Rose is deeply in love with the shy Robin she dare not hint as much to him as such an action is "contrary to etiquette!"
Robin's foster-brother, Richard Dauntless — a Man-o'-war'sman — who knows Robin's true rank, has just landed from his ship, the Tom-Tit, and, after greeting the bridesmaids, sings an amusing song — "I shipped, d'ye see, in a Revenue sloop". This song was misunderstood by the French and caused quite a storm across the Channel. The song is really a hit at the British who, according to Richard Dauntless, ran away from "the bold Mounseer" when they discovered she was not a harmless merchantman, but a frigate. The second verse ridiculed British bragging, but the French, not unnaturally, thought otherwise as they did not understand English humour, and could not conceive how Englishmen could possibly laugh at themselves — les fous Anglais!
After the song Richard dances a hornpipe and it is rather typical of Gilbert to produce a naval opera and a hornpipe and yet not have the hornpipe in the naval opera; one would have expected it to appear in"H.M.S. Pinafore".
Robin and Richard greet each other and the former explains that although
he is in love with Rose Maybud he cannot pluck up sufficient courage to
tell her so, owing to his being so diffident and shy; whereupon Richard
nobly promises to speak to her on Robin's behalf—with fateful results.
When Richard sees Rose he himself falls in love with her and, much to the
Bridesmaid's delight, they decide to get married. Although disappointed
Mad Margaret, wildly dressed, and an obvious
caricature of theatrical
madness, then enters and tells Rose, much to her surprise, that she
Sir Despard Murgatroyd — "all mad girls love him", she
As they leave, a chorus of Bucks and Blades enters, and it is interesting
to note that these fine gentlemen are dressed to represent officers of
Sir Despard Murgatroyd, a tall and somewhat frightening figure in
top boots, and carrying a hunting crop, enters and sings with the
chorus,"Oh why am I moody and sad ?" and goes on to explain
that it is because he
is thoroughly bad; when he approaches the girls they fly from him,
terror-stricken, and leave him alone on the stage.
Amongst other things the opera satirizes the stock Adelphi melodrama, popular at the time with William Terriss (Actor, 1852-1897) in the part of the hero, the "man who always did his duty", hence the above duet.
Sir Despard publicly claims Robin as his elder brother, the rightful Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd. Rose now shuns the former Robin and offers herself in marriage to Sir Despard but he explains to her that as he is now a virtuous person he must keep his vow to Margaret and marry her. Rose therefore gives herself to Richard as he is the only one left, and the Act ends with Rose and Richard, and Sir Despard and Margaret singing happily while poor Robin — the new bad Baronet — bewails his accursed fate.
The Second Act shows the Picture Gallery in Ruddigore Castle; the walls covered with full length portraits of the Baronets of Ruddigore from the time of James I.
Robin and Adam enter, greatly altered in appearance; the former wearing the haggard aspect of a guilty roué; the latter that of the wicked steward to such a man, and together they discuss the day's crime that has to be committed; but before they can decide on it Richard and Rose enter in order to ask Robin's consent to their marriage — he gives it.
When left alone Robin kneels and prays his ancestors to have mercy on him and free him from the curse. The stage darkens, and when it lightens again the Pictures are seen to have become animated; the figures step from their frames and march round the stage. The spectre of the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, the twenty-first Baronet, warns Robin that he cannot avoid his fate, and Sir Roderic then sings his magnificent ghost song — "When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls, and the bat in the moonlight flies". The music fits the words to perfection, the opening bars being most descriptive and the accompaniment unmistakably ghostly throughout. Afterwards the ghosts put the new Baronet through an examination of his daily crimes, but despite Robin's protestations they brush aside his misdeeds as being unworthy and order him to carry off a lady; when he refuses they commence the agonies and force their will upon him; in desperation he agrees, and they then return to their frames and become pictures once again.
Adam enters and is immediately ordered by Robin to go to the village
carry off a lady — any lady, and he obediently departs in search
To Robin's annoyance Adam appears and announces that he
carried off a lady and produces Dame Hannah! When she attacks
calls upon Sir Roderic to save him, and the ghost enters, from his
picture. He and Hannah recognise each other as old lovers and sing
"There grew a little flower 'neath a great oak tree".
Act II has a certain amount of false sentiment in it, and the coming of
Sir Roderic adds somewhat to the embarrassment without justifying his
participation in this sentimental duet. However the song itself is very
effective and, as in Act I, it is Sullivan again who saves the situation;
but possibly he found the task rather one-sided and onerous and that may
account for his using the Finale music of Act I for the Finale of Act II
When the duet is finished Robin informs Sir Roderic that to refuse to commit a daily crime is tantamount to suicide, but as suicide is itself a crime Sir Roderic ought never to have died at all, and so he is practically alive. He and Hannah embrace; Rose agrees to marry Robin as he is no longer a bad Baronet, while Richard takes the chief bridesmaid, and so ends the opera.
A point against Ruddigore, as originally produced, was the reanimation
the ghosts of the dead Murgatroyds in Act II; this however, was altered
and the ghosts were not brought back to life; the one exception being Sir
Roderic who had committed suicide.
However all the early stage troubles were soon righted and the opera, which at first was regarded by some of the critics as a failure, became quite successful — it ran for eight months and, with the sale of the libretto, put £7,000 into Gilbert's pocket. "A very successful failure", as he himself remarked some years later.
Ruddigore was revived at the Prince's Theatre in October, 1921
in February, 1924 and is now very popular; it is one of the regular
of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire.
Gilbert himself included Ruddigore among his three favourites;
Page Created 25 August, 2011