Ruddigore


   

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Introduction

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 storm of 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.

Act I, opens with a scene in the fishing village of Rederring, in Cornwall, where an endowed corps of professional bridesmaids are on duty every day from ten to four, in case their services are required. They are hoping that "Sweet Rose Maybud" as she later describes herself to Mad Margaret, will marry and so make use of them, but Dame Hannah, Rose's aunt, enters and tells them that her niece is still heart-free. They then try to persuade Hannah to marry Old Adam, Robin's faithful servant, who loves her, but she points out that such a step is impossible as she is pledged to eternal maidenhood as a result of falling in love, many years before, with a youth who woo'd her under an assumed name; it transpired that he was Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, one of the bad Baronets of Ruddigore, and uncle of the present holder of the title, Sir Despard Murgatroyd.

The Murgatroyds were cursed by a witch whom the first Baronet burnt on the village green; from that time onwards each successive Baronet was compelled to commit one crime a day, or else die in torment.

Hannah suggests to Rose that young Robin Oakapple, a local farmer, would be a suitable match for her. Unknown to both of them the disguised Robin is in reality Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, the rightful Baronet who, twenty years ago, had fled from home in order to avoid inheriting the hideous title and had allowed his unsuspecting younger brother, Despard, to succeed in his place.

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 at
the result, Robin takes it well and praises Richard's good qualities when Rose begins to doubt the wisdom of her choice in marrying a poor mariner instead of a wealthy farmer.

Mad Margaret, wildly dressed, and an obvious caricature of theatrical madness, then enters and tells Rose, much to her surprise, that she loves Sir Despard Murgatroyd — "all mad girls love him", she explains. 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
twenty different regiments in the British Army during 1815; and in order to ascertain that every detail was correct Field Marshal Lord Wolseley had promised to inspect the uniforms, but being prevented he sent the Quartermaster-General, Sir Arthur Hebert, in his place. This, like the use of the fans in "The Mikado", is another instance of Gilbert's care for detail.

Sir Despard Murgatroyd, a tall and somewhat frightening figure in gleaming 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.
He is soon joined by Richard Dauntless who informs Sir Despard that his elder brother, Ruthven, did not die, as was commonly thought, but is alive and living in the village under the assumed name of Robin Oakapple, and hoping to marry Rose Maybud. Sir Despard is naturally delighted at the thought of transferring to his elder brother's shoulders the hideous thraldom under which he has laboured for so many years, and together they sing an amusing duet, "Duty, duty must be done".

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 and carry off a lady — any lady, and he obediently departs in search of one.

Meanwhile Sir Despard and Margaret come in, both dressed in sober black and present a strong contrast to their former appearance. Their duet, "I once was a very abandoned person", is highly entertaining with its comical dances ending with, "this sort of thing takes a deal of training!" The music is typical of Sir Despard's new calling of ruling a National School, the duties of which, after being a bad Baronet, he finds distinctly dull. They then persuade Robin to give up his evil ways and cease the misdeeds which, as Sir Despard points out, Robin has been committing — by attorney as it were—for ten years.

To Robin's annoyance Adam appears and announces that he has successfully carried off a lady and produces Dame Hannah! When she attacks Robin he 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 a duet, "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
as well. It is a good tune but possibly not so good as all that.

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 of all 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.
Another unfortunate incident that superstitiously-minded people looked upon as portending failure occurred on the night of production when early in the second Act two of the large pictures on the stage fell with a loud crash.

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 and again in February, 1924 and is now very popular; it is one of the regular series of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire. Gilbert himself included Ruddigore among his three favourites; the other
two being Utopia Ltd. and The Yeomen of the Guard.

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