Our show for 2020 will be Ruddigore, which happened to be the opera written immediately after The Mikado. The Stage Director will be Patrick Monk and the Musical Director Ros Swetman.
We are looking for new members in all voices. If you would like to be part of this production, then please get in touch through the Contact page.
Ruddigore; or, The Witch's Curse, originally
called Ruddygore, is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Sir
Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It is one of the
Savoy Operas and the tenth of fourteen comic operas written together
by Gilbert and Sullivan. It was first performed by the D'Oyly Carte
Opera Company at the Savoy Theatre in London on 22 January 1887.
The first night was not altogether a success, as critics and the audience felt that Ruddygore (as it was originally spelt) did not measure up to its predecessor, The Mikado. After some changes, including respelling the title, it achieved a run of 288 performances. The piece was profitable, and the reviews were not all bad. For instance, the Illustrated London News praised the work of both Gilbert and, especially, Sullivan: "Sir Arthur Sullivan has eminently succeeded alike in the expression of refined sentiment and comic humour. In the former respect, the charm of graceful melody prevails; while, in the latter, the music of the most grotesque situations is redolent of fun."
There were further changes and cuts, including a new overture, when Rupert D'Oyly Carte revived Ruddigore after the First World War. Although never a big money-spinner, it remained in the repertoire until the company closed in 1982. A centenary revival at Sadler's Wells in London restored the opera to almost its original first-night state. In 2000, Oxford University Press published a scholarly edition of the score and libretto, edited by Sullivan scholar David Russell Hulme. This restores the work as far as possible to the state in which its authors left it and includes a substantial introduction that explains many of the changes, with appendices containing some music deleted early in the run. After the expiration of the British copyright on Gilbert and Sullivan works in 1961, and especially since the Sadler's Wells production and recording, various directors have experimented with restoring some or all of the cut material in place of the 1920s D'Oyly Carte version.
Original Programme Cover 1887
After The Mikado opened in 1885, Gilbert, as
usual, promptly turned his thoughts to finding a subject for a next
opera. Some of the plot elements of Ruddigore had been introduced by
Gilbert in his earlier one-act opera, Ages Ago (1869), including the
tale of the wicked ancestor and the device of the ancestors stepping
out of their portraits. Heinrich Marschner's 1828 opera, Der Vampyr,
involves a Lord Ruthven who must abduct and sacrifice three maidens
or die. Locals claim that the Murgatroyd ancestors in Ruddigore are
based on the Murgatroyd family of East Riddlesden Hall, West
Yorkshire. According to his biographers, Sidney Dark and Rowland
Grey, Gilbert also drew on some of his earlier verse, the Bab
Ballads, for some plot elements. The song "I know a youth who loves
a little maid," can be traced back to the Bab Ballad "The Modest
Couple", in which the very shy and proper Peter and Sarah are
betrothed but are reluctant to shake hands or sit side by side. Sir
Roderic's Act II "Ghost song" had its forerunner in one of Gilbert's
verses published in Fun magazine.
The opera also includes and parodies elements of melodrama, popular at the Adelphi Theatre. There is a priggishly good-mannered poor-but-virtuous heroine, a villain who carries off the maiden, a hero in disguise and his faithful old retainer who dreams of their former glory days, the snake-in-the-grass sailor who claims to be following his heart, the wild, mad girl, the swagger of fire-eating patriotism, ghosts coming to life to enforce a curse, and so forth. But Gilbert, in his customary topsy-turvy fashion, turns the moral absolutes of melodrama upside down: The hero becomes evil, the villain becomes good, and the virtuous maiden changes fiancés at the drop of a hat. The ghosts come back to life, foiling the curse, and all ends happily.
Sullivan delayed in setting Ruddigore to music through most of 1886. He had committed to a heavy conducting schedule and to compose a cantata, The Golden Legend, for the triennial Leeds Music Festival in October 1886. He also was squiring Fanny Ronalds to numerous social functions. Fortunately, The Mikado was still playing strongly, and Sullivan prevailed on Gilbert to delay production of Ruddigore. He got down to business in early November, however, and rehearsals began in December. During the Act II ghost scene, it would be impossible for the cast to see Sullivan's baton when the stage was darkened for the Ancestors' reincarnation. A technological solution was found: Sullivan used a glass tube baton containing a platinum wire that glowed a dull red.
The opera encountered some criticism from audiences at its opening on 22 January 1887, and one critic wondered if the libretto showed "signs of the failing powers of the author". After a run shorter than any of the earlier Gilbert and Sullivan operas premiered at the Savoy except Princess Ida, Ruddigore closed in November 1887, to make way for a revival of H.M.S. Pinafore. To allow the revival of the earlier work to be prepared at the Savoy, the last two performances of Ruddigore were given at the Crystal Palace, on 8 and 9 November. It was not revived in the lifetimes of the composer or author.
Ghosts Scene - 1921 Revival
In the town of Rederring, in Cornwall, a chorus of professional bridesmaids frets that there have been no weddings for the last six months. All of the eligible young men are hopeful of a union with Rose Maybud, the prettiest maiden in the village, yet they are too timid to approach her. The desperate bridesmaids ask Rose's aunt, Dame Hannah, if she would consider marrying, but she has vowed to remain eternally single. Many years previously, she had been betrothed to "a god-like youth" who turned out to be Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, one of the bad baronets of Ruddigore. Only on her wedding day had she discovered his true identity.
Dame Hannah tells the bridesmaids about the curse of Ruddigore. Centuries ago, Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, the first Baronet of Ruddigore, had persecuted witches. One of his victims, as she was burnt at the stake, cursed all future Baronets of Ruddigore to commit a crime every day, or perish in inconceivable agonies. Every Baronet of Ruddigore since then had fallen under the curse's influence, and died in agony once he could no longer bring himself to continue a life of crime.
After the horrified bridesmaids exit, Dame Hannah greets her niece, Rose, and asks whether there is any young man in the village whom she could love. Rose, who takes her ideas of 'right and wrong' from a book of etiquette, replies that all of the young men she meets are either too rude or too shy. Dame Hannah asks particularly about Robin Oakapple, a virtuous farmer, but Rose replies that he is too diffident to approach her, and the rules of etiquette forbid her from speaking until she is spoken to. Robin enters, claiming to seek advice from Rose about 'a friend' who is in love. Rose says that she has such a friend too, but Robin is too shy to take the hint. Rose's devotion to etiquette prevents her from taking the first step, and so they part.
Old Adam, Robin's faithful servant, arrives and addresses Robin as Sir Ruthven (pronounced "Rivven") Murgatroyd. Robin reveals that he is indeed Sir Ruthven, having fled his home twenty years previously to avoid inheriting the Baronetcy of Ruddigore and its attendant curse. He tells Adam never to reveal his true identity. Now Richard Dauntless, Robin's foster-brother, arrives after ten years at sea. Robin tells him that he is afraid to declare his love to Rose, and Richard offers to speak to her on his behalf. When Richard sees Rose, however, he falls in love with her himself and proposes immediately. After consulting her book of etiquette, Rose accepts. When Robin finds out what has happened, he points out his foster-brother's many flaws through a series of backhanded compliments. Realising her mistake, Rose breaks her engagement with Richard and accepts Robin.
Mad Margaret appears, dishevelled and crazed. She has been driven to madness by her love for Sir Despard Murgatroyd, the "Bad Baronet." She is jealously seeking Rose Maybud, having heard that Sir Despard intends to carry Rose off as one of his daily 'crimes'. Rose tells her, however, that she need not fear, as she is pledged to another. They leave just in time to avoid the arrival of the Bucks and Blades, who have come to court the village girls, followed by Sir Despard, who proceeds to frighten everyone away. He muses that, although he is forced by the family curse to commit a heinous crime every day, he commits the crime early, and for the rest of the day he does good works. Richard approaches him and discloses that Despard's elder brother Ruthven is alive, calls himself Robin Oakapple, and is going to marry Rose later that day. The elated Despard declares himself free of the curse, as he can now transfer the baronetcy to his brother.
The village gathers to celebrate the nuptials of Rose and Robin. Sir Despard interrupts, revealing that Robin is his elder brother and must accept his rightful title as the Bad Baronet. Rose, horrified at Robin's true identity, resolves to marry Despard – who refuses her. Now free of the curse, the ex-baronet takes up with his old love and fiancée Mad Margaret, who is ecstatic. Rose then accepts Richard, as he 'is the only one that's left'. Robin leaves to take up his rightful identity as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd.
At Ruddigore Castle, Robin (now Sir Ruthven) tries to come to grips with being a bad baronet, a task at which he proves to be spectacularly lacking. Old Adam suggests various evil crimes but Robin prefers minor acts that are not criminal but 'simply rude'. Richard and Rose enter to ask Robin's consent to their marriage, which he gives grudgingly.
Robin's weak crimes stir his ancestral ghosts from their usual haunt of the castle's portrait gallery. The curse requires them to ensure that their successors are duly committing a crime every day, and to torture them to death if they fail. They inquire as to Robin's compliance with this requirement. They are not pleased to learn that the newly-recognised baronet's crimes range from the underwhelming (filing a false income tax return: 'Nothing at all', say the ghosts; 'Everybody does that. It's expected of you.') to the ridiculous (forging his own will and disinheriting his unborn son). Robin's uncle, the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, orders him to 'carry off a lady' that day or perish in horrible agony. After the ghosts treat him to a sample of the agonies he would face, Robin reluctantly agrees. He tells Adam to go to the village and abduct a lady – 'Any lady!'.
Despard has atoned for his previous ten years of evil acts and has married Mad Margaret. The two of them now live a calm, dispassionate life of moderately-paid public service. They come to the castle and urge Robin to renounce his life of crime. When Robin asserts that he has done no wrong yet, they remind him that he is morally responsible for all the crimes Despard had done in his stead. Realising the extent of his guilt, Robin resolves to defy his ancestors.
Meanwhile, Adam has complied with Robin's orders but has unfortunately chosen to abduct Dame Hannah. The Dame proves formidable indeed, and Robin cries out for his uncle's protection. Sir Roderic duly appears, recognises his former love and, angered that his former fiancée has been abducted, dismisses Robin. Left alone, he and Dame Hannah enjoy a brief reunion. Robin interrupts them, accompanied by Rose, Richard and the bridesmaids. He quibbles that, under the terms of the curse, a Baronet of Ruddigore can die only by refusing to commit a daily crime. Refusing is therefore "tantamount to suicide", but suicide is, itself, a crime. Thus, he reasons, his predecessors "ought never to have died at all."* Roderic follows this logic and agrees, stating that he is "practically" alive.
Now that Robin is free of the curse, Rose once again drops Richard and happily resumes her engagement to Robin. Roderic and Dame Hannah embrace, while Richard settles for the First Bridesmaid, Zorah.
Note: In the original ending, all of the ghosts came back to life. In the revised ending substituted by Gilbert after the premiere, only Sir Roderic comes back to life.