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Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan: His Life and Character Kindle Edition
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Andrew Crowther loves his subject but does not tarry over details, instead keeping the pace brisk and fresh. I have read numerous books on the subject but never before has Gilbert's personality been so clearly brought to life for me. Using the lightest of touches, the author manages to show us that Gilbert was, like Ralph Rackstraw, 'a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms'.
There are many interesting new snippets to add to the familiar events and bons mots. In particular, I was fascinated by the chapter on Gilbert's plot book for Iolanthe and how the opera seemed to take its familiar form comparatively late in the creative process. I had not known that the house we all know as Grim's Dyke had been previously known as Graeme's Dyke until Gilbert renamed it. Extraordinary that it cost only £30,000, even then. I had not heard Gilbert's retort before that he could justify flirting with young would-be actresses in The Flirtorium because he was 'too good to be true' to his wife, Lucy!
One tiny observation: Mr Crowther says that Mrs Howard Paul was 'edged out' of the first production of HMS Pinafore. My understanding has always been that she was taken very seriously ill and died not long after the First Night? It is interesting to speculate how the rest of the Savoy Operas might have developed had there continued to be two elderly ugly ladies rather than the usual one?! Gilbert was, after all, very loyal to his regular team at the Opera Comique and then the Savoy.
All in all, then, a very welcome addition to the bibliography of Gilbert, the Savoy canon and, it is worth adding, theatrical life in the second half of nineteenth century London.
He dismisses the "Gilbert kidnapped as a baby" story on the basis of "no written evidence". What written evidence was he expecting ? The Venice police would be unlikely to have a record that far back ! Isn't Gilbert's statement enough evidence ?
He comments that the existence of a family Bible proves that the Gilberts intended to have children. Not convincing - a family Bible was just a standard wedding present - everyone had one - and anyway, in Victorian times, there was an automatic assumption that marriages produced children. It was what marriage was for. (As it says in the Prayer Book !). I suppose the (unanswerable) question is - how hard they tried ?
I am always fascinated by the intensity of Gilbert's verse in the matter of impossible / unachievable loves. I had assumed something darker, but understand now that this must have referred to the string of young girls he was attached to while he was married.
I was surprised that the book did not note that "I have a song to sing O" has the distinction of both words and music being written by Gilbert !
Did Gilbert know that Captain Shaw would be in the audience of Iolanthe - or was it accidental ? I had hoped the book would answer this.
And - I was surprised not to see some popular myths about Gilbert at least mentioned - there is a common tale that Queen Victoria's "We are not amused" was said in reference to Pinafore (not true in fact, but commonly believed). The tale also asserts that Gilbert was not knighted because of "making fun of naval discipline" and that Queen Victoria personally rejected the knighthood because of that. Again - doubtful, but of interest as a belief.
It is fairly certain that Queen Victoria did not approve of Gilbert - in her diary, when Gondoliers was privately performed at Windsor, she records that Sir Arthur Sullivan's opera was performed, and makes no mention of Gilbert !
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