REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » SULLIVAN: Ile Enchantee (L') / Thespis
Arthur Sullivan returned
to England from his studies at the Leipzig Conservatoire in 1861. His diploma work
- a set of incidenta.l music to Shakespeare's Tempest
- was performed the following year and won immediate recognition for the
nineteen-year-old composer. His success was something of an embarrassment to
the musical establishment - how should they capitalise
on such success? He soon established a reputation for ballads and art songs and
he took the post as organist of a fashionable West End church. He was known to be working on a symphony and there were rumours of a grand opera. Despite this his only regular
musical employment was as an organist and general music factotum behind the
scenes at Covent Garden.
In the late 19th century
it was Covent Garden's policy to insert a ballet in any opera that did not
possess one, and either used an existing work or commissioned a new one. This
led to Sullivan's second work, a ballet score entitled L'lle
Enchantée, and it made its debut on Monday May 16th,
1864 as the divertissement at the end of Bellini's La
Sonnambula. It attracted much favourable
comment and Sullivan decided to shorten its thirteen sections, changed the
order, and managed to have it included in concert programmes
at Crystal Palace. However within three years, Covent Garden, Crystal Palace
and the composer had between them totally lost the autograph score. Fortunately
a set of orchestral parts existed, and these have now been edited by Roderick
Spencer and Selwyn Tillett,
and they have restored the passages cut by Sullivan for concert performances in
order to recreate the original ballet score. In June 1990 the Sir Arthur
Sullivan Society Festival staged the first performance since 1867, and this is
the world premiere recording.
The story of the ballet
is a slight one. A shipwrecked mariner is washed up on the shore of an
enchanted island peopled only by gnomes and fairies. The fairy queen is so
taken with him that she transports him to her magic bower, where most of the
other fairies also fall in love with him. Despite temptations by one more
persistent than the rest, he has eyes for no-one but the queen, and eventually
makes her mortal by a kiss.
It is in thirteen
sections and must certainly have formed quite a large part of the evening's
performance. Sullivan left a delightful description of the way such music had
to be tailored to fit the movement of scenery at Covent Garden, and he even
responded to a request to include a few bars to depict the beautiful scenery.
Sullivan began his
famous collaboration with W.S. Gilbert at the Gaiety Theatre in the 1860's. The
Gaiety subsisted on a mixture of extravaganza and burlesque, the theatre's
staging and spectacle being particularly lavish at Christmas when a new operatic
novelty was produced - effectively a superior pantomime. On Boxing Day 1871
Gilbert and Sullivan produced Thespis or The Gods
Grown Old, an 'opera' which dealt flamboyantly with a troupe of strolling
players required to assume the duties of the gods of Mount Olympus for a year.
The famous comedian-singer, J.L. Toole, starred as Thespis, the leader of the troupe, with a railway song that
was an enormous success. Nelly Farren, another
popular member of the Gaiety Theatre, was the chirpy Mercury, while Sullivan's
brother Fred was the ageing Apollo. In common with all mock opera-bouffes, an interpolated ballet allowed the theatre's
professional dancers to showoff their legs.
The speed with which the
work had to be produced - Gilbert indicated that writing, rehearsal and
production took no longer than five weeks - demanded that Sullivan should
plunder his previous compositions to find sufficient music for the evening. How
much was original we will never know.
Despite playing longer
than most of that year's London pantomimes, Thespis
was not a lasting success. Charitable critics complained that Gilbert's text
was too erudite for a Gaiety audience, while the costumes were "more than
usually indecent". In the following heyday of their ultra-respectable
Savoy Theatre, both Gilbert and Sullivan conveniently forgot their earlier days
in burlesque. One song from Thespis did find its way
into print and a chorus was transplanted into Pirates of Penzance.
Otherwise even in Sullivan's lifetime the music was known to have
'disappeared'. He is believed to have claimed that the best part of it had been
used up in other works. Consequently many attempted reconstructions have simply
re-set Gilbert's original words to Sullivan's melodies from later operas, but
true fragments of the original score have been sought in vain.
It was while assembling
the papers referring to his second ballet Victoria and Merrie
England that his secretary Wilfred Bendall included a
manuscript whose heading read 'Act 2. Ballet No. 1'. In the L'lle
Enchantée collection he also included - in the hand
of the same copyist as the part included in Victoria - two pieces describing
themselves as 'Act 2. Ballet No. 3' and 'Galop'. Of
these only the Galop was known to belong to L'lle, but here it appears in a truncated score for a small
pit orchestra rather than in the version for large forces used at Covent
Garden. These three pieces, though they were now separated, were clearly
identified by their page numbers as being Nos. 1, 3 and 5 of a ballet, but from
the page numbers the length of Nos. 2 and 4 could be calculated.
The designation 'Act 2'
shows this ballet belonged to some kind of opera, for Sullivan divided his
early ballets into 'scenes', while his incidental music for plays is well
documented. Indeed the only opera - if we can call it that - to which this
could belong is Thespis. Final confirmation of this
piece of detective work comes in the only undoubted part of Thespis
- the opening of the chorus 'Climbing over rocky mountains' which forms part of
the autograph score of The Pirates of Penzance, and
that is in the hand of the same copyist. Examining drawings of the Thespis rehearsals revealed the presence of a harp, most
unusual in an orchestra at the Gaiety, and also of a comic dragon scene. There
is another dragon scene in Victoria which used the music from scene 4 of L'lle, while the use of harp and the length of the piece
would fit perfectly with part of the second section of L'lle.
The lost ballet from Thespis could at last be
reconstructed, and now it receives its first recording.
RTE Concert Orchestra
The Radio Television
Concert Orchestra, Radio Telefis Eireann,
in Dublin is a body of amazing versatility. Founded in 1948, the orchestra has
played a major rô1e in broadcast and televised music, in addition to frequent
appearances in the concert hall, winning critical acclaim equally for music as
diverse as a Shostakovich symphony or support for the
Eurovision Song Contest. The RTE Concert Orchestra gives about eighty concerts
a year in the Dublin National Concert Hall and throughout Ireland and has
undertaken a number of successful foreign tours, including a series of 63
concerts in a 75-day tour of the United States and appearance at the Seville
Andrew Penny was born in
the East coast English city of Hull and initially studied clarinet at the Royal
Northern College of Music in Manchester, where he also worked as a conductor
with the Opera Unit. The newly established Rothschild Scholarship in Conducting
led to study with Sir Charles Groves and Timothy Reynish
and work as assistant conductor with Sir Charles Groves, Richard Hickox and Eigar Howarth. Winner of the prestigious Ricordi
Conducting Prize, he achieved his first major success when he conducted the
Vaughan Williams opera Riders to the Sea at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London.
In 1982 he became conductor of the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra and has appeared
with many orchestras, including the BBC Philharmonic and the Ulster Orchestra.
Last Albums Viewed
SULLIVAN: Ile Enchantee (L') / Thespis