Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sunday Classics Preview: "This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter"


As if last night's clip of the "Paradox" trio from the New York Shakespeare Festival film version of The Pirates of Penzance wasn't alarming enough, they also managed to shoehorn in a clumsy rewrite of the patter trio from Ruddigore for Frederic (Rex Smith), the Pirate King (Kevin Kline), and Ruth (Angela Lansbury).

by Ken

In last night's preview I offered ventured that what Arthur Sullivan, the composing half of the Gilbert and Sullivan team, "did better than most anything, and than most anybody," is writing trios. Tonight we have another one, as we revisit some old friends, the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore. You may recall lived under a witch's curse -- as in Ruddigore; or, The Witch's Curse -- which distinctly reminded me of a certain seemingly compulsively law-breaking American president and vice president. As Dame Hannah explains the curse early in Act I:
Each lord of Ruddigore,
Despite his best endeavour,
Shall do one crime or more,
Once every day forever!

This doom he can't defy,
However he may try,
For should he stay
His hand, that day
In torture he shall die!

Monica Sinclair (c), Dame Hannah; Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 11-14, 1962

The dramatis personae of our trio tonight, which comes from well into Act II, in fact includes not one but two lords of Ruddigore: the current one, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, and his younger brother and immediate predecessor, Sir Despard. Despard, we learned in Act I, had been shanghaied into acceding to the title upon the disappearance and presumed death of Ruthven (pronounced "Rivven"), the rightful heir. However, by the end of Act I he had been freed from "this doom" by the revelation that Ruthven didn't die, but merely fled -- into the picturesque guise of a humble farmer, Robin Oakapple. Robin, er Ruthven, was forthwith restored to his rightful accursèd title. (In his first week on the job, he has proved himself a singularly inept Bad Baronet, a point driven home by a visit from the ghosts of his awful ancestors, who at such strategic moments emerge from the frames of the portraits of them hanging in the castle picture gallery.)

Freed of the curse, Despard has shed his evil ways and even married Mad Margaret, the young woman he so cruelly led astray in his days of Bad Baronetcy. Now the good Murgatroyds, Despard and Margaret (the stage direction says, "They are both dressed in sober black of formal cut, and present a strong contrast to their appearance in Act I"), who "rule a national school," have arrived to importune their errant relation to give up his evil ways, and have been so successful that in this trio Ruthven declares himself prepared to confront the ghost of their formidable uncle, Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, the last really Bad Baronet.

Ruddigore: Act II, Trio, "My eyes are fully open"

ROBIN. My eyes are fully open to my awful situation --
I shall go at once to Roderic and make him an oration.
I shall tell him I've recovered my forgotten moral senses,
And I don't care twopence-halfpenny for any consequences.
Now I do not want to perish by the sword or by the dagger,
But a martyr may indulge a little pardonable swagger,
And a word or two of compliment my vanity would flatter,
But I've got to die tomorrow, so it really doesn't matter!
DESPARD. So it really doesn't matter --
MARGARET. So it really doesn't matter --
ALL. So it really doesn't matter, matter, matter, matter, matter!

MARGARET. If I were not a little mad and generally silly
I should give you my advice upon the subject, willy-nilly;
I should show you in a moment how to grapple with the question,
And you'd really be astonished at the force of my suggestion.
On the subject I shall write you a most valuable letter,
Full of excellent suggestions when I feel a little better,
But at present I'm afraid I am as mad as any hatter,
So I'll keep 'em to myself, for my opinion doesn't matter!
DESPARD. Her opinion doesn't matter --
ROBIN. Her opinion doesn't matter --
ALL. Her opinion doesn't matter, matter, matter, matter, matter!

DESPARD. If I had been so lucky as to have a steady brother
Who could talk to me as we are talking now to one another --
Who could give me good advice when he discovered I was erring
(Which is just the very favour which on you I am conferring),
My existance would have made a rather interesting idyll,
And I might have lived and died a very decent indiwiddle.
This particularly rapid, unintelligible patter
Isn't generally heard, and if it is it doesn't matter!
ROBIN. If it is it doesn't matter --
MARGARET. If it is it doesn't matter --
ALL. If it is it doesn't matter, matter, matter, matter, matter!

John Reed (b), Robin Oakapple (Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd); Jean Allister (c), Mad Margaret; Kenneth Sandford (bs-b), Sir Despard Murgatroyd; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

George Baker (b), Robin Oakapple (Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd); Pamela Bowden (c), Mad Margaret; Owen Brannigan (bs), Sir Despard Murgatroyd; Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 11-14, 1962

Following the same backwards procedure we used last night with The Pirates of Penzance, now we're going to listen to the Overture to Ruddigore, where you're going to hear some familiar music, at 3:48 of the Godfrey recording, 3:42 of the Sargent.

Ruddigore: Overture (later version)

(I should explain that by "later version" I mean the Overture that's generally performed with the operetta. Following the not-wildly-successful premiere of Ruddigore, which had the misfortune to be the piece that immediately followed the unprecedentedly triumphant run of The Mikado, the creators did some major revisions, including cutting a number that figured prominently in the original Overture. Another number that was included became a common omission from performances.)

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 1962

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Nov. 3, 1960


We dip into one of the all-time supreme stage entertainments, The Mikado, through the medium of the trio (and the "expanded" trio).


Again, a reminder that the March 21-23 posts focusing on the first two of Chopin's preludes, with performances of them by (count 'em) seven distinguished pianists, have been upgraded to include (I hope) actually playable audio clips! (What'll they think of next?)


The new and boldly improved version of the list is here.

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