“The good Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbpfennig,
Though, in his own opinion, very very big,
In point of fact he’s nothing but a miserable prig
Is the good Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbpfennig!”
The Grand Duke
The Grand Duke or The Statutory Duel
March 7th through 30th, 2014
|Stage Director:||Joe Andrews|
|Music Director:||Lori Maxwell|
Our production of The Grand Duke was dedicated to the
memory of long-time and founding company member
The Grand Duke was the fourteenth and final collaboration between the Savoy masters, W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. (Of note, the opening night for The Grand Duke in 1896 was March 7th, exactly 118 years to the day for our opening night). While the operetta received good notices, it was the duo’s only financial failure.
The original production had (mostly) glorious music, and much of the score was used to great effect in Mike Leigh’s film Topsy Turvy, a must-see for G&S fans in particular, but a great movie by any measure. The libretto, though, was labored and the show itself clocked in at well over three hours. The Times said of the plot, “…the turning-point of (the) plot requires considerable intellectual application before it can be thoroughly grasped.” While one might level this criticism to any one of Gilbert’s plots, The Grand Duke storyline was particularly oblique and serpentine.
So, the GSVLOC made extensive revisions when they first mounted the production in 1991 – where I was fortunate enough to play Ludwig. The company tightened up the libretto even more in the 2003 production and added a trio from Utopia, Limited, (“With Wily Brain”) to remind the audience that “legally dead” Ernest and Rudolf still exist.
I mention all of this because I am not a particular fan of tinkering with libretti that have proven successful. The original version of The Grand Duke, however, needed doctoring.
For this production, I have moved the Grand Duchy, of 1750, to the mythical region of Ruritania in 1910. By setting the action in 1910, the rather generic theatrical troupe can be a light opera company that focuses on the works of G&S. Sound familiar?
As is a tradition with most G&S works, we have excised some of the “inside” jokes from 1896 and inserted ones appropriate for either 1910 or 2014. We exercised restraint … we think.
I would like to thank Holly Windle and Lesley Hendrickson for being gracious and clever contributors to this third round of rewrites. Listen closely to Act Two’s “At the Outset I May Mention,” to hear some of their finest work. Lori Maxwell, too, has been a game partner in this adventure. To each of my requests for extra fermatas, added vamps, additional scoring she always answers, “You bet! We can do that!”
I would particularly like to single out special gratitude for Stephen Hage, our Producer, for so patiently and helpfully responding to hundreds (literally) of emails from me over the last six months. He was my “sounding board” for each one of the countless changes I made. He offered expert opinion, on-going support and a lot of room for me to play, for which I’m very grateful. I hope you all enjoy this latest GSVLOC version of the final Savoy opera, The Grand Duke.
Scott Benson as the Grand Duke Rudolph and
Two excellent internet resources for information about The Grand Duke:
Photography by Daniels Studio
“Give thanks, give thanks to wayward fate by mystic fortune’s sway,
Our Ludwig guides the helm of State for one delightful day!
We hail you, sir! We greet you, sir!
Regale you, sir! We treat you, sir!
Our ruler he by fate’s decree for one delightful day!”
The Grand Duke