The Grand Duke

The Decision to Produce The Grand Duke

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company was founded with the intention to produce all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, including the lesser known and rarely performed Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke

The company made its first attempt to produce one of these operettas with its 1988 production of Utopia, Limited.

Early in the rehearsal process, however, the company began to understand why Utopia, Limited had a reputation for being problematic and why it was so seldom performed.  The operetta’s dialogue is overwritten, it includes some poor music, contains unfinished plot lines and is simply too long.  Zoe Kuester, the production’s Stage Director, and Wendy Evans, the Artistic Director, did what they could to make the piece performable by cutting some lines of the excessive dialogue and trimming a third verse from two or three songs.  Unfortunately, their well-intended efforts were “too little, too late.”

The company produced Utopia, Limited and it was politely received, but the company members fully understood that the piece was substantially inferior to the other Gilbert and Sullivan operettas that the company had produced and there was little desire ever to do it again.

By 1990, the company had produced every other Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and had to decide whether or not it would attempt to produce The Grand Duke, Gilbert and Sullivan’s other “problematic” operetta. 

The company decided to do so, understanding that they were taking on a significant challenge.  Beyond that of Utopia, Limited, The Grand Duke had a particularly negative reputation.  Author Thomas F. Dunhill once wrote, “In justice to Sullivan’s memory as well as Gilbert’s, it is to be hoped that The Grand Duke will never be heard again;” music critic Paul Hume wrote, “Gilbert and Sullivan should have stopped sooner.”

After the company’s experience with Utopia, Limited, however, the company had learned its lesson and understood that in order to attempt to produce The Grand Duke successfully, it needed to edit, rewrite and revise the piece in advance.  Like Utopia, Limited, The Grand Duke suffered from excessive dialogue, it included some very poor music, and was significantly too long. 

A “rewrite committee” of company members, including Wendy Evans, Stephen Hage, Dean Laurance, Stephen B. Sullivan and Holly Windle, was assembled in the summer of 1990, to take on that task. 

After several months of work, the committee produced a revised libretto which was used for a very well received production of the operetta in the spring 1991.  This production of the revised operetta was so successful that the company had no hesitation in producing The Grand Duke again in 2003 and for a third time in 2014.

Revising The Grand Duke

The process of revising The Grand Duke began with editing the text.  As noted above, the operetta’s dialogue is overwritten and the task of deleting a significant amount of the excessive text, along with some minor textual revisions, was an obvious first step. 

Second, the committee deleted some of the operetta’s music.  Four songs were cut entirely, including the Act I quintet for Ludwig, Lisa, The Notary, Ernest and Julia, “Strange the Views Some People Hold,” Rudolph’s song, “When You Find You’re a Broken-Down Critter,” Julia’s song, “Ah, Pity Me, My Comrades True,” and Lisa’s Act II song, “Take Care of Him.”  The committee also cut some portions of longer pieces, including portions of extended recitatives, as well as the Notary’s third verse from “Now Take a Card and Gaily Sing” and the second verse of Rudolph and Ludwig’s song, “Big Bombs, Small Bombs.” 

The committee made a point of retaining two songs that are often cut in attempts to revise The Grand Duke, feeling strongly that both are two of the best songs in the operetta.  They include the Baroness’ champagne song, “Come Bumpers Aye Ever So Many,” and the Prince of Monte Carlo’s roulette song, “Take My Advice When Deep in Debt.” 

Third, in his book, “Gilbert and Sullivan Production,” (Kline, Peter, Gilbert and Sullivan Production, Richards Rosen Press, Inc. New York, 1972.) Peter Kline argued that, in the final scene, it was disappointing for Rudolph to be paired with the Princess while the Baroness is left alone.  He felt that it was important “to keep Rudolph and the Baroness together, as they seemed such an appropriate couple and separating them was quite a jarring note.”  The committee agreed with Kline and rewrote the ending of the piece to make it possible for Rudolph and the Baroness to remain together.  While the Princess is not paired with anyone at the end of the operetta, she’s portrayed as happily remaining with her father, the Prince.  (GSVLOC Revised Libretto, page 52)

The completion of these three steps resulted in the version of The Grand Duke that the company produced successfully in 1991. 

When the company began planning its 2003 production, the reassembled “rewrite committee” decided to make a fourth major revision.  In his book, Kline also pointed out that one of the structural flaws of the operetta “is that three of its most interesting characters” … Rudolph, Ernest and the Notary … “virtually disappear in the second act,” reappearing only just before the Act II Finale.  Kline suggested adding into the operetta a scene in which these three characters develop their plot as to how they will overthrow Ludwig.  He suggested adding into Act II the comic trio, ”With Wiley Brain,” from Utopia, Limited, along with some preceding dialogue..  Kline provided some dialogue, which the committee substantially revised.  In the end, “With Wiley Brain” was a successful addition to the 2003 production.  (GSVLOC Revised Libretto, pages 40-43)

Sharing Our Revision of The Grand Duke

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company is very proud of its successfully produced revision of The Grand Duke.  As a part of its mission to encourage the sharing of the wonderful works of Gilbert and Sullivan with new audiences, wherever they may be, the company invites other companies to use its rewritten version of The Grand Duke if they are interested in producing the operetta.

The Grand Duke as revised by The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company (Adobe PDF document – 53 pages)

 

The company’s only requests are to be notified that its revised script is going to be used in a production and that there be an acknowledgement of The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company in the show program and website.

A Distinctly Different Third Production

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s third production of The Grand Duke was distinctly different than the previous two.  Director Joe Andrews decided to take the show in a new direction.  Given the fact that the Company had already taken a great deal of license in revising and rewriting the operetta, Mr. Andrews felt that he had a unique opportunity to be particularly creative and innovative with this work, in a way that wouldn’t have been considered with one of the classic, better known works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Mr. Andrews first decided to give the production something of a Dr. Seuss flavor.  This concept was realized in everything from Larry Rostad’s whimsical set design to Tom Lydeen’s delightful costuming.  The show’s poster, with its original artwork, was designed to look as if it might have been the cover of a Dr. Seuss book.  In addition, Mr. Andrews added a number of Dr. Seuss references into the script.  The name of the town in which the operetta takes place was changed from Speisessal to Geisal.  Ludwig referred to the Grand Duke as the “Grand Grinch” instead of the “little imp.”  Prior to singing,“How Would I Play This Part?,” Julia muses, “Oh, the places I’d go!”  The Grand Duke’s newspaper biography was no longer entitled, “Our Detested Despot,” but became “The Geisal Grinch.”  Ernest’s inquiry about “roast pheasant,” became an inquiry about “roast beast.”  Finally, Mr. Andrews had one of the chorus women engage in a great deal of stage business with a very large, red Christmas ornament reminiscent of Cindy Lou Who.

The more significant revision, however, was Mr. Andrews decision to make this production of The Grand Duke, Gilbert and Sullivan’s final operetta, into a delightful homage to the full body of the famous duo’s work.

The first step was to transport The Grand Duke from its original setting in 1750 to 1910.  This made it possible for Ernest Dumpkopf’s theater company to become a light opera company that included in its repertoire the works of Strauss and Lehar, but now was about to produce Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience.  In order to avoid the political realities of Germany in 1910, Mr. Andrews described this version of The Grand Duke taking place in a Ruritanian, or clearly fictional version of Germany.  As a result, this revision of the script came to be known to the Company as the “Ruritanian Version.”

Gilbert and Sullivan had established something of a precedent of referring to their works themselves, with their reference to H.M.S. Pinafore in The Pirates of Penzance and the references to H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado in Utopia, Limited.  Mr. Andrews’ revisions to The Grand Duke made reference to almost the entire canon of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works.

This revised version of the operetta began with the announcement that Ernest Dumpkopf’s company was about to open their new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience. This, despite the Notary mentioning that he preferred The Pirates of Penance.  Additions to the text included three references to the famous, “What never?” line from H.M.S. Pinafore, as well as the quote, “You are my daughter after all!”

In his song, “Were I a King” Ernest declared that “E won’t sing Pirate King unless his grandmother plays Mabel.”  He went on to describe the English actress Julia as the one “who broadened our already considerable repertoire with the brilliant works of Gilbert & Sullivan.”  Ernest also described the law regarding statutory duels as “topsy-turvy.”

When the chorus appeared at the top of Act II, they were wearing the company’s costumes from Patience.  The women were costumed as Rapturous Maidens and the men were costumed as Dragoon Guards.  Ludwig entered costumed as Bunthorne with Julia costumed as Patience.  Julia later quotes a line from Patience, “And ain’t his voice hollow! Hollow, hollow, hollow … !”

The two most significant nods to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan took place in Act Two.  One was in the Wild Dance that greets the arrival of the Monte Carlo party.  In this production of the operetta, the theater company raids their costume collection and appears before the Monte Carlo party as characters from many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, including The Pirates of Penzance, Iolanthe, The Gondoliers, The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Yeomen of the Guard.

The most delightful revision in this production, however, was that made to Ludwig’s song, “At the Outset I May Mention,” brilliantly rewritten by Holly Windle and Lesley Hendrickson.  This revised version of the song describes the theater company’s intention to adopt a Gilbert and Sullivan lifestyle and to share the joys of the famous duo with the world!  The text of this delightfully revised song are included below.

Ludwig:

At the outset I may mention it’s my sovereign intention
         To extoll the operettas widely known as “G and S.”
I am very fond of Friml and Lehar, but—Gott in Himmel!—
         They just lack a certain something these two Englishmen possess.
My official court dispatches will be ballads, songs, and snatches,
         And I’ll mandate Gilbert’s verses to be taught in every school.
Savoyard light opera whizzes will do lectures and pub quizzes,
         In this model of a modern major duchy that I’ll rule.
If you do not care a filbert for the clever words of Gilbert,
         Why then, Sullivan will charm you with his grand and graceful tunes.
Amid trumpets and confetti, we’ll distribute the libretti
         And encourage public sing-alongs on Sunday afternoons.

At this juncture I may mention
         G &S may have their faults:
Words too dense for comprehension,
         Style more cynical than schmaltz.
But with arias romantic,
Trysts both amorous and antic,
Rapid patter that’s pedantic,
         We forgo a mushy waltz.

Chorus:

We have arias romantic
Trysts both amorous and antic,
Rapid patter that’s pedantic,
         So we hardly miss a waltz.

Ludwig:

We have Patience in position to commence this noble mission,
         And with newly-found resources we will soon present the rest.
We will start off with the sure ones, but we’ll never shun obscure ones
         Like Utopia (the next-to-last), although it’s not their best.
For each one is quite rewarding, even worthy of recording,
         But technology is primitive; it’s only 1910!
You’ll see Gondoliers in Venice, with that baby-swapping menace
         As a plot device from Pinafore that Gilbert used again.
Princess Ida, Trial by Jury, Iolanthe. There’s no hurry.
         Can we find the score for Thespis? (That’s their first and rather weak.)
Yeomen, Sorcerer, Mikado, Pirates, too—with much bravado,
         And their final one, Grand Duke, of which it’s best we do not speak.

I have called to your attention
         What some may construe as faults:
Words too dense for comprehension,
         Style more cynical than schmaltz.
But I see you’ve caught the notion
         (Though it seems like self-promotion)
Of my genuine devotion.
         And we might include a waltz.

Chorus:

Yes, by now you’ve caught the notion
Of his genuine devotion.
And we point out with emotion:
         In Act One, we sang a waltz.

Sharing the “Ruritanian Version” of The Grand Duke

As with the original revision of The Grand Duke, the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company is very proud of its “Ruritanian Version” of the script and invites other companies to use either version of The Grand Duke if they are interested in producing the operetta.

The “Ruritanian Version” of The Grand Duke as revised by The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company (Adobe PDF document – 53 pages)

 

Once again, the company would request to be notified if either of its revised scripts are going to be used in a production and that there would be an acknowledgement of The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company in the company’s show program and website.

But Wait … There’s More!

When Director Joe Andrews asked Holly Windle and Lesley Hendrickson to rewrite Ludwig’s song, “At the Outset I May Mention,” both first wrote their own independent “first draft” versions of the song.  After much discussion, Holly and Lesley combined the best of both their versions into the one that was used in the production.

Both of these “first draft” versions, however, were delightful, deserve acknowledgement and are included below.  The careful reader might notice elements in each of the two versions below that were preserved in the final version of the song that was used in the show.

Holly’s “First Draft” Version:

Ludwig:

At the outset I may mention it’s my sovereign intention
         To present the operettas widely known as “G and S.”
For these musical successes counteract the daily stresses
         That afflict the population from the “boots” to Baroness.
My official court dispatches will be ballads, songs, and snatches,
         And I’ll mandate Gilbert’s verses to be taught in every school.
We’ll have sing-alongs and galas; every night we’ll “play the Palace”
         In this model of a modern major duchy that I’ll rule.
If you do not care a filbert for the clever words of Gilbert,
         Why then, Sullivan will charm you with his grand and graceful airs.
And the day’s not long in coming, midst the sound of happy humming,
         When the whole Grand Duchy populace will banish all their cares.

At this juncture I may mention
         Lest you think this noble plan
Shows too selfish an intention,
         I’m an opera partisan.
It may seem like self-promotion,
But it’s genuine devotion,
And I’m filled with strong emotion.
         A light opera partisan.

Chorus:

It may seem like self-promotion,
But it’s genuine devotion.
He’s a man of strong emotion,
         A light opera partisan.

Ludwig:

We have Patience in position to commence this noble mission,
         And with newly-found resources we will soon present the rest.
We will start off with the sure ones, but we’ll never shun obscure ones
         Like Utopia (the next-to-last), although it’s not their best.
For each one is quite rewarding, even worthy of recording,
         But technology is primitive; it’s only 1910!
You’ll see Gondoliers in Venice, and their baby-swapping menace
        Will recur to jolt in Pinafore the captain and his men.
Princess Ida, Trial by Jury, Iolanthe. There’s no hurry.
         Can we find the score for Thespis? (That’s their first and rather weak.)
Yeomen, Sorcerer, Mikado, Pirates, too—with much bravado,
         And their final one, Grand Duke, of which it’s best we do not speak.

And perhaps I ought to mention,
         Just in case you’re not a fan,
If you opt for an abstention
         We won’t send a prison van.
But our audience discerning
Mixes pleasure with their learning
And we hope each one’s returning
         A light opera partisan.

Chorus:

Yes, our audience discerning
Mixes pleasure with their learning
And we hope each one’s returning
         A light opera partisan.

Lesley’s “First Draft” Version:

Ludwig:

At the outset I may mention it’s my sovereign intention
         To revive the golden memories of Gilbert at his best.
For the company possesses all the necessary dresses
         And a course of vocal cramming will supply us with the rest.
Any operatic yearnings are reflected in their earnings,
         Which are calculated by the line of business each one takes.
Whether battle-axe or patter (higher wages for the latter!)
         With negotiable vacations and required union breaks.
In the land of operetta, every boy or girl you’ve met a
         Life to endless vocal training and self-discipline devotes.
But the tenors are much rarer, so although it could be fairer,
         Still a premium gets paid to chaps who hit the highest notes.

At this juncture I may mention,
         To offset our common faults,
I shall add to our tradition
         Hints of operatic schmaltz:
Trysts both amorous and antic,
Rapid patter that’s pedantic,
Add an aria romantic,
         Do I dare suggest a waltz?

Chorus:

Trysts both amorous and antic,
Rapid patter that’s pedantic,
Add an aria romantic,
         Do we dare suggest a waltz?

Ludwig:

Yes, on reconsideration, there are customs of this nation
         Which are not in strict adherence to the heights to which we’d climb.
And when I come to codify, all laws I mean to modify,
         All framed in rhythmic phrases with a strict internal rhyme.
One tradition I believe in is that numbers should be even:
         Every lady and each gentleman must end up in a pair.
Every sister gets a sailor. Even Phoebe gets her jailer,
         Though the mezzo may still end up on her own, I think that’s fair.
In a perfect world I’d dictate that the girls should all be jailbait
         Which is quite what was intended by Gilbertian design.
But, you see, in very truth, some ladies are not quite so youthsome,
         So it’s there, I rather fancy, I shall have to draw the line!

At this juncture I may mention,
         To offset our common faults,
I shall add to our tradition
         Hints of operatic schmaltz:
Trysts both amorous and antic,
Rapid patter that’s pedantic,
Add an aria romantic,
         And we’ll end it with a waltz!

Chorus:

Trysts both amorous and antic,
Rapid patter that’s pedantic,
Add an aria romantic,
         And we’ll end it with a waltz!