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The Princess (Tennyson)
Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant, is a comic opera with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It opened at the Savoy Theatre on January 5, 1884, for a run of 246 performances. By Savoy Opera standards, it was not considered a success (a particularly hot summer in London did not help ticket sales), and it was not revived in London until 1919. This was the eighth operatic collaboration of fourteen between Gilbert and Sullivan.
Princess Ida is based on Tennyson's poem The Princess. Gilbert had written a blank verse parody of the same material in 1870. According to biographer Hesketh Pearson, Gilbert lifted parts of the dialogue from the earlier play into the libretto. Princess Ida thus became the only Gilbert and Sullivan work with dialogue entirely in blank verse. It is also the only one of their works in three acts.
The opera satirizes feminism, women's education, and Darwinian evolution, all of which were controversial topics in conservative Victorian England. Like Patience and Iolanthe, Ida concerns the war between the sexes. Whereas, in Patience, the aesthetic-crazed women are contrasted with vain military men; and in Iolanthe, the vague and flighty fairies (women) are pitted against the ineffective, dim-witted peers (men); in Ida, overly serious students and professors at a women's university (women) defy a marriage-by-force ultimatum by a militaristic king and his testosterone-laden court (men).
Sullivan's score is majestic, and a sequence of songs in Act II, sometimes known as the "string of pearls", is particularly well loved. Although Gilbert's libretto contains some very funny lines, the iambic pentameter and three act structure tend to make it more difficult than some of the other Savoy Operas to keep the audience's interest to the end. In addition, modern audiences sometimes find the libretto's stereotyped portayal of sex roles and the awkward resolution of the opera unsatisfying.
In a pavilion at King Hildebrand's palace, courtiers wait expectantly for the arrival of Princess Ida, who was betrothed in infancy to Prince Hilarion. Hildebrand's son, Prince Hilarion – who is in love with Ida, although he has not seen her since he was two years old – wonders how she may have changed over the ensuing twenty years.
Ida's father, King Gama, and her brothers Arac, Guron and Scynthius, arrive at Hildebrand's palace without her. King Gama explains that Princess Ida has foresworn men and founded a women's university at Castle Adamant, one of his many country houses. King Hildebrand tells Hilarion to go to Castle Adamant to claim Ida, and that if she refuses him, Hildebrand will storm the castle. But Hilarion will not use force to gain the princess's love. He says that nature has "armed" him and his friends Cyril and Florian to win this "war" using "expressive glances" and romance as his "armory" to win Princess Ida. Meanwhile, King Gama and his sons are to remain at Hildebrand's palace as hostages.
At Castle Adamant, Princess Ida's pupils are taught that "Man, sprung from an Ape, is Ape at heart." Lady Psyche warns that "Man will swear, and Man will storm," while Lady Blanche doles out the Princess's list of punishments. The Princess delivers a stern lecture, stating that women's brains are larger than men's, and predicting that "Woman, in her turn, shall conquer Man," but that once conquered, Woman will treat Man better than he has treated her. Lady Blanche resents the Princess and predicts that one day she will replace her as head of the university.
Hilarion, Cyril and Florian sneak into Castle Adamant. They scoff at the idea of a woman's college. Finding some discarded academic robes, the three men disguise themselves as young maidens wishing to join the university, and are welcomed by Princess Ida. Florian realises that their disguises won't fool his sister, Lady Psyche, and they take her into their confidence. Lady Psyche warns them that they will face death if the Princess discovers who they are. Melissa, Lady Blanche's daughter, has overheard them, and falls in love with Florian at first sight. Melissa, with Lady Psyche and the three men, celebrates joyously the discovery that men are not the monsters that Princess Ida had claimed.
Lady Blanche, who has not fallen for the men's disguises, confronts Melissa. Though indignant at first, she is persuaded to keep the men's secret when her daughter points out that if Hilarion is able to woo Princess Ida, Blanche will become head of the university.
During lunch, Cyril gets tipsy and inadvertently gives away his friends' identity. In the ensuing confusion, Princess Ida falls into a stream, and Hilarion rescues her. Ida condemns Hilarion and his friends to death. King Hildebrand and his soldiers arrive, with Arac, Guron and Scynthius in chains. He reminds her that she is bound by the infant marriage to marry Hilarion and gives her until the following afternoon to comply. The defiant Ida replies that, although Hilarion saved her life and is fair, strong, and tall, she would rather die than be his bride.
Ida's students prepare to meet Hildebrand's soldiers in battle, but the terrified girls admit that they are afraid of fighting. Princess Ida is disgusted with their lack of courage, and vows that if necessary she will fight Hildebrand's army alone. Her father, King Gama, arrives with a message that Hildebrand prefers not to go to war with women. He suggests instead that Hilarion and his friends fight King Gama's sons, with Ida's hand to be decided by the outcome. Ida is insulted to be "a stake for fighting men," but realises that she has no alternative.
Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian are still in their women's robes. King Gama and his sons ridicule them. In preparation for battle, Gama's sons shed their heavy armor, saying that it is too uncomfortable to be effective. The fight ensues, with Hilarion, Cyril and Florian defeating Gama's sons.
Ida yields to Hilarion, and bitterly asks Lady Blanche if she can resign her post with dignity. The delighted Blanche, who will succeed her as head of the university, assures her that she can. Ida laments the failure of her "cherished scheme," but King Hildebrand points out the fatal flaw:
Princess Ida admits, "I never thought of that!" Hilarion makes an emotional appeal, urging her to give Man one chance, while Cyril observes that if she grows tired of the Prince, Ida can return to Castle Adamant. Lady Psyche says that she, too, will return if Cyril does not behave, but Melissa swears that she will not return under any circumstances.
Finally, Ida admits that she has been wrong, and declares that indeed she loves Hilarion. The curtain falls "With joy abiding."
1 Starting in the 1920s, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company traditionally deleted this song.
2 The first line of this song is often erroneously sung as "Now wouldn't you like to rule the roost" instead of "roast" (rhymes with "clear the coast" in the next couplet). This typographical error appeared in early vocal scores and still appears in a current Chappell vocal score edition, although some scores have corrected it.
3 In the original production, No. 22 followed No. 23. The present order first appeared in vocal scores published after the first London revival in 1919.
Versions of the text
Princess Ida was not revived in London during the authors' lifetimes, and there were no substantive changes to the text after the premiere. The one alteration was purely cosmetic: the first act had originally been called a "Prologue." It was re-designated Act I, with a consequent renumbering of the remaining acts.
At around the time of the first London revival, in 1919, there were changes to the running order of Act III. As written originally, the sequence of Act III is as follows:
As re-ordered in the 1920s, the running order is as follows:
The Chappell vocal score was re-issued to conform to this revised order.
The other significant change is that, at some point in the 1920s, it became traditional to delete Lady Blanche's Act II song, "Come, mighty must" (although it continued to be printed in the vocal score). The song is included in the 1924 D'Oyly Carte recording, but on none of the three recordings the Company made after that (1932, 1955, 1965).
Princess Ida was not as successful as the Gilbert and Sullivan operas that had preceded it. In the midst of an unusually hot summer of 1884, Richard D'Oyly Carte closed the Savoy Theatre for a month, starting in mid-August. The opera had been running for seven months, a short period by the partnership's past standards. The opera re-opened for just three weeks, starting in mid-September, before giving way to a revival of The Sorcerer (revised) and Trial by Jury. A New York production ran briefly, and there was a second American production in 1887, but the opera was not revived in London during Gilbert's lifetime.
A provincial tour of Princess Ida begain in early 1884, and ended by mid-1885. The opera was revived on tour in December 1895, remaining in the touring repertory through 1896. It re-appeared in late 1897 or early 1898, and from then on was never out of the D'Oyly Carte touring repertory through the early years of the twentieth century. The first London revival, however, did not come until December 30, 1919. From then on, it was included in every D'Oyly Carte touring season until the company disbanded at the outbreak of war in 1939.
During World War II, the Company played a smaller repertory. The scenery and costumes for Princess Ida, which were in storage, were destroyed by enemy action over the winter of 1940–41. A new production was mounted at the Savoy Theatre on September 27, 1954. A guest artist, opera singer Victoria Sladen, was engaged to sing the title role for the London season.
After the 1954 revival, Princess Ida was an irregular presence in the D'Oyly Carte repertory. While it never went unperformed more than two or three seasons at a time, it was usually performed only in London and a few other major cities. The demands of the title role were considered unusual by Gilbert and Sullivan standards, and often the Company brought in guest artists to play it. The Company's final performances of the opera were in February–April 1977. The Company's reduced repertory in its final five seasons did not accommodate it.
The following table shows the history of the D'Oyly Carte productions in Gilbert's lifetime:
The following tables show the casts of the principal original productions and D'Oyly Carte Opera Company touring repertory at various times through to the company's 1982 closure: