Opera Scotland

Princess Ida or Castle Adamant


Sir Arthur Sullivan (born London, 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900).


William S Gilbert (1836-1911).


A 'respectful perversion' of a poem The Princess (1847) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92).



First Performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 5 January 1884.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Royalty Theatre), 4 February 1884.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.



Princess Ida has never been ranked among the best of the Savoy Operas. This is largely due to the fact that Gilbert's libretto is more stylised and ponderous than the best, the target of the satire, women's education, has always seemed weak and outdated, and the plot does not easily spread over three acts instead of the usual two. However Sullivan's music, admittedly inconsistent, contains some of his best inventions, including Ida's entrance aria, 'Oh goddess wise', and a superb quartet, 'The world is but a broken toy'. The Arbroath-born tenor Durward Lely, creator of five of the leading tenor roles in G & S, states in his reminiscences, penned over thirty years later, that Cyril was his favourite of the five. Indeed his second son, born during the initial run, was given that name (though perhaps it is as well the child was not born a few months later, after his father started singing Nanki-Poo).


Main Characters

King Hildebrand (bass-baritone)

Hilarion, his son (tenor)

Cyril and Florian, Hilarion's friends (tenor & baritone)

King Gama (baritone)

Arac, Guron and Scynthius, his sons (bass, baritone & bass)

Ida, Gama's daughter (soprano)

Lady Blanche, an academic (contralto)

Melissa, her daughter, a student (mezzo-soprano)

Lady Psyche, Florian's sister, an academic (soprano)


Plot Summary

At the court of King Hildebrand, the crowd await the arrival of King Gama and his entourage. As part of a treaty some twenty years before, the infant Prince Hilarion was betrothed to Princess Ida, a year his junior. The time has arrived for the marriage to be solemnized, but alarming reports have reached the court to the effect that Ida has renounced the company of men, and established a university from which men are banned. Gama and his sons arrive, without Ida. They are imprisoned while Hildebrand plans his campaign to attack the university and gain control of his reluctant daughter-in-law. Hilarion and his friends make alternative arrangements to gain entry to her castle.

At Castle Adamant, Ida's campus, university life is in full swing, with Ida, Blanche and Psyche as principal instructors. All references to man are banned, and the ideas of Darwin regarding the descent of man from the ape are the subject of amusement. The boys enter by climbing over a wall, and find three student gowns which allow them to disguise themselves and join the ladies. Their success is short-lived - Psyche and her brother recognize one another, and Cyril was also one of her childhood playmates. Melissa also joins the party, and her mother is not fooled by the disguises - 'two are tenors, one is a baritone', but is persuaded to keep their secret, since if Ida is married to Hilarion and retires from academic life then Blanche will be the obvious successor. Ida and the students return to partake of an alfresco lunch. She makes the three newcomers welcome until Cyril gets drunk and embarrassing. Running away, Ida falls in the lake, and is rescued by Hilarion. She has the three men arrested, just as news arrives that Hildebrand and his troops are about to start their attack.

The students are gathered, Valkyrie-style, to repel the expected assault, though their enthusiasm for the task is waning. As Hildebrand's host enter, with Ida's relations in tow, it is decided to settle matters by combat between the prisoners - Hilarion and and his friends against the sons of Gama. The friends are victorious and Ida concedes defeat, having at last realised that her master plan for posterity can only have a limited influence if that posterity cannot be provided.

The Cast

 a Girl Graduate
 Gama's Son
 a Girl Graduate
 Hilarion's Friend
 Hilarion's Friend
 Gama's Son
 Hildebrand's Son
King Gama
King Hildebrand
Lady Blanche
 Professor of Abstract Science
Lady Psyche
 Professor of Humanities, Florian's Sister
 Lady Blanche's Daughter
Princess Ida
 Gama's Daughter
 a Girl Graduate
 Gama's Son

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