Opera Scotland

Grand Duke The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel

Music

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

Text

William S Gilbert (1836-1911).

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 7 March 1896.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 6 July 1896.

 

Background

The Grand Duke was the final product of the long and generally successful collaboration between between Gilbert and Sullivan, under the generally wise and prudent management of Carte. It enjoyed only a short London run, and has generally had a bad press. Indeed the 123 performances at the Savoy are generally described as the only professional ones before the brief 1975 revival (for centenary celebrations and a recording). Even so, a touring company was assembled to do the usual circuit of the big cities, visiting both Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a total of 24 performances across the central belt.  The new work was not sent further north, and was never revived in Scotland professionally. It has been staged from time to time by the numerous amateur G & S societies that thrived through most of the twentieth century, and seems to work reasonably well.

It must be said that the piece is uneven, with Gilbert's satirical flame burning low, and his plotting piles complications on top of one another in a chaotic manner. Sullivan at least was able to use the locale of a minor German principality around 1750 (like the ones recently destroyed by Bismarck) to present himself in a form based on the Viennese style of Johann Strauss, waltzes and all. When the Prince of Monte Carlo puts in an appearance, so does the ghost of Offenbach. The gimmick for the opening run, not repeated on tour, was to represent the foreign aspects of an English actress among continentals by inverting the situation - all the foreigners spoke in standard English, while the English character, Julia Jellicoe, was portrayed in the exotic tones of the imported Hungarian star, Ilka von Palmay.

 

Main Characters

Rudolph, Grand Duke of Pfennig-Halbpfennig (baritone)

Ernest Dummkopf, a theatrical manager (tenor)

Ludwig, an actor, the comedian (bass-baritone)

Prince of Monte Carlo (bass)

Princess of Monte Carlo, his daughter (soprano)

Baroness von Krakenfeldt (contralto)

Julia Jellicoe, an English actress, the leading lady (soprano)

Lisa, an actress, the soubrette (mezzo-soprano)

 

Plot Summary

The setting is a ficticious German grand duchy, Pfennig-Halbpfennig, around 1750. The Grand Duke, Rudolph, is mean-spirited and unpopular, and rumours abound of probable coup attempts against him. The most important plot, to promote Ernest Dummkopf to the Dukedom, has a secret signal, never explained, whereby each conspirator will be able to recognise a colleague by means of the strange practice of eating a sausage roll.

In the market-square of Speisesaal. Ernest's theatre troupe are preparing to celebrate the marriage of two actors, Ludwig and Lisa. They also anticipate the forthcoming coup - Julia taking the view that, as the company's leading lady, she will become Grand Duchess. However the Grand Duke has been advised of the plot, so to prevent bloodshed, a notary suggests using an old law of the 'Statutory Duel', due to expire the next day. To cut cards instead of cutting an opponent with a sword is effective. The loser is simply declared to be dead. The winner inherits his assets, and in this case the winner could denounce the dead man as the conspirator. The next day, when the Act expires, the 'dead man' would come back to life. Ludwig and Ernest fight this duel, with Ludwig the winner by drawing an Ace against Ernest's King.

Rudolph now enters, anticipating his marraige to the wealthy Baroness. However she has discovered that there is apre-existing  betrothal, of many years standing, between Rudolph and the Princess of Monte Carlo. Since this contract expires with the girl's coming of age, and this happens tomorrow, Rudolph puts the Baroness's mind at rest. Ludwig proposing to Rudolph that he could get over his fear of conspiracies by losing a stautory duel, allowing Ludwig to take over for a day until the conspiracy is defeated. The first act ends with Ludwig appointed to the Dukedom, at which point Julia asserts her right as leading lady to marry him, much to Lisa's horror.

In the second act, Ludwig decides to extend the Duels Act for a further century, so Ernest and Rudolph would stay dead. The Baroness claims him as her husband. The Prince of Monte Carlo now arrives with his daughter for the contracted marriage. The chaos is only resolved by the notary's discovery that the law decrees that the Ace counts lowest, and that Ludwig's duel victories are therefore invalid. The various couples pair off as originally intended - Ludwig and Lisa; Ernest and Julia; Rudolph and the Princess. The Baroness now has her eyes on the Prince.

The Cast

Baroness von Krakenfeldt
 betrothed to Rudolph
Ben Hashbaz
 a Costumier
Bertha
 an actress
Bertha
 a member of Ernest Dummkopf's Company
Costumier
 
Dr Tannhäuser
 a Notary
Elsa
 an actress
Elsa
 a member of Ernest Dummkopf's Company
Ernest Dummkopf
 a Theatrical Manager
Gretchen
 an actress
Gretchen
 a member of Ernest Dummkopf's Company
Herald
 
Herald
 
Julia Jellicoe
 an English Comédienne
Lisa
 an actress, Soubrette
Ludwig
 an actor, Leading Comedian
Martha
 an actress
Messenger
 
Olga
 an actress
Olga
 a member of Ernest Dummkopf's Company
Prince of Monte Carlo
 
Princess of Monte Carlo
 betrothed to Rudolph
Rudolph
 Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbpfennig
Viscount Mentone
 

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