Opera Scotland

Nautch Girl The Nautch Girl, or The Rajah of Chutneypore

Music

Edward Solomon (born London, 25 July 1855; died London, 22 January 1895).

Text

George Dance & Frank Desprez.

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Savoy Theatre), 30 June 1891.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Lyceum Theatre), 5 October 1891.

 

Background

George Dance (1858-1932) was a comparative novice as an operatic librettist, but went on to a glittering career (including a knighthood) as both writer and actor. Frank Desprez had written the words for a number of short curtain-raisers, but had less experience of full-length works. However the outcome of their collaboration won almost universal praise, in London and when the piece arrived in Scotland a few months later. The Nautch Girl had a good run in London, and in the absence of any prospect of a further work from Gilbert and Sullivan, Edward Solomon was encouraged to revise his earlier work, The Vicar of Bray, to succeed it at the Savoy. In spite of the immediate success of both works, his music was criticised for its lack of spontaneity, and seems to have suffered subsequently from comparison with the perpetual freshness of Sullivan's output.

One aspect of the opening London cast which attracted press publicity was the fact that Lenore Snyder, creator of the title role, was a Quaker who had never danced in her life, in public or private. It was claimed that she was unaware of the terpsichorean requirements of the role until after she had signed the contract. She turned out to be an excellent exotic dancer, though her relations were reported to be less than happy with this new activity.

One surprising feature of the plot is that it contains no role for the aging contralto beloved of Gilbert and Sullivan, and usually interpreted by the still youthful Rosina Brandram. The husban-hunting elements of those characters are, to some extent, included in the characteristics of the mezzo role, Chinna Loofa, created by Jessie Bond, another Savoy stalwart.

 

Main Characters

Punka, Rajah of Chutneypore (baritone)

Indru, his son (tenor)

Chinna Loofa, a poor relation (mezzo-soprano)

Pyjama, Grand Vizier of Chutneypore (bass-baritone)

Baboo Currie, manager of the dancing girls (baritone)

Hollee Beebee, a dancing girl (soprano)

Bumbo, an idol (bass-baritone)

 

Plot Summary

The Nautch Girl is set in the exotic oriental environment of India, allowing ample scope for the provision of extravagant and colourful sets and costumes by the designers. It also required elements of exoticism in the music and plenty of opportunities for dance.

The plot is a complex interweaving of several strands. The romance of Indru and Beebee, of different castes, therefore unable to marry; the plotting of Pyjama to replace Punka as Rajah; and the discovery of the thief (actually Pyjama) who stole a diamond which formed the eye of an idol of national significance. (A more detailed synopsis is available on Wikipedia).

The Cast

Baboo Currie
 Manager of the Nautch dancers
Bumbo
 an idol
Chinna Loofa
 the Rajah's poor relation
Hollee Beebee
 a Nautch girl
Indru
 the Rajah's son
Punka
 Rajah of Chutneypore
Pyjama
 Grand Vizier of Chutneypore

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