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The Grand Duke, the last of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas, although rarely performed, seems to inspire either love or hate! Even the author and composer had reservations about their last collaborative effort.
Sullivan wrote in his diary March 7, 1896: "...began new opera "Grand Duke" at 1/4 past eight - usual reception. Opera went well; over at 11:15. Parts of it dragged a little, dialogue too redundant, but success great and genuine I think. Thank God opera is finished and out."
And in a letter written to Frank Burnand March 12, 1896 from Monte Carlo: "Why reproach me? I didn't write the book!...I arrived here dead beat and feel better already. Another week's rehearsal with W. G. S. and I should have gone raving mad. I had already ordered some straw for my hair."
Gilbert was slightly more ambivalent about his creation, taking full blame for the opera's deficiencies. In a letter to Mrs. Bram Stoker he wrote: "...I have had rather a bad time of it, but now that the baby is born, I shall soon recover. I pick up very quickly (thank God!) after these little events. I'm not at all a proud Mother, and I never want to see this ugly misshapen little brat again."
The critics seemed to be of two minds, generally critical of the opera as a whole, while mindful of the fact that this would be the last opera produced by the great duo.
The Times set the tone for these reviews saying, "The welcome accorded to a new Gilbert and Sullivan opera increases...with each member of the famous series and its warmth is all the greater..." They went on, however: "The Grand Duke is not by any means another Mikado...the libretto is very conspicuously inferior to the music. There are still a number of excellent songs, but the dialogue seems to have lost much of its crispness."
The Musical Standard went even further, stating: "Mr. Gilbert is decidedly at his best in the first half of the second act...If the opera could only be compressed, for it becomes very wearisome in places."
On the other hand, The Daily Chronicle enthusiastically endorsed the opera, trumpeting: "His [Gilbert's] lyrics...teem with those quaint turns of expression expected..." and of the composer, "His music has all the olden attractiveness...For the time being he is the Sullivan of H.M.S. Pinafore, The Mikado, and The Gondoliers." Whatever your feelings about Gilbert and Sullivan and this last operetta, here is one final thought -- in his book Gilbert and Sullivan, Lost Chords and Discords, Caryl Brahms notes, "The next English musical collaboration to sweep five continents was the Beatles..."
Page Created 29 August, 2011