(1) THE TWO PIGEONS - Pas de Deux (Vadim Muntagirov & Lauren Cuthbertson - Royal Ballet) - YouTube
Online Event Streaming (rwts.com.au)
Citron, Stephen - Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates - 1992 - Oxford University Press
Dickson, John - Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History - 2021 - Zondervan
Hammerstein, Oscar Arthur - The Hammersteins: A Musical Theatre Family - 2010 - Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
Harding, James - Folies de Paris: The Rise and Fall of French Operetta - 1979 - Chappell & Company
Ganzl, Kurt. Lamb, Andrew - Ganzl’s Book of the Musical Theatre - 1988 - The Bodley Head
Nightingale, Benedict - The Musical Phenomenon Les Miserables From Page to Stage to Screen - 2018 - Carlton Books Limited
Lerner, Alan Jay - The Musical Theatre: A Celebration - 1986 - Gilmount
Weston, David - Covering Shakespeare: An Actor’s Saga of Near Misses and Dogged Endurance - 2014 - Oberon Books
Whitfield, Sarah - Boubil and Schonberg’s Les Miserables - 2019 - Routledge
A Brief Summary of Victor Hugo’s Life - Guernsey Museums & Galleries - A Brief Summary of Victor Hugo's Life - Guernsey Museums (gov.gg)
Victor Hugo - Britanica - Victor Hugo | Biography, Books, Poems, & Facts | Britannica
Notre Dame Cathedral Update - Friends of Notre Dame de Paris - Notre Dame Cathedral Update | 2022 Restoration Update (friendsofnotredamedeparis.org)
Why did Gilbert and Sullivan quarrel over a carpet? - Classical Music - Why did Gilbert and Sullivan quarrel over a carpet? | Classical Music (classical-music.com)
The beginner’s guide to operetta - English National Opera - The beginner's guide to operetta | English National Opera (eno.org)
Welcome to episode 2. This was delayed a week because I forgot how extremely exhausting a show week is. I was gradually getting the number of naps I had in a week down, and now we’re back at one everyday. Shows are really tiring. I had my first two show day in about 5 years last week. Mad respect for the people who do 8 shows a week, every week.
When this episode comes out we will have finished all our live performances, but you can still watch our stream. I’ll link it in the show notes. Also, it’s Songs for a New World. I’m doing Songs for a New World.
Look Down, Look Down
The Life of Charles Dickens
The first interaction between the works of Victor Hugo and Charles Dicken wasn’t when Alain Boublil saw Oliver! in 1978. It actually happened years earlier, like a lot earlier, in 1846. Now, this season I have set myself the goal of citing my sources. I didn’t want to break my personal pledge so early but here I am. Wikipedia said that in 1846 Charles Dickens travelled to Paris and met Victor Hugo. I went to the citation and found where they found that fact, I googled it and I found it quite easily. It’s just that it would cost me somewhere between $400 and $800. I love this show and I am willing to spend money on resources, but it didn’t feel like an $800 clarification.
Oliver! had been finished a few years earlier in 1838. I say finished because it was released serially.
Charles Dickens was the second child, but the first son, in a family that would rise and fall into and out of the gentility. His father worked for the naval service in an administrative type role. He had a reasonable salary, but it would rise and fall according to whether or not he was in London or at an outpost. The family moved often. John Dickens was not particularly judicious financially, so in times of lower income the family took on debts.
Charles was a bright kid, but in his early years he was quite sickly. These factors, in addition to the large Dickens family library, meant that he read extensively. Novels, poetry, plays, he was particularly fond of the farces of Elizabeth Inchbald. In fact, theatre and the theatrical would be a major influence throughout his life.
Across his youth Charles only spent about three years in formal schooling, at about 9 or 10 years old, and then again in his young adulthood. In between these times came a period of familial destitution. A friend of the family offered Charles a job in his warehouse, working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. The place was rat infested, and his time there would remain for his life as his personal shame.
During this time, despite their poverty, the family found money to send Charles’ sister to the Royal Academy of Music.
The family debts continued to pile up and they were eventually sent to debtor’s prison. Charles continued to work and his sister continued to study as a boarder at the Royal Academy of Music.
Charles went (very briefly) into law as an adult before settling into an early career in journalism. His first novel was the serialised Pickwick Papers which was released (and written) in monthly instalments, followed by Oliver Twist. Much of these two novels were written concurrently, each month he would write the next chapter of each. There was a time he was writing 12,000 words for each novel every month in addition to editing a magazine, looking after a newborn, and taking care of a wife with postnatal depression. I can only dream of that amount of productivity, I spent a morning in hospital and it derailed a whole week.
At the time his young sister in law Mary lived with Charles and his wife. She died, tragically and suddenly, at the age of 13 in Charles’ arms. There will be many characters throughout his work that mirror her.
Dickens was also a serious fan of the theatre, like serious, serious. He would attend at every possible opportunity. Before his writing took off, he had seriously considered a career as an actor. He’d memorised certain mono-poly-logues, which are multiple characters played by one actor, and would perform them whenever given the chance.
Given his love of theatre it is not surprising that his works are deeply theatrical. What is more surprising is how unremarkable the pieces he wrote for the stage are. In some sense the theatrical adaptations of his works restored them to their rightful place.
I Dreamed a Dream
It was in Charles Dickens' final years, and the few years after that the golden age of operetta would begin. Late in his life he would meet one of the men who would shape it, but he couldn’t have predicted the enormous success that would follow. In Nicholas Nickleby Dickens had characters lament that the great age of theatre had passed - but if that was true another was just beginning. In America, musical theatre grew out of musical comedy, in Britain it grew more out of operetta, or light opera.The golden age of operetta, like many great eras of musical theatre to follow, was spurred on by the partnership between two men; Arthur Sullivan and William Schwenck Gilbert, more commonly listed in the other order as Gilbert and Sullivan.
In 1867, Arthur Sullivan wrote the music for a charming one act called Cox and Box. The concept, or the notion as Stephen Sondheim would call it, was that a landlord had rented the same apartment to two different men - one who worked days and the other who worked nights.
Arthur Sullivan was born in 1842, the son of a professional clarinet player. It seemed a career in music was inevitable for him, in his youth he learned a wide range of instruments, and was a vocal soloist for the christening of one of Queen Victoria’s children. His first music would be published soon after, at age 13. The next year, and the two years following, he was a student on scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music. Following that he began a career as a musician, composer, musical director, teacher, and the like. One of his early compositions was the popular hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”. In 1862, at the age of twenty he met Charles Dickens.
In 1870 he met William Schwenck Gilbert, and English operetta would change forever.
William Schwenck Gilbert was the older of the pair born in 1836. In his youth he was kidnapped in Naples and briefly held for ransom, which his parents paid. As you’d imagine it stuck with him, children being kidnapped and the highjinx that would obviously ensue from that was a regular feature in his plots.
“He speedily won the reputation for being a clever, bright boy, who was extremely lazy. It was soon discovered, however, that he could work so quickly that his natural tendency to idleness was no handicap to his abilities”. At least that’s what he said of himself. There is a saying that if you want to find the easiest way to do something, find someone who is smart and lazy.
He wrote prolifically, by 24 he had written 15 pieces for the theatre of which 15 were rejected. He worked for a time as a lawyer, another thing which would show up often in his later works. He also wrote and illustrated poems, cartoons, and other works before finding some success in theatre with Dulcamara in 1866. In 1867 he attended a performance of Cox and Box, of which he wrote; “Mr Sullivan’s music is, in many places, of too high a class for the grotesquely absurd plot to which it is wedded.” A match made in heaven. Gilbert’s next success was in 1870 with The Palace of Truth.
The same year they would meet. The two of them met, and the lyricist asked the composer a complicated musical question, to which the latter didn’t know the answer. They didn’t really like each other but they ran in the same circles - their collaboration was destined.
The next year they wrote their first show together; Thespis.
To get a full sense of their impact I’m going to use Ganzl’s Book of the Musical Theatre. They list 17 shows of consequence prior to 1890. 11 of them come from this pair; Trial by Jury (1875), The Sorcerer (1877), HMS Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Patience (1881), (thank you for having it with me), Iolanthe (1882), Princess Ida (1884), The Mikado (1886), Ruddigore (1887), The Yeoman of the Guard (1888), and The Gondoliers (1889).
That left only five not from the pair:; The Beggar’s Opera (1728), Billie Taylor (1880), Rip Van Winkle (1882), Erminie (1885), and Dorothy (1886). Rip Van Winkle became a part of the French operetta repertoire, and Erminie had a very successful run on Broadway.
What’s the missing show on the list? Cox and Box for which Arthur Sullivan wrote the music.
A little note on The Beggar’s Opera, it would later be adapted in the Brecht and Weill show The Threepenny Opera, or in France The Four Penny Opera because the French wanted to charge more for tickets.
The Gilbert and Sullivan partnership wouldn’t last forever. The most sensationalised version of this story is that they had a falling out over carpets. A normal thing to break with your long time writing partner over. More accurately, during the early production of the Gondoliers in 1889. Sullivan was on holiday, and Gilbert got a letter informing him that the “preliminary expenses… amounted to the stupendous total of 4500 pounds. Trust a lyricist to use the word stupendous in a regular letter. This sum included 500 pounds for carpets for the front of house. IE; a theatre expense not a production expense.
This was what led to them breaking with their impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte and the Savoy theatre where they had made their name. Without their regular theatre, the pair’s other tension came to light. Sullivan didn’t want to write operetta any more. While French operetta would be known by its composers, the genius of the Gilbert and Sullivan pairing came as much or more from the brilliantly witty lyrics. The music was forced to be subservient.
It’s also important to note that while Gilbert had burnt the bridge with Carte, Sullivan hadn’t. The Palace Theatre was being built by Carte as a home for English opera - exactly the kind of grand opera that Arthur Sullivan so wanted to write.
An attempted peach meeting turned into WS Gilbert v. Richard D’Oyly Carte, and the partnership would be ended as we knew it.
Interestingly, the Gilbert and Sullivan shows rarely had successful runs “on the continent”. Gilbert’s lyrics used complicated internal rhymes which made the lyrics nearly impossible to translate. Translating shows always comes with challenges, but some shows are more translatable than others.
Speaking of the continent; imported operettas were also an important part of the scene. Most of the French operettas I discussed last week ended up with runs in London, the US, and the continent. If you’re familiar with many of the most popular operettas you’ll know that many of them spawned from Vienna. Viennese operetta sprouted largely from the work of Johann Strauss, who himself was inspired by Jacques Offenbach. It’s all pretty linked together. Johann Strauss, or more accurately, Johann Strauss JR, was the son of a composer and orchestra conductor. He was forbidden by his father from studying music.
This isn’t an episode on Viennese operetta, it’s actually impossible for me to cover everything that ever happened. But the important thing about Johann Strauss was that he really kicked off the operetta tradition in Vienna. His work Die Fledermaus, or the Bat, is one of the most enduring works.
The next era of operetta can be understood through the lens of the theatre, by that I don’t mean the genre I mean the physical location. I want to tell you about three notable ones; The Savoy, the Gaiety, and the Daly’s. The Savoy was home to Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas and later some similar fare. The Gaiety, as the name may well suggest had the lighter fare on offer - shows whose runs were likely shorter, didn’t tour internationally, and are less likely to be revived. The Daly’s was a more serious operetta theatre, hence the shows had longer runs, international productions and are much more likely to have been revived since.
The genre of the operetta and the comic opera were not the only musical fare on offer in England, like in the US, variety shows were hugely popular. The British song and dance shows were different from their American counterparts, but the details are really beyond the scope of this episode.
Operetta and comic opera were replaced more by song and dance, variety shows.
The Nautch Girl, produced at the Savoy in 1891 was programmed there to fill a gap caused by the breaking of the partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan. There would be a few successful shows over the next few years The Geisha in 1896 and A Greek Slave in 1898, along with a tense and ultimately unsuccessful reuniting of Gilbert and Sullivan with Utopia Ltd in 1893, and The Grand Duke in 1896. If you’re a G&S fan and don’t know those two, that’s kind of my point.
1899 was the end of the century, but the beginning of a new era for operetta. There were three notable events that year. Firstly, Gilbert produced a London production of Offenbach and Halvery’s Les Brigands. Secondly, A Chinese Honeymoon. This show did something unusual; it was a popular musical comedy which began its life outside of London and the major theatres. It originally was set to perform an eight week tour, but after its transfer to the West End, it began the first musical to play over a thousand metropolitan performances. In tracing the lineage of a mega musical like Les Miserables, this is a pretty important moment.
The third thing was the birth of the man who would define the next era of English musical theatre; Noel Coward.
I want to introduce you to the man who gave English musical comedy its style; Noel Coward. Think of him as an English Cole Porter. It's certainly the way comparative biography "Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates" viewed them.
Noel Coward was born near Christmas in 1899, hence his name. He showed an early interest in music which was encouraged by his parents. It's not surprising given that they'd met singing together in the St. Alban's choir, and performed together in amateur dramatics - often Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Noel's father would build sets for the boy's toy theatre, and his mother coached him in singing. She also regularly took him to the theatre to see the newest operetta, and the pair would bring home the sixpence lyric book. That small purchase, along with Noel's incredible musical memory allowed him to reproduce the show at home for his family.
He started to train in dance from a young age. His mother saw that his dance skills were not up to his music level so she enrolled him in dance lessons. His studies included pointe work, which as someone who began pointe work recently: ow.
His training progressed, and his mother saw an article talking about a lady who was casting a show. She’d found all the girls she needed, but was still looking for boys. English ballet legend Ninette de Valois also came through this program. His mother took him and he was accepted, being paid the reasonable sum of a Guinea and a half a week. Well they paid him one week.
He continued to work as a child actor, but where he spent the war would shape his writing style. The mission to get children out of London led to the residents of Hambleton Hall offering him a place to stay.
It was exactly the type of house where one would hear salon dialogue, the style which would define his career. He also met Gladys Calthrop, a set and costume designer he would later work with.
His next few years professionally were unremarkable, he wrote lyrics for a music publisher, which by and large never saw the light of day.
He made his adult debut in Saving Grace. He'd continue to perform small acting roles as he tried to write a play which could be produced. He wrote Ida Collaborates with his very very extremely close friend Esme Wynne before being conscripted in 1918. It turns out he was not a great soldier, injured himself and was sent home within the year.
His success with Esme led him to want to write something on his own. His first attempt was The Last Trick, a play which was sold but never staged. His friend, and the son of a great playwright Gilbert Miller passed on his father's advice: the construction of a play is as important as the foundation of a house, whereas the dialogue however good can only be considered as interior decoration.
He tried again, focusing more on plotting with The Rat Trap. He wrote a series of unproduced plays while acting in others works. His play "I'll leave it to you" had a successful run in Manchester but was considered too thin for the West End. Noel Coward wanted to bring the show to London anyway. He found funding and it turns out, it was too thin for London.
His next work was a successful stage adaptation of his own unfinished novel Cats and Dogs. Having found some success he travelled to New York to work there.
By which point he'd found myself in an industry that was changing
On My Own
One interesting new show was The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar. It was fully orchestrated, and in the theatre they sold merch. Obviously 1905 didn’t have hoodies with the show’s logo, but Merry Widow hats sold at the theatre became a staple of fashion for years to come.
French operetta composer Andre Messager also brought a number of his works to London. He trained at the Ecole Neidermeyer, a school that was set up to train church musicians but ended up as a launchpad for operetta. One professor there was Saint Saens who gave us our operetta definition last week.
There aren’t many Messager operettas that are still in the common repertoire. The only one of his works I’d heard of before beginning my research was actually a ballet: The Two Pigeons. If you want a charming, adorable pas de deux I’ll link it in the show notes. It is truly delightful. Alongside writing operetta Messager was a talented conductor, like really talented. This led to him receiving a number of appointments as artistic director or conductor of various organisations. These included Folies Bergere, Opera-Comique, and Paris Opera. He also spent a good deal of time in England - partly because of his British second wife. He was then the director of Covent Garden. A good number of his later operettas were written more to appeal to an English audience than a Parisian one, although many had successful runs in both countries.
He also wrote a work which formed a key part of the lineage of Alain Boublil and Claude Micheal Schonberg’s second English language work; Miss Saigon. Operettas like Lecocq’s Fleur-de-The (changed from Le Mikado), and Messager’s Madame Chrysanthemum laid the groundwork for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This work would serve as the source material for Miss Saigon. An interesting coincidence is that Puccini also attempted to adapt Les Miserables into an opera, but found the plot too complicated.
In 1929 Noel Coward wrote Bitter Sweet, which many believe “arochiaised the British musical for the next 50 years”. That gets us to 1979, I wonder what happened around then. I’m going to pretend not to know. Bitter Sweet was choreographed by Tilly Losch, who you might remember from last season as having had Les Ballets created for her by her husband. She was the original principal dancer in the Balanchine, Brecht, Weill ballet “The Seven Deadly Sins”.
It was Coward’s first operetta, the precursor to the integrated musical. It ran in London for 769 performances. In the era before the long running mega musical, that’s pretty impressive. It had a Paris run under the title Au Temps des Valses, tying everything in together. There were also two film adaptations; a 1933 British one and a 1941 Hollywood one. Alan Jay Lerner would write of Noel Coward that “His comedy lyrics were the funniest of anyone to come down the lyrical pike, be they witty, silly in the best sense, outrageous, or glibly cynical”.
The best known of the Coward canon would come in the next few years. Private Lives was a play about a divorced couple who still loved each other and their new partners. Noel Coward acted in this alongside Gertrude Lawrence and Lawrence Olivier. And that’s Lawrence Olivier of the Olivier awards fame, also probably the most famous Shakespeare actor of all time. We’ll touch on him briefly again when we talk about the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In 1936 Private Lives got a French film version, because of course the French would like that play. Noel’s 1934 musical Conversation Piece, and 1939 Present Laughter were also huge successes.
These shows brought us to a new decade, where the integrated musical would grow up, but it wasn’t the only thing born in the 40’s. Les Miserables’ creators Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schonberg would both be born. They would grow up on opposite sides of the world from each other, and secluded from this growing tradition.
Next week we are going to explore these three childhoods. Until then.
Do You Hear the People Sing