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8.110233 - SULLIVAN: Patience (D'Oyly Carte) (1951)

William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)

William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)

Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride


One of the most melodious and perennially popular of the G & S operettas, Patience (or Bunthorne’s Bride) was first performed at the Opera Comique, London on 23rd April, 1881, under the baton of the composer. Transferred to the Savoy on 10th October, it became the new theatre’s opening attraction and enjoyed an overall total initial run of 578 performances spanning twenty months. It toured the British provinces and was also mounted in Australia by J.C. Williamson and opened on Broadway nine months after its London première. The subject of various twentieth-century revivals and recordings, with the expiry of the G & S copyrights in the 1960s it was to prove an ideal vehicle for operatic production, first at English National Opera (in 1969 and 1984) and subsequently at the New York Metropolitan.


Having previously satirised various British institutions, most notably the Navy in HMS Pinafore and the judicial system in Trial By Jury, in his ‘New and Original Aesthetic Opera’ Patience, Gilbert set out next to parody the archetypal English “flower power” group known as the Aesthetic Movement.




Act 1


After the tuneful Overture [1] the scene opens on the courtyard of Castle Bunthorne where a group of twenty aesthetically clad Rapturous Maidens are bewailing their fate [2]. They reveal that the author of their misery is the mystical and conceited poet Reginald Bunthorne. All are hopelessly in love with him, but he spurns their advances. Lady Jane, an elderly spinster, arrives with the news that Reginald is in love instead with Patience, a young and inexperienced village milkmaid. Secretly, however, Lady Jane herself has designs on Reginald [3]. Patience enters and admits that so far she has never been in love. Next, she tells her colleagues of the arrival of the 35th Dragoon Guards. The girls were all previously engaged to the Dragoons but are now indifferent to them, their infatuation with Reginald having left their tastes “etherealised”. The maidens go out, singing, with Patience [4] as the Dragoons appear [5]. Their commanding officer, Colonel Calverly, launches into a tongue-twisting patter-song [6] but their attention is soon distracted by the arrival of Bunthorne. In posturing pose he is penning rhymes, pursued by a train of lovesick maidens [7]. Whereas the Dragoons are furious with jealousy, however, Bunthorne delights in the maidens’ adulation. Having completed his pretentious poem and notwithstanding the protests of the Dragoons, he proceeds to read it to the enraptured ladies. At this Colonel Calverly reminds them of their commitments to the Dragoons, but the girls, headed by Lady Jane, proceed merely to criticise the British uniform. As they take their exit, Calverly ponders the gravity of the insult [8]. The Dragoons march off and Bunthorne re-appears. In a soliloquy he reveals that he is no more than “an aesthetic sham” [9]. Patience enters and he confides to her both his love and the fact that he does not really like poetry. Still reciting from force of habit, he goes out, as Lady Angela appears to lecture Patience on the nature of true love. Patience, however, reveals that she has never loved anyone since childhood [10]. Bewildered, she has the idea that falling in love is a matter of duty and resolves to do something about it immediately. Archibald Grosvenor presents himself to her and in a duet they woo each other. Patience fails to recognise him as her childhood sweetheart. Archibald tells her that he loves her still, but adds that, on account of his beauty, all women find him irresistible. He also is a poet, he explains –“the Apostle of Simplicity… Archibald the All-Right, the infallible!” Sadly, Patience realises she cannot love anyone as perfect as Archibald (although he may still love her) and they depart in opposite directions [11]. Bunthorne returns, led by Angela and Saphir and followed by a train of maidens, proclaiming that “Fickle Fortune will decide who shall be our Bunthorne’s Bride”. Heartbroken that he cannot have Patience, Bunthorne offers “to be raffled for” in aid of charity. As the Dragoons plead with the maidens to keep their commitment to them, Bunthorne exhorts them to purchase lottery tickets. Lady Jane enters and the girls blindfold themselves. Bunthorne urges Jane to draw the first ticket, but Patience stays her hand. Kneeling before Bunthorne, Patience begs his pardon and consents to be his bride. Bunthorne embraces her and accepts. They go off together and the maidens embrace the officers. Patience and Bunthorne return, followed by Archibald, his head buried in a book. He declares that he has become “aesthetic”, whereupon the ladies all declare their love for him, to the concerted “Horror” of the entire ensemble. [12]


Act 2


The scene is a sylvan glade where Jane, her head inclined on a cello, ruminates on Bunthorne’s misplaced affection for Patience. While she believes he will soon tire of her, she hopes he will not tarry too long, as her charms are already on the wane [13]. She goes out as Archibald enters, reading, followed by the maidens. To the accompaniment of ancient musical instruments, each pleads for his affection. Instead, he reads his poems to the group, but reveals that he is tired of their adulation. He accepts that they all love him, yet cannot return their love as his heart is elsewhere [14]. Despondent, the girls take their leave. Patience approaches Archibald, eager for reassurance of his love for her (Bunthorne, she confesses, she may love only out of a sense of duty) [15]. Archibald leaves and Bunthorne returns, pursued by Lady Jane. Tearful, Patience tells Bunthorne that as Archibald is “the noblest, purest and most perfect being” she is duty-bound not to love him and, once more alone, she recalls the happier time before she knew what love was [16]. She goes out, in tears. Returning with Jane, Bunthorne laments the day when he was the centre of attraction, prior to Archibald’s aesthetic transformation. He vows to beat him at his own game – and Jane pledges her support [17]. As Lady Jane and Bunthorne depart, the three officers enter. Without their uniforms and garbed in aesthetic attire, they plan to outwit their rivals [18]. Despite their bravado, they lack confidence but are reassured when Angela and Saphir seem impressed by their aesthetic appearance [19]. As the quintet dance out, arm in arm, Archibald strolls in, gazing in classical pose into a hand-mirror. Bunthorne confronts him over the transferral of the maidens’ adoration and Archibald, confessing that he is tired of their constant adulation, agrees in a duet to change both his looks and demeanour [20]. Bunthorne is quietly rejoicing as Patience enters. He is now transformed, he informs her, to the exact likeness of Archibald. At this, Patience is first delighted, then disillusioned – she cannot love him either, if he too is “so perfect a being”. At this Archibald dances in with the maidens and the Dragoons in attendance. In appearance he is now “commonplace”, no longer aesthetic [21]. At first taken aback by the transformation, Patience is delighted when he promises to be an ordinary young man ever after. Bunthorne acknowledges defeat, but Lady Jane claims him at once, and they embrace. The three officers enter and the Duke chooses Jane for his bride, leaving Bunthorne a spouseless aesthete “to be contented with a tulip or li-ly! [22]


Peter Dempsey

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