|About this Recording
8.660447 - CELLIER, A.: Dorothy [Opera] (Cullagh, Mears, J.I. Jones, Vallis, Maitland, Victorian Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Bonynge)
Alfred CELLIER (1844–1891)
A pastoral comedy opera in three acts (1886)
WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING
Dorothy Bantam, Sir John Bantam’s daughter ...................... Majella Cullagh, Soprano
Victorian Opera Chorus (Chorus Master: Kevin Thraves)
Victorian Opera Orchestra
Richard Bonynge AC, CBE, Musical Director
The success of Dorothy
How did this 1886 light opera become so popular that its box office profits were sufficient to build a new London theatre, The Lyric of Shaftesbury Avenue? When launched at the Gaiety Theatre the comedy opera initially received only a lukewarm reception and gave little indication of any long-standing success.
A wily accountant and theatre manager, Henry Leslie bought the musical’s rights and costumes (cheaply), and then relaunched the piece at the Prince of Wales Theatre with Ben Davies as Wilder, Hayden Coffin as Sherwood and Furneaux Cook as Bantam. Marie Tempest later replaced Marion Hood in the title role. This excellent cast helped it achieve a successful 931 performances and see The Mikado’s 672 and Ruddigore’s 288 performances come and go during the run. We need to further understand the secrets for this.
The music of Dorothy contains good variety in its construction and includes dances and ballet. It is typical of Sullivan and critics referred to it as ‘pretty’, ‘graceful’, and ‘charming’. Cellier’s orchestration is certainly bright, rich and varied, and he skilfully links sections within a number to maintain momentum. To aid diction, the accompaniment to verses is light and echoes of the music hall, then in vogue, are recognised in the chorus numbers. These are well scored with up to five parts of harmony, as befitting a composer schooled at the Chapel Royal.
Stephenson’s book has weaknesses but they are covered by the strong characters of Wilder, Sherwood, Dorothy and Lydia who hold interest with their amorous and mischievous behaviour. Comedy is introduced by a scruffy Sheriff’s officer (Lurcher) in his wooing to an upper crust Mrs Privett (her speech affliction complementing his dropped aitches). Their interaction with Squire Bantam leads to effectively embarrassing moments with double entendres adding much amusement. Such larger than life characters could have been taken out of a Victorian Drury Lane pantomime.
During the early weeks of the run the script was tightened and much improved to overcome the concerns of the first night critics.
The fact that this musical became such a success seems more amazing when one finds that Cellier originally composed its music for an earlier operetta, Nell Gwynne (1876). When Nell Gwynne was originally staged in Manchester at the Prince’s Theatre it was deemed a failure; the composer blamed the librettist, H.B. Farnie, and the librettist blamed the composer. They decided not to risk taking it to London and went their separate ways, remodelling the script and music with different partners. Both of the revised shows faired better though the revised Nell Gwynne only achieved 86 performances.
For Cellier’s revision, he chose librettist B.C. Stephenson who had written Sullivan’s The Zoo in 1875 (under the pen name, Bolton Rowe). For Dorothy, Stephenson was handicapped by needing to fit new lyrics to Cellier’s existing music. This is never an easy task as W.S. Gilbert once found out. It can explain why some of Dorothy’s lyrics seem uninspired in construction. Where songs were freshly composed, Stephenson fairs better. He provides well written and believable dialogue throughout. An interpolated number for Hayden Coffin (as Sherwood) was Queen of my Heart. This was an early Cellier and Stephenson romance known as Old Dreams, and given new words. It was introduced after the first night and became one of Dorothy’s hit songs.
One is conscious of a rustic, idyllic innocence in the melodies and rhythms that conjure up thoughts of a ‘Constable’ backdrop. Cellier would have been a fitting composer for Edward German’s light rustic opera, Merrie England, to be written 16 years later.
The action takes place in Kent, England, in October 1740.
The grounds of the Hop-Pole Inn
Hop picking on Squire Bantam’s estate has just finished and villagers are celebrating at the Hop-Pole Inn. 2 Dorothy Bantam with cousin Lydia disguised as villagers mix with the villagers to observe the festivities. The Inn landlord’s daughter, Phyllis, promises to marry a young farmer, Tom Strutt. Her father relents his initial rejection. 3 Dorothy and Lydia try to persuade Phyllis not to marry. Dorothy is expected to marry Geoffrey Wilder, heir to the Estate of Chanticleer Hall, yet she has never met her cousin and is not keen on her father’s choice of suitor. 4 Wilder unexpectedly arrives in the village with his friend Sherwood to ask his uncle (Bantam) to help clear a debt incurred. They are refreshing themselves and rest their horses after a chase they have had to lose the Sheriff’s man, Lurcher, who is on their tail to have the debt paid. 5 Wilder is impressed by the charms of the girls, when Dorothy passes herself off as a fictitious daughter of the landlord for a bit of fun. 6 Landlord Tuppitt confirms his pride for his daughters. 7 Lurcher introduces himself, having now caught up with Wilder and threatens him with a spell in prison. 8 Wilder and Sherwood now fall for the girls’ charms. 9 Lurcher becomes despised by the crowd when they hear he has served a writ on a poor villager. They intend to give him a ducking. 10 However, Wilder offers to rescue him in return for joining in a scheme to get money from his uncle to pay the debt. Wilder and Sherwood are to go to Chanticleer Hall that evening where Squire Bantam is holding a function. They intend to confront him in their desperate plight.
11 At the Hall a reception is in progress where Squire Bantam is entertaining the local gentry. The arrival of a stranger is announced and Lurcher is shown in bearing a false title of Secretary to the Duke of Berkshire. He asks for hospitality for the fictitious Duke and guests whose carriage has broken down on the road by the Hall. Bantam welcomes the party which includes Dorothy and Lydia in their villager disguise. 12 Wilder thanks Bantam for his hospitality. 13 Dorothy and Lydia enter. 14 A stately dance takes place. 15 After the dance Bantam leads a drinking song. 16 The party decides it is time to retire for the night. 17 The men ask the two girls to stay awhile. The girls give the men rings (which they intend to reclaim the following morning). 18 Sherwood reflects on his feelings for Dorothy. 19 With the Hall now quiet, Wilder, Sherwood and Lurcher carry out their scheme: cloaked and masked, Sherwood binds Wilder (the fictitious Duke). Our noisy robbers cause Bantam to appear to investigate the noise and in the dark they pinion him. 20 The guests hearing the commotion appear and find the Duke bound with his money box empty. Nothing else seems to have been taken by the ‘robbers’. Squire Bantam is encouraged by Lurcher to restore the Duke’s loss, which happens to be the same amount owed by Wilder to the Sheriff. 21 The Squire’s men now arrive top repare for an early morning hunt.
The Round Coppice
22 Ballet. 23 The villagers engage in a rustic dance. 24 Phyllis is on her way to church to be married to Tom and pauses to reminisce. Dorothy and Lydia have decided to test Wilder and Sherwood’s affections by writing a letter, purporting to be from angry suitors. They challenge the men to a duel at the Coppice. The girls arrive dressed as men, but are nervous about the guns they carry and run away when the men wish to proceed with the duel. Squire Bantam arrives to give Phyllis and her new husband, Tom, his blessing. 25 A processional chorus enters after Phyllis and Tom’s church ceremony and arrive in time to witness Bantam’s blessing. Wilder’s robbery plot is exposed, yet since no real harm has been done, Bantam is happy to forgive if Wilder marries Dorothy. Dorothy now reveals her true identity and the union with Wilder is agreed; Lydia likewise agrees to marry Sherwood. 26 Finale.
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