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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Grand Duke 

Before I embark on this, I should point out that I am not a professional reviewer. My "reviews" are little better than the typical "I liked this because it was good" comment that a child might make but here, for anyone who wants to read them are my comments on G&S Opera Company's production of The Grand Duke at the 2012 International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton.

The Grand Duke is the last of the Savoy Operas that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote and is also the least performed. I don't know the reasons for this but productions, especially professional productions, are exceedingly rare. The Grand Duke shares this distinction with Utopia Limited and only Thespis is performed less and that is because its musical score has been lost.

I am a comparative newbie to Gilbert and Sullivan so it's refreshing to be as much in the dark about a show as the rest of the audience. Most G&S fans have seen all of the operas several times. All except The Grand Duke. For many, this is a brand new G&S opera and they will have found the story puzzling. I know that one couple of G&S fans staying at our hotel were up until midnight trying to make sense of the plot.

What can I tell you about the show and this production?

The rough story concerns a theatre company who are plotting to overthrow the Grand Duke, although why is not clear. Their "secret handshake" is to eat a sausage roll while talking with a potential conspirator and if they eat one as well then they are also part of the conspiracy. This backfires when one of the company accidentally reveals the plot to the sausage roll loving Grand Duke's private detective. To mitigate this disaster, the accidental whistle-blower fights a "statutory duel" with a co-conspirator. This isn't a real duel but a draw of a card - the possessor of the higher card is deemed to have lost and is therefore legally dead. The purpose of the duel is so that the loser can be blamed for the conspiracy.

Much confusion follows.

For me, as one who has dabbled in writing, the plot was complex enough to be satisfying but not overly so. The ending did not suffer from the normal weaknesses of G&S plots. No-one turned out to be the wrong baby nor did anyone cave in through the invocation of Queen Victoria's name or anyone have to marry anyone they didn't want to. The ending worked for me and hasn't yet had me thinking "oh hang on...".

The full plot, with spoilers, can be found on Wikipedia.

Aside from the lack of really memorable songs, I really rather enjoyed it. The only confusion for me was as a result of the casting two similar-looking actors for the Grand Duke and the Prince of Monte Carlo at a point where the duke was supposed to be legally dead (the result of another "duel") which made me think that the prince was really the duke in disguise. It soon turned out this wasn't the case.

I really can't see why this show isn't as popular as the others and I would definitely like to see The Grand Duke performed more often.

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