Why Ruddigore is Gilbert and Sullivan’s best work

[NOTE: This post will make no sense to you unless you are pretty familiar with the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.]

I always listen to Ruddigore in October, since it’s so well suited to Halloween and all, but more than that, it is my favorite Gilbert and Sullivan opera, period. I know, most people prefer Pirates, or Pinafore, or The Mikado, and those are all quite good. But Ruddigore, in my opinion, tops them all. Here’s why:

  1. Ruddigore has the most cohesive theme of any of G & S’s works. Read Gayden Wren’s book “A Most Ingenious Paradox” if you want really detailed analysis, but suffice it to say that both Gilbert and Sullivan gave the opera a recurring theme–and a serious one, at that–and backed it up with relevant words and music. 
  2. Ruddigore is the darkest of all their comic works. (Obviously, Yeomen doesn’t count. It’s not comic at all.) The darkness lends the humor an extra edge, and Gilbert works it to the max.
  3. It has the greatest Madrigal G & S ever did. “When the Buds are Blossoming” is flat-out magical. What Sullivan does to convey the changing of the seasons is a work of genius, and it perfectly complements Gilbert’s floral imagery (Read Wren) in the lyrics.
  4. It has Gilbert’s best dialogue ever. Mad Margaret and Rose. Again, you need to read Wren’s book to get this, but it is a marvelous scene. Writing a character who is babbles insanely, yet also provides key plot information is something very few writers can do, but Gilbert nailed it.
  5. It’s actually scary. I mean, it’s not super terrifying; but done properly the ghost scene is quite awesome, and can be really scary. In my opinion, it’s best if the song is played for maximum terror, which makes the following dialogue all the funnier. 
  6. It contains this line: “So pardon us–or die!” That right there is better than anything in Utopia, Limited.
  7. The names are some of Gilbert’s greatest. “Dick Dauntless”. “Rose Maybud”. And my favorite: having “Robin Oakapple” turn into “Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd” and “Adam Goodheart” into “Gideon Crawle”. 
  8. Sullivan’s versatility. Three love songs. Naval music. Supernatural fright music. Rapid-fire patter. A deliberately awkward dance number. Sullivan does it all.
  9. The ending is Gilbert’s best. To be clear, this only applies to Ruddigore when all the stuff they cut in the original run is put back in. The ending that is performed on most of the recordings is much, much weaker. But when performed as Gilbert wrote it for the opening night, it’s brilliant. The legal nit-picking at the end is the best in all of G&S, I think, and most epitomizes the topsy-turvy logic that Gilbert is so well known for. And, of course, the solos performed during finale are excellent.

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