I remember when I first read the libretto to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore. I was familiar with the “Big 3” Savoy operas–Pinafore, Pirates and The Mikado, but Ruddigore was the first of the others that caught my attention–probably because of the name and the fact it had ghosts in it. But as I read it, I was absolutely blown away by how good it was. This is hilarious, I thought. Why isn’t it as famous as the others?
I’ve always loved Ruddigore the most of all the operas from that point on. The picture-gallery coming to life and Sir Roderick’s chilling song, the gorgeous madrigal at the end of Act I, the “Matter trio”, the brilliant plot resolution which is so, so much cleverer than those in Mikado or Iolanthe.
But while I loved Ruddigore, I never saw or heard a production that quite matched how it looked and sounded in my head. There are lots of good ones, to be sure, but never one that lived up to what I always wanted the show to be.
To be precise, this performance by the Stanford Savoyards still isn’t exactly the Ruddigore of my dreams. It’s somehow better. These people are amazing.
Where to begin? The lady who plays Mad Margaret is incredible–she truly seems mad; without straying too far to the point where she becomes just pathetic. She somehow captures both the humor and the pathos of the role and balances them perfectly. Despard is absolutely splendid as a manipulative, but not wholly un-feeling bad Baronet. Richard Dauntless is excited and energetic without being over-the-top. The fellow who portrays Robin does a great job as the meek-but-moral farmer, who is, I think, the greatest of all Gilbert’s heroes. Sir Roderick is properly confident and threatening as the leader of the ghosts, and in his second scene, seems extremely fond of his old love, Dame Hannah, who is also terrific.
They are all perfect; exactly as I pictured the characters in my mind.
And then you’ve got Rose Maybud. She is better than I imagined. The actress transforms Gilbert’s two-dimensional caricature into a still very funny, but also very human and sympathetic woman. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to so completely alter the character while still remaining completely faithful to the script, but somehow she did it.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the music. That’s because I’m not musically savvy enough to really talk about it, but I know what I like, and I love the way they handle the score here.
There are so, so many moments I could point to as examples of why this is a triumph of theatrical magic 125 years in the making. Watching the whole thing is really the only way to grasp it, but if I had to pick one scene, it would probably be in the Act 1 finale, at about the 1:21:10 mark, when Robin is trying to hand Rose the veil that she dropped at the revelation Robin is the bad Baronet of Ruddigore, and she refuses it.
It’s a funny set-up–the woman who defines her whole life by a book of etiquette is breaking up with the man who has just been revealed to be rightful legal holder of the accursed title of that requires him to commit a crime a day–except on bank holidays. It’s absurd and ridiculous and funny. But you know what else? There’s some real sadness in that scene–I automatically feel sorry for Rose and Robin, even though it’s all silly, and I know it’s all going to end happily anyway.
Sentiment and silliness. Horror and humor. Love and legalese. All these elements are mixed perfectly by the performers, into a unique blend.
That, my friends, is what the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are all about.