As was customary for W.S. Gilbert, as soon as The Mikado had its opening night, he started work on the next production – Ruddygore. However, due to other work commitments, Sullivan delayed setting the opera to music until the latter part of 1886 – with rehearsals finally being commenced in December of the same year. The tenth Savoy Opera, Ruddygore was performed by the D’Oyly Opera Company on its opening night, at the Savoy Theatre, London on 22nd January 1887.
Gilbert used elements of Gilbert & Sullivan’s previous one-act operas (such as Ages Ago), as inspiration for Ruddygore, as well as the verses in Bab Ballads. For the latest two-act Savoy Opera Ruddygore Gilbert created a parody of the typical melodrama. He took melodramatic stereotypes and, in his customary fashion, turned them upside down – the hero became evil, the villain turned good and the hero took the easy way out.
A tainted opening night
Originally entitled Ruddygore, it had big shoes to fill, after the success of The Mikado and, initially it fell rather short of the mark. On opening night the first Act went well but unfortunately, the second Act resulted in the curtain going down to the first ever sound of hissing at The Savoy Theatre, amid cries of ‘Give us The Mikado’. This wasn’t helped by an off-night by Leonora Braham (as Rose Maybud) and George Grossmith’s (as Robin Oakapple) first night jitters.
However, not to be defeated Gilbert & Sullivan listened to the critics and implemented several changes. This included a slight spelling change of the title to Ruddigore and several changes to the second Act (summarised as: verses were cut, the ghosts didn’t reappear, references to the ‘Supreme Court’ were taken out and the finale was extended). Following these changes, the opera was met with moderately favourable reviews – enough to warrant run of 288 performances – although this was noticeably short for a Gilbert & Sullivan opera.
Although it received mixed revues, Gilbert lists Ruddigore as one of his top three favourite Savoy operas. It may have been one of his favourites, but Ruddigore was not revived during the lifetime of either Gilbert or Sullivan – it was left to the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company to revive it in 1920. Amongst other alterations, changes to the music were made that year, courtesy of Harry Norris, the musical director of the D’Oyly Carte at the time of the Glasgow revival. Geoffrey Toye the D’Oyly Carte musical director in London, subsequently created a new overture the following year.
Ruddigore may have been a weaker Savoy Opera, but it is still being produced. In 1987, the New Sadler’s Wells Opera used a text that restored many of the passages originally cut and Opera North revived its production of Ruddigore in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
If you’d like to experience one of Gilbert’s top Savoy Operas and cast your own verdict on Ruddigore, the Grim’s Dyke Opera Company will be performing a full costumed performance as part of our Gilbert & Sullivan Dinner events on the 1st November. Priced at £62.50 per person, price includes a 3-course meal, tea, coffee and Petit Fours. For further details and booking information please click here.