Opera Scotland

Ruddigore 1887Mr R D'Oyly Carte's Opera Company

Read more about the opera Ruddigore

Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse, following Gilbert and Sullivan's greatest success, The Mikado, almost inevitably had a troubled history.  After its initial London run and national tour, it disappeared from the repertoire for over thirty years, and even then was revived only in a form which the authors would not have recognised.

The first London performance at the Savoy Theatre came on 22 January 1887.  Then the efficient D' Oyly Carte organisation immediately set to work to put the show on the road, and the touring company arrived in Edinburgh on 8 August.  The highly successful Scottish leg of this tour lasted for seven weeks, Aberdeen only having one, but the three larger cities enjoying two weeks each.

The company did not generally give matinees on a Saturday, but they did provide a special charity matinee performance in Dundee, to raise funds for dependants of the recent catastrophic theatre fire in Exeter in which 186 had died.  That building had only recently opened, reconstructed after a fire two years earlier.  During the evenings since the fire, the Dundee manager William McFarland had carefully restored audience confidence, one method being to stage an evacuation of the packed theatre at every performance - usually achieving this in less than four minutes.

One member of this touring company was a complete novice, but would go on to a career embracing half a century and ending with a knighthood.  Henry Lytton did not have the most beautiful singing voice in the world, but was a great success in the specialist comedian roles created by George Grossmith.  He must have performed most of them hundreds of times.  On this tour, barely twenty years old, he must have been unusually convincing in the role of a young farmer.


Dundee Press Advertisement

The New and Supernatural Comic Opera

Words by W S Gilbert

Music by Arthur Sullivan

Prices of Admission During This Engagement

Private Boxes  £1 11s 6d and  £1 1s;

Dress Circle 4s; Stalls 3s; Upper Circle 2s 6d;

Pit & Amphitheatre 1s; Gallery 6d.


Dundee Press Preview

Dundee Advertiser: Monday, 12 September 1887  (p2)

Her Majesty’s Theatre - Ruddigore

'Thanks to the forethought of Mr M’Farland, the latest success of the Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration comes to us to-night while yet in the full flush of its popularity.  Despite much adverse criticism, Ruddigore has filled the Savoy Theatre night after night since its production, and remains the greatest production in London.  Its provincial career has also been an unbroken success.  Here, as elsewhere, the booking for seats in the high-priced parts of the house began many days before the date announced for the first performance, and to-night the house will be crowded.  That the audience will be delighted is, we fancy, a foregone conclusion.  Just as Pinafore was a satire on the “Tippy Cooke” school of nautical drama, so Ruddigore will be found a keen caricature of the blood-and-thunder melodrama that used to flourish in the South London theatres.

'In one of his characters Mr J L Toole contemptuously asks “Barts! what’s Barts?”  Well, the Baronets of the old melodramas were all bold, bad men, who oppressed their tenants and led village maidens astray. Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddygore is a very bad Bart., for though his iniquity is forced upon him by a witch’s curse it is constant.  As the head of the house of Ruddygore is bound under penalty of death to commit a crime a day the infamy in which each successive Baronet is steeped is appalling.  Nothing is more natural then, than to find a soft-hearted successor to the title evading his responsibilities by concealing his identity.  Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd does this.  Disguised as Robin Oakapple, a bashful farmer, he lives a stainless life, while his younger brother drees the dreary weird imposed by the curse.  Sir Ruthven is eventually compelled to assume his proper station, but succeeds by an ingenious device in repudiating his criminal liabilities and frees the future heirs from the curse.  That is the outline of the story, told in the whimsical style of Mr Gilbert, and adorned by charming ballads, richly melodious madrigals, and dashing choruses.

'That there are reminiscences of characters in their former operas and a recurrence of manner in the melodic themes are matters which, we think, will be welcomed rather than deprecated. Were Gilbert to give up the droll sallies and Sullivan to depart from the musical humour that have brought them fame and fortune their power to charm would be over. In Ruddigore they continue to give us sound, characteristic work, and the public are still receiving it with every token of approbation.

'The company who introduce Ruddigore to us to-night is a strong one, including Miss Kate Forster, Miss M Cockburn, Miss Pauline Gear, and Messrs Henry Lytton, H Cadwalladr, George Temple, and H D’Egville. Among the daintiest of the musical gems is the ballad “If somebody there chanced to be,” descriptive of the difficulties placed in a modest maiden’s way by the rules of etiquette. The words are whimsical, but the strain gives them a touch of sentiment. “Poor Little Man, Poor Little Maid,” a clever, tuneful duet in which sweethearts consult each other on behalf of supposed friends who are afraid to confess their mutual passion, is sure to please. Then Richard Dauntless, the dashing sailor, has a famous Dibdinic ditty about “The Darned Mounseer” and a cheery hornpipe to dance to.

'Sir Despard sings a characteristic song in which he asks, “O why am I moody and sad?” and the chorus answer “Can’t guess.” Mad Margaret, the injured heroine, has a laughable nonsense-scene “Cheerily Carols the Lark,” in which words and music fit each other pleasingly.  A pathetic ballad, “Roses, Only Roses,” is given to the same character, and another, entitled “There Grew a Little Flower,” will also be in favour. “When the Buds are Blossoming” is one of those sweet madrigals in the old-world manner which the composer delights in. The concerted numbers and the orchestration are all vigorously written. There is not a commonplace movement throughout - the entire score having a grace, distinction, and variety of its own. The dressing of the piece will be bright and picturesque, as may be gathered from our illustration.'


Two Dundee Reviews

The Piper o’ Dundee: Saturday, September 17 1887  (p164)

Her Majesty’s Theatre - Ruddigore

'Ruddigore, the latest opera from the firm of Messrs Gilbert, Sullivan, and D’Oyly Carte, has been performed nightly at Her Majesty’s Theatre during the week, and remains for another week.

'Ruddigore is “a thing of shreds and patches,” a fairly good musical burlesque or extravaganza, but as a comic opera of the Pinafore series must be pronounced a failure.  Either from timidity or a feeling that Surrey-side manners would be out of place on the boards of the Savoy, Mr Gilbert has failed in his attempt to burlesque melodrama.  The logical absurdities and the whimsical rules of etiquette introduced in Ruddigore are more Gilbertian than melodramatic, and this lack of motif seems to have affected the musical composer.  In the music of Pinafore and The Pirates there were reminiscences of the ships, the sea, and the sailors.  In the Mikado the blare of trumpet and beat of gong lent a refreshing novelty to the music.  In Ruddigore, if we except the madrigal and the solo, “There grew a little flower,” there is nothing musically good or takingly popular.  The “business” and “patter” are dangerously near the variety style of entertainment, and the want of action and emptiness of stage, especially in the first part of the opera, calls for faith in the conventionally successful author.

'Miss Kate Forster as Mad Margaret plays a trying role artistically, and is deliciously piquant and roguish in the rendering of her demurely humorous lines and ditties.  Miss M Cockburn as Rose Maybud, and Miss Pauline Gear as Dame Hannah, were prettily correct in their picturing of parts requiring delicate shading.  Mr Henry A Lytton played well as Robin Oakapple, but his singing was extremely commonplace, while Mr Cadwalladr was seriously wooden in his character of Dick Dauntless.  Mr H D’Egville sang splendidly as the Ghostly Baronet of Ruddigore.  Mr George Temple and Mr R H Edgar acted and sang carefully in their parts of Sir Despard and Old Adam Goodheart.  The opera is prettily staged, and the male choristers gorgeously dressed.  Mr D’Oyly Carte is specially proud of the uniforms of the crowd of sample soldiers visiting Rederring.


Dundee Advertiser: Monday, September 19 1887    (p6)

Her Majesty’s Theatre - Ruddigore

'The marked success attending the performances of Ruddigore during the past week augurs well for the attendance during this the second week of the engagement.  That in appreciation of the libretto and enjoyment of the music the opera grows in the estimation of those who have witnessed it more than once is the universal opinion. In this Ruddigore reminds us of Thackeray’s best works. One likes to read them first for the story, next for the skilful characterisation, and yet again for the charming diction. The skill with which the manner of the old melodramatists is caricatured, the interest the audience is compelled to take in the most illogically logical ghosts that ever trod the glimpses of the limelight, the quaintly curious harmonies and melodious conceits to which the lyrics are set, all pique the attention and invite a renewed audience of the combined work.

'As usual, the scenes where the humour is most whimsical are the best relished, and we are inclined to think that the opening scene between Rose Maybud and Robin Oakapple is the freshest. Their duet is written in Mr Gilbert’s kindliest vein, and it is so well set off by Miss M Cockburn and Mr Lytton that they are compelled to repeat it. The lovely ballad “To a garden full of posies,” also wins a nightly tribute of applause for Miss Kate Forster. Her patter singing, her “blameless dances,” and the wicked wink with which she deprecates the entertainment known as penny readings are proof of a versatility which the audience delights to honour.'

The ghostly gathering of the Murgatroyds is impressive, and so long as the mocking spirit is put aside by the spectator it becomes a weirdly fascinating dramatic illusion. The music Sir Arthur Sullivan has written to heighten this illusion is worthy of Weber. If Sir Roderick’s song is shuddery it is a powerful composition splendidly declaimed by Mr D’Egville, and its repetition is always asked for. “The pretty little flower and the great oak tree” is likewise a favourite air, and is already heard on the streets from whistling boys. One of the most characteristic refrains is that to the duet between Richard and Rose “Happily Coupled are We.” It is as bright and lively as anything in Pinafore or The Mikado; but it does not stir the audience owing to its being merely a refrain and not a set chorus. More of it would be acceptable.

'A better dressed piece has not come from the Savoy.  The military uniforms and the picturesque costumes worn in the ghost scene are marvels of the sartorial art, and have cost a great deal of money. To those who like tasteful and expensive costumes the exhibition of these dresses which begins to-day in the foyer of the Theatre at 12.30 will prove interesting.

'We are glad to announce that a matinee performance of the opera will be given on Saturday at 2.30, under the patronage of the Provost and Magistrates.  As Messrs M’Farland and D’Oyly Carte have resolved that the entire proceeds of this performance shall be forwarded to the Mansion House Fund in aid of the sufferers by the lamentable fire at the Exeter Theatre, we trust the house will overflow.

'We notice that Mr M’Farland, in pursuance of his desire to multiply precautions against fire and panic, has affixed at intervals in every part of the house neatly designed oil lamps, which will be kept burning during the performance.  Although the audiences this week have been very large the house has been cleared in less than four minutes.  On Saturday evening it was cleared in less than three minutes. The immunity from accident enjoyed by the Castle Street Theatre under the same careful management is secured in the Seagate house by the combination of prudent supervision and efficient equipment.


The Piper o’ Dundee: Saturday, September 24 1887    (p174)

Her Majesty’s Theatre - Ruddigore

'Ruddigore has continued to be well attended during the week.   Next week Miss Genevieve Ward and company appear in Forget Me Not.   Miss Genevieve Ward has been highly spoken of for her appearances in this interesting piece, which she was the first to make famous.

'Mr M’Farland and Mr D’Oyly Carte have arranged to give a matinee performance of Ruddigore to-day (Saturday), the free proceeds of which are to be given to the fund for the sufferers in the Exeter fire.   The performance is under the patronage of the Provost and Magistrates, and should be largely attended.

'The Aberdeen Justices have refused to license Mr M’Farland’s theatre in Aberdeen.  This legislation by panic is unfair both to lessee and the public.  Her Majesty’s Theatre, Dundee, with its fireproof curtain, and numerous and broad exits, is being spoken of as the model theatre.

'Her Majesty’s Theatre was prettily decorated on Wednesday in honour of the celebration of “Home Rule for Ireland.”'

Performance Cast

Dame Hannah Rose's Aunt

Pauline Gear

Rose Maybud a Village Maiden

Margaret Cockburn

Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd disguised as Robin Oakapple, a Young Farmer

Henry Lytton

Old Adam Goodheart Robin's Faithful Servant

Mr R H Edgar

Richard Dauntless Robin's Foster-brother, a Sailor

Mr H Cadwaladr

Mad Margaret

Kate Forster

Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddigore, a Wicked Baronet

George Temple

Sir Roderic Murgatroyd the Twenty-First Baronet

Hervet d' Egville

Production Cast


Mr W Robinson

Performance DatesRuddigore 1887

Map List

Royal Lyceum Theatre | Edinburgh

8 Aug, 00.00

Royalty, Glasgow | Glasgow

22 Aug, 00.00

Her Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

5 Sep, 19.30 6 Sep, 19.30 7 Sep, 19.30 8 Sep, 19.30 9 Sep, 19.30 10 Sep, 19.00

Her Majesty's Theatre, Dundee | Dundee

12 Sep, 19.30 13 Sep, 19.30 14 Sep, 19.30 15 Sep, 19.30 16 Sep, 19.30 17 Sep, 19.00 19 Sep, 19.30 20 Sep, 19.30 21 Sep, 19.30 22 Sep, 19.30 23 Sep, 19.30 24 Sep, 14.30 24 Sep, 19.00

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