Ruddigore (2009)

The year of Queen Victoria’s first jubilee had come, and, even in the January of that splendid 1887, people were reading and talking about little else than Her Majesty and the coming pageant. Yet the affairs of the Savoy Theatre were also felt to be of no small importance; and when, on Wednesday, January 19th, the first long run of The Mikado ended and the theatre was closed for two nights while the finishing touches were being given to its successor, gossip and speculation ranged round the coming opera with the ominous title of Ruddygore. Thus, at least, the new piece was announced and actually produced. Very shortly after, the y was converted into an i, to gvie it the title by which we best know the opera today.

So, on Saturday night, January 22nd, 1887, the entirely new supernatural opera in two Acts, entitled Ruddygore, or The Witch’s Curse, was produced for the first time at the Savoy Theatre and ran for 288 performances. It was not revived until 1920 when it was substantially cut and provided with a new overture arranged by Geoffrey Toye. Years later, Gilbert declared Ruddigore to be one of his three favourites and Sullivan’s music is full of beautiful melodies: for example, the long madrigal, “When the buds are blossoming,” in the first Act, is one of Sullivan’s richest, and it has the peculiarity of being sung largely by the chorus almost without an accompaniment.

The opera is a parody of the stock melodrama with the villain who carries off the maiden; the priggishly good-mannered poor-but-virtuous-heroine; the hero in disguise and his faithful old retainer who dreams of their former glory days; the snake in the grass who claims to be following his heart; the wild, mad girl; the swagger of fire-eating patriotism; ghosts coming to life to enforce a curse; and so forth. But as one critic noted, Gilbert turns the moral absolutes of melodrama upside down: Good becomes bad, bad becomes good, and heroes take the easy way out.

The Baronets of Ruddigore are cursed. Anyone who succeeds to the title has to commit a crime every day – or perish in inconceivable agony! Robin Oakapple, a young farmer loves Rose Maybud, but both are too shy to tell the other. But Robin has a secret. He is really Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, the rightful Baronet of Ruddigore, in disguise. His younger brother, Despard, believing Ruthven to be dead, has assumed the title. Robin’s foster brother, Richard, seeking Rose for himself, tells Despard of Robin’s deception, and Robin is forced to accept his true position, losing Rose to Richard in the process.

Now the Baronet of Ruddigore, Robin is confronted by the he ghosts of his ancestors who step from their picture frames in the gallery of Ruddigore Castle to confront him for failing to conscientiously commit his daily crime. Robin eventually finds a way of satisfying his ancestors demands whilst continuing to live a blameless life…