Saturday, 13 February 2010

Three Anecdotes from Shelford Walsh’s Operatics

I present three short anecdotes from a book by an opera coach, a certain Mr Shelford Walsh who may have hailed from Harrogate! His magnum opus is a book called “Operatics or How to Produce an Opera with numerous Gilbertian and other anecdotes.” It was published in 1903. Naturally what counted as great wit in those days would probably not raise more than a wry smile nowadays. However, the three anecdotes below are good examples of his humour. All lovers of G&S will need no glosses on these quotations.

A certain retired tradesman in a Midland agricultural town, who was a well-known local Malaprop prided himself on his knowledge of theatrical matters. On a certain occasion, when the late D'Oyly Carte's provincial company visited the town with "The Gondoliers," he was heard to remark in the bar of one of the leading hotels that he had enjoyed the performance of "The Chandeliers" very much indeed!

One evening after rehearsal, at a neighbouring hostelry the conversation turned upon the question as to which was the chef-d' oeuvre of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. After some discussion a gentleman who had imbibed rather freely, and who had listened to the expression of divers opinions, said, "Well, gentlemen, I think the two best of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas are ‘Pirates of the Guard' and ‘Yeomen of Penzance.'” Like his drinks, a little bit mixed forsooth.

In a performance of H.M.S. Pinafore a certain ‘prima donna’ objected to stand anywhere but in the centre of the stage whilst singing one of Josephine's solos, assuring Mr. Gilbert that she had played in Italian opera, and was accustomed to occupy that position. Gilbert simply said, "Oh ! But this is not Italian opera, but only a low burlesque of the worst possible kind.”

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