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"THE CHILDREN'S PINAFORE."
A full dress rehearsal was given on Friday afternoon of The Children's Pinafore, which, as we have already announced, is a representation of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's remarkably attractive comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore entirely performed by children for children. But we shall be very much mistaken if children only are the patrons of this juvenile opera company. All the little folks who see it will, of course, wish to take "their sisters, and their cousins, and their aunts" to the Opera Comique. We can promise them when they do go one of the greatest treats they have ever had in their lives. The jaded playgoer will discover in the charming representation given by these clever little comedians and vocalists quite a new sensation. In fact, nothing astonished us more during the dress rehearsal than the freshness imparted to characters and scenes which for over five hundred nights have been witnessed by so many thousands. These youthful artistes appeared in many instances capable of giving new conceptions of character — capable of introducing original by-play and stage business, and by their natural talent and the keen zest with which they entered upon their task, capable also of making the spectator take a novel interest in a work which they already knew by heart.
The audience on Friday was a most critical one, bent rather upon criticising the merits of the performance than disposed at first to applaud. But soon one and all became absorbed in what proved to be an absolutely unique performance. When not laughing or uttering exclamations of delight the spectators indulged in frantic applause. They called the little boys and girls to the front and greeted them with cheer upon cheer; they insisted upon the musical items being given twice and even thrice, so charmingly did the young vocalists acquit themselves. They called for the Acting Manager and the Conductor, and had they known the valuable services rendered by Mr. Edward Nolan, the Chorus-master, in training his clever company they would have included him in the compliment. In the whole course of our experience we do not remember so triumphant a dress rehearsal as that of The Children's Pinafore. There was not a hitch from beginning to end, and the marvellous manner in which the children fitted their parts, and their characters fitted them, was something to be remembered.
In some cases, of course, the performers had gained previous experience on the stage, but the new comers did not suffer by the comparison. All were competent, and more than competent indeed, for sometimes they displayed absolute genius.
The young gentleman who represented the First Lord, Master Edward Pickering, displayed remarkable talent. He had a graceful figure, and his movements were quite aristocratic. It was positively refreshing to witness his manipulation of an eyeglass. There was a dainty official dignity about him that was positively side splitting. His song descriptive of the manner in which the First Lord won his position as "the ruler of the Queen's Navee" was encored amidst thunders of applause. But it was not only in his clever singing that he gained laurels. His comic business when Sir Joseph believes he has won the heart of the fair Josephine was so funny that it was welcomed with shrieks of delight. Nothing could be droller or more perfect of its kind.
As Captain Corcoran Master Harry Grattan would, we felt certain, be quite up to the mark in his acting. Indeed, it was admirable, but we were hardly prepared to hear such capital singing. His rendering of the solo in the graceful trio of the second act was nothing short of perfection. The passage "Never mind the why or wherefore" was given with astonishing spirit. Another merit we must chronicle was the clearness and emphasis with which the words were given. The dialogue is not easy, but these talented young artistes did not miss a word, and invariably gave the sentences with their true accent and suggestiveness. The sly drollery infused into such passages as "What, never?" could not have been surpassed by the most experienced performers. Taking leave of Master Grattan, we may also compliment him upon his gentlemanly appearance. He looked the smartest Captain imaginable.
Master Harry Eversfield as the lover Ralph Rackstraw made a remarkable hit. Master Eversfield has a voice of the purest quality, sweet, sympathetic, and clear, and his natural aptitude for music is so great that he sings it like an operatic artiste. His intonation and style deserved the warmest commendation, and being a good-looking youth, and having an agreeable manner in acting, his success was complete.
Anything more amusing than the Dick Deadeye of Master William Phillips could hardly be imagined. The little follow, who is, as Dickens says, "Chock full of talent," was made up so grotesquely that a peal of laughter followed his appearance on the stage. Master Phillips had evidently studied his comic business with the utmost attention and with the keenest ideas of humour. Never has "an old head upon young shoulders" turned to more whimsical account, especially in the scene where Deadeye comes to warn the Captain of his daughter's flight. The comic talent here displayed convulsed the audience with merriment. It was exquisitely comic in the acting and equally droll in the singing. His solo, “Kind Captain, I've important information," in the amusing duet, was nothing short of first-rate, and such comical tones were introduced that the duet was redemanded amidst shouts of applause and laughter. The Dick Deadeye was, in fact, one of the great bits of the day.
Master Edward. Walsh was excellent as the Boatswain's Mate, and sang "The Englishman" with great spirit; and Master Charles Becker did himself credit as the Carpenter's Mate. Master Adolphus Fitzclarence, whose years might certainly be counted upon the fingers of a single hand, made everybody roar at his chubby cheeks and the consequential and knowing airs he assumed when patronised by the First Lord.
So much for the young gentlemen; and the young ladies wore quite as successful. Miss Emilie Grattan had an arduous task in representing Josephine, the Captain's daughter, but her talents enabled her to win a most decided success. She executed the music — and here we must remark that nothing is shirked, the opera is given with the same completeness as by the "grown-ups” — with the utmost facility, rendering the most elaborate passages with neatness and skill, and always with the requisite expression, while her acting was full of intelligence and meaning, The scenes with Sir Joseph and Ralph may be instanced as displaying rare talent and sense of character.
Miss Louisa Gilbert, as Hebe was also efficient, and in the concerted music lent valuable assistance.
The Little Buttercup of Miss Ettie Mason was as remarkable as anything in the performance. The little lady entered into the spirit of her part with a calm confidence in her powers such as the "oldest stager” might have envied. The grotesque drollery of the conception lost nothing in her hands from the moment when she was enthusiastically encored in her first song to the revelation in the last scene, where Buttercup plays so important a part. The young lady was received with the greatest enthusiasm, and was frequently encored in other pieces. In the duet of the second act she was emphatically complimented, and when called for at the close she was again greeted with hearty cheers.
Besides the very admirable representation of the chief performers we can also speak with the greatest praise of the chorus. The various pieces were given with wonderful spirit and accuracy, and in many instances they were rewarded with the heartiest applause. The bright, fresh young voices were delightful to hear; and, having already alluded to the efforts of Mr. Nolan, we must again compliment that gentleman on his patience, skill, and talent, and, best of all, upon his success, for the concerted passages were always well in tune. Most of the little folks engaged were his pupils, and master and students may he equally congratulated.
Mr. Francois Cellier conducted the orchestra with tact and skill, and there was never any fault to find. One suggestion only need be made, which is to some of the instrumentalists, not to overpower the young voices. The charm of this Children's Pinafore will be found, not so much in its imitations of the elder performers, as in the childish grace and drollery imparted by the juvenile performers themselves. Audiences will not expect shouting and screaming, and the voices of all the little artistes are quite loud enough to he heard if the orchestra is slightly subdued.
We have said enough to convince our readers that The Children's Pinafore is a thing for everybody to see, whether they are of tender years or are "children of a larger growth." Hoary-headed grand-papas will shake their sides with delight; cosy old dames will declare that it makes them feel young again; prim spinsters of uncertain age will relax their rigid muscles and forgot there is such a subject as "Woman's Rights;" simpering maidens will give unwonted encouragement to bashful swains; and there will be one broad, universal grin of enjoyment on the faces of all who witness The Children's Pinafore at the Opera Comique. The first public performance will take place on Tuesday afternoon next.
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