After ten Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations, audiences were beginning to find fault with the predictability of what was being served up.
Ruddigore was given a rough passage at its first performance. In particular, Act II went badly enough for composer and librettist to meet on the morning after, and the Finale was hurriedly rearranged. Other changes were made later on by conductors, and some found their way into print. Oxford University Press published a critical edition in 2000. In following it, the Opera North team has restored the work to the final version that was arrived at by its composer and librettist.
The original production enjoyed a run of just under 300 performances – confirmation that the new operetta appealed to a wide public from its earliest days. Gilbert regarded it as his best work.
Many of Sullivan’s supporters encouraged him to become involved in composing more serious music. After Mikado he wrote The Golden Legend for the Leeds Festival while working on Ruddigore – in other words, moving from comic to serious and back within two years. Perhaps that may be why Gilbert came to be displeased with his colleague’s Act II music.
Had he heard it in conjunction with director Jo Davies’s production and set designer Richard Hudson’s splendid portrait gallery, he might well have soft-pedalled some of his criticisms. All elements combined to give an eminently satisfying effect. The coming to life of portraits was particularly well handled, and Steven Page’s Ghost’s High Noon was a highlight of the evening.
In a first-class line-up of soloists, Heather Shipp sang and acted the odd part of Mad Margaret with gusto. Richard Burkhard’s Sir Despard Murgatroyd was outstanding.
Conductor Timothy Henly held stage and pit together unfailingly and was ever alert to the finer details of Sullivan’s score. The Northern Sinfonia responded to his direction with playing of highest quality from the start. There were some excellent wind solos. Mention must be made too of the fine madrigal in the church scene of the Act I Finale.