Tuesday, October 18, 2005

And Speaking of the Victorians....

After wallowing in the pure pleasure that is the new Minkowski recording of Offenbach's La Grande Duchesse De Gerolstein -- an operetta about which I have previously gushed, and which has had a substantial chunk of previously-unrecorded music restored in this recording -- I decided to do what I always do with anything I enjoy, and Google it until I know so much trivia about it that I don't enjoy it anymore. Anyway:

What I found was an English version of "La Grande Duchesse," which was performed at the Savoy theatre in 1897 (this was after Gilbert and Sullivan had broken up and they had to find non-G&S works to play there). The translation of the lyrics, written for this production by the prolific Adrian Ross, is pretty good at finding English equivalents for the French phrases; "Ah! Que J'aime Les Militaires" (Ah! How I love soldiers) becomes "Soldiers! I'm simply mad about 'em," for example. But there are a couple of big changes that pretty much sum up the difference between French and English tastes in the latter part of the 19th century.

In the original "La Grande Duchesse De Gerolstein," one of the best numbers in the the third act is a nocturne sung to a just-married couple as they prepare for their wedding night. Meilhac and Halevy's lyrics are concise but clear:

Bonne nuit, monsieur, bonne nuit!
Ce simple mot doit vous suffire.
Vous comprenez ce qu'on veut dire,
Heureux coquin, lorsqu'on vous dit:
Bonne nuit!

[Goodnight, sir, goodnight!
This simple word will have to be enough.
You know what we mean, you fortunate rascal,
When we say: goodnight!]

Bonsoir, madame, bonne nuit!
Ce compliment vous fait sourire,
Et vous savez ce qu'on veut dire,
Chère madame, quand on vous dit:
Bonne nuit!

[Good evening, madame, goodnight!
This compliment makes you smile,
And you know what we mean when we say to you:

So what happens to this scene from an 1867 French operetta in the 1897 English version? The number is moved to before the couple gets married, and instead of wishing them goodnight, it becomes a song bidding the couple to come and get married:

Come to church, noble lord, come to church!
And when the ceremony's o'er,
You will not care to rove any more,
Or leave your lady in the lurch.
Come to church!

You, my lady, we bid you to church!
And when the ceremony's o'er,
You will live happy evermore,
Two little love-birds on one perch.
Come to church!

"Bonne nuit" becomes "Come to church." I know Queen Victoria hadn't long to go at that point, but you just cannot get more Victorian than that.

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