Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Honourable Mention: Ruddigore

It may seem odd, to those familiar with it, that I am giving a mention to the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Ruddigore – in the guise of the 1982 Barrie Gavin directed version. So, before I go into the production itself, we must turn to Roxana Stuart’s volume Stage Blood: Vampires of the 19th Century Stage.

Stuart looks at Ruddigore, first staged in 1887, within that volume and informs us that it was originally entitled Ruddygore, “The title was a major problem. “Ruddy” had become rather too close to “bloody,” and, amazingly, this was enough to prevent many “nice” people from attending.” (p170) So the title itself could be read as bloody gore. In many respects the opera was a parody of, or play on, melodrama – and of course the vampire had played its role in melodrama – and Stuart offers a convincing argument that it was (mostly in the second act) a direct skit of Boucicault’s The Vampire.

Probably most telling was the appearance of the character Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd – correctly pronounced in production as Riven. Of course Ruthven was the vampire from Polidori’s the Vampyre: A Tale and he had reappeared in various plays, operas and prose through the 19th century. Erik Butler also looks at the opera in his volume The Rise of the Vampire, referencing Stuart.

Robin and Rose
So we have an opera set in the town of Rederring, Cornwall, which sits in the shadow of Ruddigore Castle. The village has a cadre of professional bridesmaids (the chorus) who have been out of work as no one seems able to win the heart of the maiden Rose Maybud (Sandra Dugdale). Rose lives with her Aunt (Johanna Peters) and secretly wishes that Robin Oakapple (Keith Michell) will express a desire for her. Robin loves her but is too shy to say so. From her Aunt, who was once engaged to former Baronet Sir Roderic Murgatroyd (Donald Adams), we hear of the Ruddigore curse. Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, the first Baronet of Ruddigore, had been a witch hunter and one had cursed him whilst she was burnt at the stake – all Baronets of Ruddigore were cursed to commit a criminal act every day.

Vincent Price as Sir Despard
Robin has a dark secret – he was the eldest son and so should have been the next Baronet of Ruddigore. To escape that fate he has hidden away, changed his name and has been assumed dead; his younger brother Sir Despard Murgatroyd (Vincent Price, the Last Man on Earth, Madhouse, Scream and Scream Again , the Monster Club & Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet Frankenstein) has taken the title and thus the curse. He also has a foster brother, a sailor just returned to England called Richard Dauntless (John Treleaven). Robin confesses his love for Rose to Dauntless who agrees to speak to her, falls in love himself and asks her to marry him rather than Robin.

getting a light
Rose is rather inconsistent and having said yes to Dauntless then breaks the engagement and plans to marry Robin. At this point we meet Sir Despard – a man aged by his criminal lifestyle he tries to outwit the ghosts of his ancestors (who haunt each Baronet to ensure their compliance with the curse) but who actually tries to do good, after committing the day’s crime. When we meet Sir Despard we see that he has powers, apparently; to light a cigarette he clicks his fingers and an arm emerges from a grave to strike a light and we also see him fly. We also see his costuming is somewhat vampiric, in the classic Lugosi way, or maybe just the apparel of a melodrama villain. Dauntless tells Sir Despard who Robin really is and, by doing so, allows the younger brother to pass the curse back to the elder and thus stops the marriage of Robin – now referred to as Ruthven – and Rose.

in a coffin
The second act takes place in Ruddigore Castle and Ruthven now dresses the part of a villain and, in a very vampiric twist, sleeps in a coffin. He has a false moustache, in order that he might twirl it, but is particularly bad at crime – he can be rude, but the heights of his crimes include disinheriting a son not actually born and forging his own will! When Dauntless and Rose visit him to ask for his permission for them to marry he does threaten them (weakly) but is held off by an apotropaic – in the form of the Union Jack (mentioned directly as such, rather than the Union Flag, and called such I assume because Dauntless is a sailor). He quickly caves and gives his blessing.

ancestors come from the paintings
His poor ability as a criminal brings down the ire of his ancestors whose ghostly apparitions emerge from their portraits. Stuart points out that this is lifted from Boucicault’s The Vampire. We then discover that the Baronet cannot die by any means – save by dying in agony should he not commit his daily crime. The day is eventually won as Ruthven realises that each Baronet has eventually given up their life of crime and thus died. This, he logically argues, is suicide and suicide is, of itself, a crime. Thus none of them should have died. This also allows him to commit a daily crime, without harming another, by refusing to commit a daily crime. Thus unencumbered of his “bad Baronet” persona, the fickle Rose returns to him!

held back by the Union Jack
So Ruthven can be argued to be, loosely, some form of vampire – but his life is extended by crime rather than devouring maidens. The ghosts of his ancestors might even be said, under the same argument, to be vampiric ghosts, again loosely. The intent of the satire was clear and I think – certainly as something that is of genre interest – this did deserve a honourable mention. Plus, of course, the version I looked at featured the great Vincent Price. The imdb page is here.


Unknown said...

Stills look great. I have Stuart´s excellent book, but I have never seen, ahem, Bloody gore myself.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

the dvd set at the bottom is pricey but I got the Aussie DVD from eBay at a cheap old price :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

should have also said, thanks for stopping by and the comment Kirsi