A Sensation Novel (1871)

Libretto by W. S. Gilbert
Music by 'Florian Pascal'
[Joseph Williams, Jr.]

Philip Baas
Bus Conductor
Henry Kettell
     a detective
Stuart Rabinow
The Spirit of Romance
Nicholas Schadow
Herbert, a Sunday-school
     teacher, in love with…
Tom Dinger
Lady Rockalda,
     the vamp
Jenny Nicholson
Alice Grey, the governess,
     in love with…
Anne Harvey
Sir Ruthven Glenaloon,
     the wicked Baronet
Henry Kettell

The Royal Victorian Opera Company
Wayne Ward, music director and pianist

A Sensation Novel
Gallery of Illustration Advertising Poster
Reviewed by J. Donald Smith

A Sensation Novel is probably the most unusual of Gilbert's topsy-turvy plots. The characters in a melodrama (a take-off on the novels of Wilkie Collins) have independent existences apart from their 'participation' in novels and have desires which are opposed to the stock treatment by the authors of 'sensation novels.'

The music publisher Joseph Williams bought the copyrights of Gilbert's "Gallery of Illustration" works in 1895 after the deaths in rapid succession of Mrs. Reed and the Reeds' son Alfred. While the original music had been by Reed, Williams rescored the work, not so much for performance as for the potential royalties attendant on Gilbert's name. The new music sounds like early Debussy. It serves to bring the work to the stage, but sounds quite out of period.

The video is a decent performance but one (early in the history of the 'Royal Vic') in which the timing in the dialog is not up to their later standard.

[Editor's Note: I saw this production of A Sensation Novel live at the Gilbert Sesquicentennial Conference in 1986. The play anticipates Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, one of Gilbert's most striking creations. I agree with Don Smith's assessment of the music.]

Issue History
1986[none]VHS NTSC[no number]