The next production in the current 60th season of the Lamplighters Music Theatre will be one of the more seldom performed collaborations of William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Princess Ida was not a great success when first performed by the Savoy Opera in 1884. This may have been because Gilbert wrote the dialogue in blank verse, because it is the only operetta in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon to have three acts, or just because that summer in London was particularly hot. Nevertheless, the work has a fascinating pedigree that may appeal more to contemporary audiences than to those of late nineteenth-century London.
Most important is the literary background of the plot. In 1847 Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a serio-comic narrative poem entitled The Princess. The Wikipedia page for this poem provides the following synopsis:
The poem tells the story of an heroic princess who forswears the world of men and founds a women's university where men are forbidden to enter. The prince to whom she was betrothed in infancy enters the university with two friends, disguised as women students. They are discovered and flee, but eventually they fight a battle for the princess's hand. They lose and are wounded, but the women nurse the men back to health. Eventually the princess returns the prince's love.
Gilbert was so impressed with this (and possibly surprised that Tennyson had a sense of humor) that he wrote his own version as a musical farce in blank verse in 1870, also called The Princess. This then became the origin for his Princess Ida project with Sullivan. Along the way Charles Darwin managed to find his way into the “topsy-turvy” logic of the libretto, since Ida reasons (sic) that only man is descended from apes and must therefore be inferior to women.
The San Francisco performances of Princess Ida will take place on February 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on February 2 and 3. The venue is the Lam Research Theater (formerly the Novellus Theater) at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at 700 Howard Street. General admission prices are $59, $49 and $44. Prices for seniors 62 and older are $54, $44 and $39, and the rates for students (25 and under) and those aged 17 and under are $20 and $15. Students with identification may also obtain $15 rush tickets one hour prior to curtain. Further information may be obtained by calling 415-978-2787 or by visiting the Lamplighters home page.