Each lord of Ruddigore, Despite his best endeavour, Shall do one crime, or more, Once, every day, for ever! This doom he can't defy, However he may try, For should he stay His hand, that day In torture he shall die!
— Dame Hannah, Act I
Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse, described by its author as "An Entirely Original Supernatural Opera in Two Acts," was the 10th of the "Savoy operas" produced by Gilbert and Sullivan. Ruddigore is a parody of the so-called "TranspontineLatin trans pontem, "across the bridge" melodramas" of the early 19th centurynote such as East Lynne, or The Earl's Daughter; Maria Marten, or The Murder in the The Red Barn; The Face At The Window; Sweeny Todd, or The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; and Crimes At The Dark House, which were performed at theatres south of the Thames — including their high-flown and archaic language, the extravagances of their plots, and their recurring Stock Characters: the innocent orphaned Village Maiden, the poor-but-honest Yeoman Hero, the sneering, snarlingBad Baronet, the Honest Sailor, the Good Old Servant, the Fallen Woman Driven Mad By A Dark Secret, and, of course, the Ghost — in this case, a whole Gallery of Ghosts.
Critical reception of the piece was decidedly cooler than that of the preceding operas. Hisses were heard at the initial performance on January 21, 1887; some critics commented unfavourably on the staleness of Gilbert's criticism of melodramatic conventions and "dancing Quakers"note a reference to Sir Despard and Mad Margaret's dance in the second act — which was, however, praised for its drollery by other critics, though even those were inclined to give the credit to the performers, Rutland Barrington and Jessie Bond, some thought Sullivan's music far too heavy and serious for the ghostly capers of "the dead of the night's high noon" (a view privately shared by Gilbert himself) — even the costumes, on which Gilbert and impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte had taken great pains, were criticized for inaccuracy. note For instance, Sir Despard's hat would "surely have been made of beaver or otter, rather than glossy silk."(!)Further, controversies which seem ridiculous to moderns, and were dubious even in Victorian London, attached themselves to the piece. The original title was Ruddygore; an extraordinary qualm was raised because "ruddy" was used as a euphemism for "bloody" — and "'bloody' was a dirty word!" (This led Gilbert to quip later, "we were within an ace of changing it from Ruddygore to Kensington Gore, or Robin and Richard were two Pretty Men." (Another possible subtitle was Not-Half-So-Good-As-The-Mikado). Still more bizarre was the controversy stirred up by the London correspondent of Le Figaro, a Frenchman with the unconvincing name of T. Johnson, who accused the duo of insulting the Republic with Richard Dauntless's song of the "Poor Parley-voo" — a song which tells of the flight of a British sloop from the formidable guns of a French man-o'-war! The pair responded with a flowery letter to Le Figaro, disclaiming any intention of deriding la Marine d'une nation aussi brave que chevaleresqueEnglish "The navy of so brave and chivalrous a nation" and pointing out that French farces regularly used such terms as " 'Rosbif' et 'Goddam' " to refer to British soldiers. Another strange qualm affected the conduct of the piece itself, when Victorian audiences showed themselves squeamish over the Pair the Spares ending which involved the "professional bridesmaids" partnering with the long-dead-but-newly-revivified ghosts of all of Robin's ancestors — so the ending was altered to resurrect only Sir Roderick and to bring back the "Bucks and Blades" of Act I to make up the numbers.The opera was not revived by the Savoyards until 1920, when it was played in a shortened and altered version, with an entirely new overture by Geoffrey Toye. More recent productions have more or less restored Gilbert and Sullivan's original (sometimes reversing even alterations made by the duo themselves).
An Animated Adaptation of the opera by British animation company Halas and Batchelor appeared in 1966. There have been three Live Action Television adaptations, in 1972, 1982, and 2005; the 1982 version featured Vincent Price as Sir Despard. Ruddigore is also the focus of the Phryne Fisher novel Ruddy Gore.
All There in the Script: Some characters are given names for no apparent reason, which appear only in the dramatis personae. Of course, that's when the character appears in the script at all; for instance, Ruddigore has a long list of named ghosts in the dramatis personae. The script itself refers only to Roderick by name (Sir Rupert is mentioned in dialogue, but never pointed out as a specific ghost when he appears), and list the others as "1st ghost," "2nd ghost," and so on. The numbers never get high enough to include half the ghosts listed; the rest are presumably just ordinary choristers. The "professional bridesmaid" Ruth is also never named in the script.
Bowdlerization: Amazingly enough, played straight in Ruddigore, which had its very title changed due to the apparent offensiveness of the original title, Ruddygore (since "ruddy" means "bloody," which was apparently the F-Bomb (B-Bomb?) of the 19th and early 20th century in Britain — as in Shaw'sPygmalion.) Gilbert found this just as absurd as anyone, and suggested re-titling it Kensington Gore, or, Not So Good As The Mikado.note According to Martyn Green's Treasury of Gilbert and Sullivan this led to an exchange between the (gruff but witty) Gilbert and a stranger at a party: "How's Bloodygore going?" "Ruddigore!" "Oh, well, it's the same thing, you know." "Is it? Then I suppose that if I say I admire your ruddy complexion, it's the same as saying I like your bloody cheek! Well, it isn't — and I don't!"
Also, all the ghosts coming back to life to marry the professional bridesmaids was deemed too shocking, so Sir Despard's former retinue returns for no apparent reason and marries them instead. (Though they seemed to be able to get away with one resurrection.)
Possibly because Sir Roderick had died recently enough that it seemed reasonable that he should still be alive, if he had not been killed, whereas the idea of, say, Zorah, paired off with a 300-year-old Sir Rupert was just too squicky. Yeah, the Victorians were odd.
Burn the Witch!: How Sir Rupert Murgatroyd got his line into the mess he did.
Catch Phrase: Basingstoke it is! Also, every appearance of the Bridesmaids in Act I is punctuated by outbursts of "Hail the bridegroom! hail the bride!"
Christmas Cake: Averted with extreme prejudice by Dame Hanna. She's an old "tiger-cat" who leaps into hand-to-hand combat with her "ravisher" and terrorises him (à la "dainty Dora Stanpipe").
Completely Missing the Point: Richard Dauntless's "I shipped d'ye see" sent French newspapers into such an uproar over the perceived attack on the French that Sullivan was never able to get his works performed in Paris from then on. The song is actually about a British sailor talking about his mates' kindness when their sloop turned tail and fled from a formidable French frigate, which of course they could have taken on... but... um... decided not to, just now. Because fighting them would be mean. Yeah, that's it.
Rose Maybud follows etiquette to an excruciating degree, but doesn't seem to understand that the point of etiquette is to keep everyone comfortable. For further details refer to her song, "If somebody there chanced to be."
Note that Rose's dependence on her book of etiquette is itself a parody of the melodramatic trope of a character left a Bible by a dead parent and regarding it as a moral guide to be obeyed to the letter. This may be Gilbert's extremely subtle Take That at the Nonconformists in Britain who were noted both for their Biblical literalism and for their opposition to the theatre.
Cut Song: There are two versions of Robin's second-act patter song (not the trio); neither commonly used. A few D'Oyly Carte revivals in the 20th century also used to cut Rose's part in "Happily coupled are we."
Deadpan Snarker: When asked casually by a theatre-goer how "Bloodygore" (seeBowdlerization, above) was doing, Gilbert replied, "The name is Ruddigore." "Well, it's the same thing, what?" said the man, to which Gilbert replied, "Then I suppose that if I say, 'I admire your ruddy countenance,' it's the same thing as, 'I like your bloody cheek.' Well, it isn't — and I don't!
Designated Villain: In-Universe, the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore, who are obligated by the family curse to commit one evil deed each day, or else die in agony.
Evil Costume Switch: At the start of the second act (in productions that don't bump it up to the first act curtain), Robin Oakapple reappears in full Dastardly Whiplash costume, often wearing a cape and generally flourishing a riding crop. Old Adam also tends to develop a hunch in some productions.
Evil Makes You Ugly: "When in crime one is fully employed, your expression gets warped and destroyed." (Source of that trope's Page Quote.)
Sir Despard: Oh why am I husky and hoarse? Chorus: Ah, why? Sir Despard: It's the workings of conscience, of course. Chorus: Fie, fie! Sir Despard: And huskiness stands for remorse. Chorus: Oh, my! Sir Despard: At least it does so in my case!
Flanderization: The original Mad Margret, Jessie Bond from the 1887 production, was a very sympathetic young woman driven almost but not quite to the point of madness. It wasn't until revivals in the 1920s that she became the raving lunatic she is frequently played as now.
Fainting: Happens to Robin Oakapple at the end of Act I.
Good Hair, Evil Hair: Generally after Robin turns evil, he appears with slicked down hair and occasionally a pair of side-whiskers he didn't wear before. Likewise, Despard's hair will often be more flowing in the second act, and he may drop the mustache. At least one production had Despard physically handing his mustache to Robin/Ruthven at the end of the first act.
The Igor: After Robin Oakapple is transformed into Dastardly Whiplash-type Sir Ruthven, his servant, Adam Goodheart (AKA "Gideon Crawle"), spontaneously acquires a hump.
Incessant Chorus: The bridesmaids keep on bursting into their chorus ("Hail the Bridegroom — hail the Bride!") until Robin angrily orders them to leave.
The Ingenue: "Sweet" Rose Maybud is a parody of the type, although it turns out she is rather more artful than she lets on.
I Have You Now, My Pretty: Subverted militantly by Dame Hannah, who when Robin is ordered by his ghostly ancestors to carry her off, turns the tables and begins to pursue him with a large dagger.
Intentionally Awkward Title: As mentioned above, the title Ruddigore was rather racy for its day— even worse before it was changed from the original, ''Ruddygore''— owing to its similarity to the rude word "bloody."
In the original script (and some modern productions), when the curse falls on Robin, his faithful retainer Adam Goodheart changes his name to "Gideon Crawle" to reflect his new commitment to evil. Their duet at the beginning of Act II included a second verse lampshading this, with the chorus: "How providential when you find / The face an index to the mind / And evil men compelled to call / Themselves by names like Gideon Crawle!" Gilbert left Adam as "Adam" in later editions.
Names to Trust Immediately: Adam Goodheart (subtly subverted, in that in Victorian British English, "Adam" was accented on the second syllable), Sir Richard Dauntless (subverted in that he's actually a cowardly knave), Rose Maybud, and presumably the Posthumous Character Stephen Trusty (Dame Hannah's father).
The Ophelia: Parodied with Mad Margaret. The stage directions even specify that she should be "an obvious caricature of theatrical madness."
Pair the Spares: The female chorus is paired off with either the revivified ghosts, or the visiting gentlemen from the city, depending on version. It's kind of set up in Act I, where the women gush over the visiting gentlemen because "The sons of the tillage / Who dwell in this village" ... "Though honest and active, / They're most unattractive". Also, Richard and Zorah, who he's had no lines with before then. Mind, the opera's a spoof of bad melodrama plots, so...
Patter Song: "My eyes are fully open to my awful situation."
Poke the Poodle: The crimes of Sir Ruthven (except, of course, when he shot a foxnote Shooting a fox was considered unsportsmanlike among Victorian gentry. The preferred method of disposal was by a team of hounds. Oh, horror!).
Power of Friendship: Parodied by Robin's claiming he would never speak a word against Richard, even when the latter is stealing his girl – and then loading him with such backhanded compliments that Rose speedily dumps the hapless mariner.
Quietly Performing Sister Show: It was the team's follow-up to their greatest hit, The Mikado; though it subsequently gained a reputation for being the pair's first "failure," it actually ran for 288 performances, and Gilbert himself remarked, "It ran eight months and, with the sale of the libretto, put £7,000 into my pocket."
Rearrange the Song: For many years, the opera was not performed with its original (rather weak) overture (not by Sullivan himself, but by his assistant Hamilton Clarke), but with a new one composed by Savoy conductor Geoffrey Toye in 1919.
Romantic False Lead: Rose chooses Richard when Robin makes an (enforced) Face Heel Turn in the first act finale, but easily switches back to Robin in the second.
Sanity Slippage Song: Despard and Margaret sing a song ("I once was a very abandoned person") all about how crazy and evil they used to be, before they got better. As the song progresses, they start to get a bit caught up in the crazy again, before restraining themselves.
Spooky Painting: The ghosts of the former Bad Baronets emerge from their paintings to torment the current inheritor of the family curse.
Survival Mantra: Played for laughs; saying the word "Basingstoke"note a small town in northeast Hampshire, at the time noted mainly for a series of riots against the Salvation Army by employees of the local breweries always succeeds at bringing Mad Margaret to her senses.
Verbal Tic: Richard's "D'ye see" even recurs in his solo number.
Villain Song: Subverted in "Oh, why am I moody and sad" — Despard is complaining about being the Designated Villain because of his curse. Also "When the night wind howls" and "Henceforth all the crimes" (er, sort of).