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no. 336

Saturday, 21 February 2004

La Statue du Commandeur (Don Juan Up to Date),
Prince of Wales's Theatre, London, 11 June 1892

La Statue du Commandeur

La Statue du Commandeur (Don Juan Up to Date),
Prince of Wales's Theatre, London, 11 June 1892,
with (left to right) Renoux as Count Prospero, V. Courtès as Sganarelle, Mdlle. Litini as Sylvia,
A. Tarride in the title role, Mdlle. Chassin as Rosaura, Mons. Albouy as Don Luiz, and H. Burguet as Don Juan.

(photo: Alfred Ellis, London, 1892)

La Statue du Commandeur (Don Juan Up to Date), a wordless play by Paul Eudel and Evariste Mangin, with music by Adolphe David, was produced under the direction of Charles Lauri at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, London, on 11 June 1892. It ran for 50 performances. The play was first produced at the Cercle funambulesque, Paris, on 14 January 1892.

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'One was led to hope, after the failures that followed the brilliant run of L'Enfant Prodigue [Prince of Wales's, London, 31 March 1891], that, under Mr. Charles Lauri's auspices, we should be treated to another pantomime equally successful. For to surpass it was impossible. As far as subject is concerned in La Statue du Commandeur (or, to give it the superfluous sub-title in the programme, Don Juan up to date) there is nothing to complain of. The story of the stone guest is familiar to every one, even to those who are unacquainted with Molière's play, or Mozart's version of the legend. All absence of obscurity is a merit it shares with its incomparable predecessor. For in a gesture-play there must be no abstruseness, or, at all events, no psychology or symbolism that is not perfectly patent to the highest intelligence in the pit or the lowest intelligence in the stalls. And it would be a sheer platitude to insist that only very competent and highly trained actors could possibly render such a performance satisfactory. Messrs. Pendel and Margin [sic], the inventor of the piece, have rightly realized the importance of simplicity in choosing a plot, and there are few alterations that we could suggest, unless it be the exclusion of pages and men-at-arms from the scene. But they have not been wholly fortunate in their interpreters.
'In Act i. (the Invitation) the scene is laid in a market-place, where stands the statue of the Commander whom Don Juan had killed in a duel. Don Juan and Sganarelle his servant (the Leporello of Mozart), and some friends, are serenading Rosaura, a singer, and Sylvia, a dancer, whose houses are conveniently and theatrically situated at the back and one side of the stage respectively; while the palace of Don Juan occupies the other side. Both ladies accept an invitation to supper, and the Don, whom we learn from the "Argument" is "in daring, reckless humour" (though we should never have suspected the circumstance from M. Burguet's lugubrious performance), invites the Statue to the banquet. Much to the alarm of Sganarelle and the others, the invitation is accepted. In Act ii. (Intoxication) we have the banquet, and here there is an opportunity for M. Courtès, whose excellent performance of Pierrot Père [in L'Enfant Prodigue] is still fresh in every one's mind. As Sganarelle he has hardly the same scope for his great talents; but he certainly makes the most of his part. His directions to the servants and musicians were humorously given, and his powers of gesture, acting, and facial expression were never more apparent. Nor had he the advantage of a powdered face, so that his achievement is the more remarkable. The honours, however, fall to M. Tarride, who personates the statue with exquisite humour and completeness. His impressive entrance to the feast was calculated to strike terror in the hearts of the revellers. This scene saves the piece, and is alone worth a visit to the Prince of Wales' Theatre. The Statue at first refuses in a dignified manner all hospitality, and here the useful little "Argument" again reminds us "that the reckless humour of Don Juan at length prevails," together with the blandishments of the ladies. The helmet and cloak of the Statue are removed, and a wreath of roses takes their place. He becomes violently intoxicated, and joins in a dance. In banging his hand on a table he breaks one of his stone fingers. The whole scene is most laughable. Even the limpness of M. Burguet's Don Juan was unable to spoil the effect of M. Tarride's acting. M. Burguet seems to have no conception of the swagger and boasting usually associated with the Spanish libertine; nor does he understand the essential qualities of a gesture-play – that every movement must have a meaning, and that the meaning must be perfectly obvious. Our own Mr. Arthur Roberts, though he might have introduced a too boisterous spirit of burlesque to be suitable for the part, would have made a more satisfactory Don Juan. In Act iii. (Expiation) the scene changes to the market-place. The inhabitants express mild and restrained surprise at finding the Statue gone from his pedestal; and when they see him reel out of Don Juan's palace, crowned with roses, they all look as if they rather expected it. After a fruitless attempt to regain his place, the Statue sits down and meditates. Don Juan and the revellers appear, and restore his helmet and cloak. The effect is instantaneous; and the Statue regains his senses and his dignity when, after strangling Don Juan, he returns to the pedestal, and resumes his normal condition.
'The music of M. Adolphe David excites neither prise nor blame. It had the merit of having borrowed little or nothing from Mozart. The gestures seldom had their counterpart in the score p an indispensable quality of descriptive music. But M. Tarride, as the Statue, makes up for every deficiency; nor must we omit to mention the performances of Mlle. Litini as Sylvia, rendered with exceptional style and intelligence.'
(The Saturday Review, London, Saturday, 25 June 1892, p.744)

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