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no. 355

Saturday, 3 July 2004

Yolande, a Dream of far Cathay,
'New Grand Ballet in Four Tableaux,
invented and designed by Alfred Thompson',
including 'Cascades of real Water and Novel Effects',
Alhambra Theatre of Varieties, Leicester Square, London, 18 August 1877


Incidents from the ballet, Yolande, a Dream of far Cathay,
Alhambra Theatre of Varieties, Leicester Square, London, 18 August 1877

(from original artwork by Alfred Thompson,
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, London, Saturday, 22 September 1877, p.12)

'The well-deserved renown which this theatre has long enjoyed for the unrivalled splendour and brilliancy of its ballets, was further enhanced by the production on Saturday night [18 August 1877] of the new grand romantic ballet d'action, Yolande, a Dream of far Cathay, invented and designed by Mr. Alfred Thompson, and which, for picturesque scenery, the taste, variety, and splendour of costumes, and the graceful and elaborate evolutions and groupings of the numerous cops de ballet arrayed in the quaintly fantastic costumes of Japan, has, it may be at once stated, surpassed all its predecessors, even at this acknowledge home of the spectacular ballet. The novelty has, moreover, the merit of possessing an interesting and poetical story, which is so clearly and intelligibly developed through its different phases, by the graceful dancing and expressive pantomimic action of the exponents of the four principal characters, as to render any reference to the printed synopsis of the plot, provided by Mr. Thompson, almost unnecessary. The idea of the ballet was first suggested by the fact that some curios, presumably Chinese and Japanese, were brought over to Italy by Genose sailors in the fifteenth century. On the curtain rising an Italian market-place is discovered, in the midst of which stands a fountain. The statue of the Countess Yolande, patroness of the town, surmounts the basin where the village gossips fill their pitchers; this statue on certain nights is supposed to become animated; and woe betide any bridegroom who crosses the spirit's path. Tito, a young Italian noble, is wedded this very day to Graciosa, a girl of humble birth. The wedding procession returns to the hostelry, where the feast awaits the bridal pair; after a tarantella, the host ushers them in as the sun sets. Lothario, a rival of the bridegroom, comes with his friends to serenade the bride. Tito, called from the feast, is first insulted and then tempted to fight with his rival. Slightly wounded, he faints at the foot of the fountain, his rival taking flight. The statue now becomes animated, and in the form of a lovely nymph, descends from the pedestal, and using all her powers of fascination, allures the bridegroom, who has recovered from his swoon, to follow her through the waters of the well to the gold and silver mines, where pigmy gnomes are at work in excavating the mineral treasures. With these Yolande in vain tempts Tito, whose constancy is still unshaken by a vision, which Yolande conjures up, of Graciosa, listening to Lothario's love pleadings. Yolande, infuriated at her failure, gives Tito over to demons, who cast him in an abyss, and the scene instantly changes to a Daimio's palace in Japan. Tito's astonishment knows no bounds at finding himself in this paradise. Pursued by faces he knows, his bride, his rival, appear before him, and the fair Yolande herself returns to tempt him again. On attempting to seize his bride he is attacked by Lothario and his guards, and the gentle Graciosa and welcomed to life by his friends. A dreamy recollection of that far Cathay mingles with delight at returning consciousness, and the fair Yolande reappears only as the memory of a poetic dream. The romantic story is, as we have already stated, most clearly developed by Mdlle. Passani as Graciosa, the village bride; Mdlle. [Erminia ] Pertoldi as Yolande, the legendary enchantress; Mdlle. Gillert as the young bridegroom, Tito; and Mons. [Alfred] Josset as Lothario, his rival. The brilliancy and skilful execution of the joyous dancing of the young bride by the first-named lady presenting a characteristic contrast to the dreamy, voluptuous poetry of motion of Mdlle. Pertoldi in her attempt to fascinate Tito, both gaining enthusiastic applause and respective encores. Mdlle. Gillert as Tito not only displayed infinite grace and skill in her dancing, but her every movement and pantomimic action were eloquent in their intelligent and dramatic expressiveness. Mons. Josset as Lothario was also excellent, and in the Japanese scene, as the potentate was quaintly amusing. The two principal scenes are of exquisite beauty, the first representing the market-square of an Italian city in the fifteenth century, from its picturesquessness, and the third a "Japanese Palace and Gardens," with a back-ground of rocks, down which cascades of real water dash and trickle with refreshing effect. For novelty and fantastic splendour this scene has never been surpassed. It is another triumph for the artist, Mr. Albert Calcott, who was enthusiastically summoned to the front. In this scene takes place the great terpsichorean display of the piece by the corps de ballet, in a variety of quaint and fantastic Japanese costumes – one section in the blue and white, another in white and blue, a third in the brilliant plumage of crested oriental birds – all copied from the designs on Japanese ceramic ware. In the elaborate dances and graceful groupings of these numerous figures, the harmonious bending and continual change in the combination of those bright and fanatic costumes, all of the richest material, produced a most dazzling effect.
'The music composed for the new ballet by Monsieur [Georges] Jacobi, is bright and tuneful, while it is further characterised by its local colouring, the soft Italian style being adhered to in the first scene, and an appropriate quaintness and jingle sufficiently marks that arranged for the grand Japanese scene. The new ballet was a triumphant success, being received with tumultuous acclamation throughout; and the principal artists, as well as the four leading coryphées – Mdlles. Sismondi, Rosa Melville, Richards, and Rosa, who lent most efficient and graceful aid tin the various dances – were recalled at the conclusion, and warmly applauded, Mdlle. Gillert receiving an especial ovation. L'Orpheé aux Enfers, in which Mdlle. Cornelie D'Anka now sustains the role of Eurydice, still continues attractive.'
(The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, London, Saturday, 25 August 1877, pp.546c/547a)

Erminia Pertoldi

Erminia Pertoldi

(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, circa 1875)

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Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper as she appeared in Havana,
Gaiety Theatre, London, 1908

(photo: Bassano, London, 1908)

A sample of John Culme's hand made greetings cards,
currently available at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The above greetings card and others like it have been made to celebrate Terence Pepper's current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, devoted to Bassano's early 20th Century photographs of theatrical celebrities. Images of Gabrielle Ray and Gladys Cooper are featured in the exhibition as are some of their contemporaries on the London stage, including Gertie Millar, Moya Mannering, Gaby Deslys, Olive May and Gina Palerme. The exhibition runs until 31 August.

A special CD entitled Gaiety Girls has been produced to coincide with the exhibition, available at the National Portrait Gallery bookshop and also direct from Tony Barker. With masterly transfers by Dominic Combe from rare original recordings, and twelve pages of sleeve notes by Patrick O'Connor, the CD comprises the following tracks:
Alice Delysia - I Know What I Want (1933)
Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale - Hold My Hand (1932)
Cicely Courtneidge and Harold French - A tiny flat in Soho Square (1927)
Dorothy Brown and Roy Royston - When I Waltz With You (1926)
José Collins and Kingsley Lark - The Last Waltz (1922)
Mamie Watson and Roy Royston - Japanese Duet (1920)
Marjorie Gordon - Tickle Toe (1918)
Ada Reeve - Is It Nothing To You? (1915)
Moya Mannering and Leslie Henson - Meet Me Around The Corner (1915)
Haidee de Rance and George Grossmith Jnr - They Didn't Believe Me (1915)
Connie Ediss - I Like To Have A Little Bit On (1911)
Olive May - The Lass With A Lasso (1911)
Gaby Deslys - Tout En Rose (1910)
Denise Orme and Arthur Grover - Swing Song (1906)
Delia Mason and Maurice Farkoa - My Portuguese Princess (1905)
Evie Greene - Try Again, Johnny (1902)
Ellaline Terriss - Gaiety Medley (1903).
The disc also includes the following unique recordings of broadcasts from the 1930s: Gertie Millar - Keep Off The Grass; Phyllis Dare and W. H. Berry - Let Me Introduce You To My Father; Ethel Levey - Ragtime Medley; and Evelyn Laye - The Call Of Life.

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© John Culme, 2004