The first night was not altogether a success, as critics and the audience felt that Ruddygore (as it was originally spelled) did not measure up to its predecessor, The Mikado. After some changes, including respelling the title, it achieved a run of 288 performances. The piece was profitable, and the reviews were not all bad. For instance, the Illustrated London News praised the work and both Gilbert and, especially, Sullivan: "Sir Arthur Sullivan has eminently succeeded alike in the expression of refined sentiment and comic humour. In the former respect, the charm of graceful melody prevails; while, in the latter, the music of the most grotesque situations is redolent of fun."
There were further changes and cuts, including a new overture, when Rupert D'Oyly Carte revived Ruddigore after the First World War. Although never a big money-spinner, it remained in the repertoire until the company closed in 1982. A centenary revival at Sadler's Wells in London restored the opera to almost its original first-night state. In 2000, Oxford University Press published a scholarly edition of the score and libretto, edited by Sullivan scholar David Russell Hulme. This restores the work as far as possible to the state in which its authors left it and includes a substantial introduction that explains many of the changes and appendices containing some music deleted early in the run. After the expiration of the copyright on Gilbert and Sullivan works in 1961, and especially since the Sadler's Wells production and recording, various directors have experimented with restoring some or all of the cut material in place of the 1920s D'Oyly Carte version.
The opera also includes and parodies elements of melodrama, popular at the Adelphi Theatre. There is a priggishly good-mannered poor-but-virtuous heroine; a villain who carries off the maiden; a hero in disguise, and his faithful old retainer who dreams of their former glory days; the snake in the grass sailor who claims to be following his heart; the wild, mad girl; the swagger of fire-eating patriotism; ghosts coming to life to enforce a curse; and so forth. But Gilbert, in his customary topsy-turvy fashion, turns the moral absolutes of melodrama upside down: The hero becomes evil, the villain becomes good, and the virtuous maiden changes fiancés at the drop of a hat. The ghosts come back to life, foiling the curse, and all ends happily.
The number "My eyes are fully open" (with some changed lyrics) is used in Papp's production of The Pirates of Penzance. The tune of the song is also used as "The Speed Test" in the 2002 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.
The desperate bridesmaids ask Rose's aunt, Dame Hannah, if she would consider marrying, but she has vowed to remain eternally single. Many years previously, she had been betrothed to "a god-like youth" who turned out to be Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, one of the bad baronets of Ruddigore. Only on her wedding day had she discovered his true identity.
Dame Hannah tells the bridesmaids about the curse of Ruddigore. Centuries ago, Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, the first Baronet of Ruddigore, had persecuted witches. One of his victims, as she was about to be burnt at the stake, cursed all future Baronets of Ruddigore to commit a crime every day, or perish in inconceivable agonies. Every Baronet of Ruddigore since then had fallen under the curse's influence, and died in agony once he could no longer bring himself to continue a life of crime.
After the horrified bridesmaids exit, Dame Hannah greets her niece, Rose, and inquires whether there is any young man in the village whom she could love. Rose, who takes her ideas of Right and Wrong from a book of etiquette, replies that all of the young men she meets are either too rude or too shy. Dame Hannah asks particularly about Robin Oakapple, a virtuous farmer, but Rose replies that he is too diffident to approach her, and the rules of etiquette forbid her from speaking until she is spoken to. Robin enters, claiming to seek advice from Rose about "a friend" who is in love. Rose says that she has such a friend too, but Robin is too shy to take the hint. Rose's devotion to etiquette prevents her from taking the first step, and so they part.
Old Adam, Robin's faithful servant arrives, and Robin cautions him never to reveal that Robin is, in actuality, Sir Ruthven (pronounced "Rivven") Murgatroyd, but that he fled his home twenty years previously to avoid inheriting the Baronetcy of Ruddigore and its attendant curse. Now Richard Dauntless, Robin's foster-brother, arrives after ten years at sea. Robin tells him that he is afraid to declare his love to Rose, and Richard offers to speak to her on his behalf. When Richard sees Rose, however, he falls in love with her himself and proposes immediately. After consulting her book of etiquette, Rose accepts. When Robin finds out what has happened, through a series of backhanded compliments, he points out his foster-brother's many flaws. Realizing her mistake, Rose breaks her engagement with Richard, and accepts Robin.
Mad Margaret appears, dishevelled and crazed. She has been driven to madness by her love for Sir Despard, the "Bad Baronet." She is jealously seeking Rose Maybud, having heard that Sir Despard intends to carry Rose off as one of his daily "crimes." Rose tells her, however, that she need not fear, as Rose is pledged to another. They leave just in time to avoid the arrival of Sir Despard, who muses that although he must commit a heinous crime every day, for the rest of the day, he does good works. He then proceeds to frighten the village girls and the Bucks and Blades who have come to court the girls. Despard had become baronet in the place of his elder brother, Ruthven, whom he presumes to be dead. Richard approaches him, and reveals that Robin Oakapple is Despard's long-lost brother, in disguise. The elated Despard declares that he is "free at last".
The village gathers to celebrate the nuptials of Rose and Robin. Sir Despard interrupts, revealing that Robin is his elder brother. Rose, horrified at his identity, resolves to marry Despard--who refuses her: now free of the curse, the ex-baronet takes up with Mad Margaret, to whom he had once been betrothed. Rose then accepts Richard, as he "is the only one that's left." Robin leaves to take up his rightful identity as Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd.
Robin's weak crimes stir his ancestral ghosts from their usual haunt of the castle's portrait gallery. The curse requires them to ensure that their successors are duly committing a crime every day, and to torture them to death if they fail. They inquire as to Robin's compliance with this requirement. They are not pleased to learn that the newly-recognized baronet's crimes range from the ridiculous (forging his own will) to the ubiquitous (filing a false income tax return "Nothing at all", say the ghosts, "Everybody does that. It's expected of you.") Robin's uncle, the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, orders him to "carry off a lady" that day or perish in horrible agony. After the ghosts treat him to a sample of the agonies he would face, Robin reluctantly agrees. He tells Adam to go to the village and abduct a lady – "Any lady!"
Despard has atoned for his previous ten years of evil acts and has married Mad Margaret. The two of them now live a life of moderately-paid public service. They come to the castle and urge Robin to renounce his life of crime. When Robin asserts that he has done no wrong yet, they remind him that he is morally responsible for all the crimes Despard had done in his stead. Realizing the extent of his guilt, Robin resolves to defy his ancestors.
Meanwhile, Adam has complied with Robin's orders but has unfortunately chosen to abduct Dame Hannah. The dame proves formidable indeed, and Robin cries out for his uncle's protection. Sir Roderic duly appears, recognizes his former love, and, angered that his former fiancée has been abducted, dismisses Robin. Left alone, he and Dame Hannah enjoy a brief reunion. Robin interrupts them, accompanied by Rose, Richard, and the bridesmaids. He quibbles that, under the terms of the curse, a Baronet of Ruddigore can die only by refusing to commit a daily crime, that to so refuse is "tantamount" to suicide, and that suicide is, itself, a crime. Thus, he reasons, his predecessors "ought never to have died at all."* Roderic follows this logic and agrees, stating that he is "practically" alive.
Now that Robin is free of the curse, Rose once again drops Richard and happily resumes her engagement to Robin. Roderic and Dame Hannah embrace, while Richard settles for the First Bridesmaid, Zorah.
The first act was described by the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News as "(o)ne of Mr. Gilbert's happiest efforts." Wrote the reviewer for The Times, "Everything sparkles with the flashes of Mr. Gilbert's wit and the graces of Sir Arthur Sullivan's melodiousness... one is almost at a loss what to select for quotation from an embarrassment of humorous riches." The first act was also well received by the audience, according to the St. James Gazette, "Number after number was rapturously encored, and every droll sally of dialogue was received with a shout of appreciative mirth. The interval was long (a half hour) as the elaborate picture gallery needed to be set up, but D'Oyly Carte had anticipated this and had printed indulgence slips which were distributed. It was marked by noisy hubbub when Lord Randolph Churchill was spotted in the crowd, but a loud shout of "No politics!" brought relative calm.
Despite the success of the first act, the second act was not as well received. Stated The New York Times, "the second (act) fell flat from the beginning and was a gloomy and tedious failure." According to the St. James Gazette, "gradually the enthusiasm faded away and the interest of the story began to flag, until at last the plot seemed within an ace of collapsing altogether." Several of the musical numbers were rapturously received by the audience, however. The plot was not the only concern. The performance was hampered by an off night for Leonora Braham as Rose Maybud and by George Grossmith's usual first night jitters, a week after which, he fell dangerously ill and had to be replaced by his understudy, Henry Lytton, for almost three weeks. Noted the reviewer for the Pall Mall Budget, "the players seemed to be nervous from the start. Miss Braham forgot her lines, and was not in voice. Mr. (George) Grossmith was in the same plight...." The Times also criticized Braham, stating that she "acted most charmingly, but sang persistently out of tune...." The staging was also criticized. The Times also stated, "The ghost scene... of which preliminary notices and hints of the initiated had led one to expect much, was a very tame affair." On the other hand, the Daily News applauded the innovation of Sullivan (who conducted, as usual, on the first night), of conducting with a baton tipped with a small incandescent light.
Not all newspapers agreed with the assessment of The New York Times. The Sunday Express headlined its review "Another Brilliant Success." The Sunday Times agreed and stated that the work was "received with every demonstration of delight by a distinguished and representative audience." Reginald Allen suggested that the disparity in reviews is attributable to the representatives of the Sunday papers, facing deadlines (the premiere was on Saturday night, and ran long due to the interval), likely not remaining for the entire piece. The New York Times review, while published on Sunday, had several hours' advantage due to the time difference between London and New York. Sir Arthur noted in his diary, "Production of Ruddygore at Savoy. Very enthusiastic up to the last 20 minutes, then the audience showed dissatisfaction.
In a letter cabled to The New York Times and printed on 18 February, Richard D'Oyly Carte denied that the piece was a failure, stating that box office receipts were running ahead of the same time period for The Mikado, despite the absence of the ailing Grossmith, who was by then recovering. He acknowledged that there had been "isolated hisses" on the first night because some audience members did not like the reappearance of the ghosts or a reference to the "Supreme Court" (according to D'Oyly Carte, misunderstood as "Supreme Being") but asserted that both objections had been addressed by the removal of the offending material, and that audience reaction had been otherwise enthusiastic. He added, "The theatre is crammed nightly." On 5 February, 1887, The New York Times reported the change of name to Ruddigore. "In consequence of the criticisms on the piece, the second act has been changed. The pictures, with the exception of one, no longer come down from their frames. The houses are packed, as they always are in London, but the opinion is universal that the thing will be a worse failure in the provinces and America than 'Iolanthe.'"
The American productions met with mixed success. A "large and brilliant" audience assembled for the New York premiere on 21 February 1887. "After the first half of the first act there was a palpable diminution of interest on the part of the audience, and it must be admitted that there were times during the course of the evening when people were bored." While the critic had praise for many members of the cast and felt the production would improve once the cast was more familiar with the work, the reviewer concluded that "Gilbert and Sullivan have failed." On the other hand, the American tour, beginning in Philadelphia six days later, met with a much more favourable audience reaction. "That the opera is a great success here and another "Mikado" in prospective popularity there can be no question.... The general verdict is that Sullivan never composed more brilliant music, while Gilbert's keen satire and pungent humor is (sic) as brilliant as ever."
Later assessments of Ruddigore have found much merit in the piece. After it was revived by the D'Oyly Carte Opera company in 1920, the piece remained in their regular repertory, and it has generally been given a place in the regular rotation of other Gilbert and Sullivan repertory companies. In a 1937 review, the Manchester Guardian declared,
The original vocal score, published in March 1887, represented this revised version of the musical text.
A 1987 recording by the New Sadler's Wells Opera restored most of the surviving material from the first-night version, including "For thirty-five years I've been sober and wary", as well as the extra music from the ghost scene. The recording and the production were based on a pre-publication version of the 2000 Oxford University Press edition, in which the music for these passages was published for the first time.
Ruddigore was not revived professionally during the authors' lifetimes. When it received its first professional revival in December 1920 in Glasgow – and then in London, in October 1921 – the D'Oyly Carte company made a number of changes. It is impossible precisely to allocate responsibility for the changes, or to say precisely when they occurred. Two recordings from the period, in 1924 and 1931, do not agree on a musical text, which suggests that the changes were not made all at once. In the Oxford University Press edition, editor David Russell Hulme attributes the changes principally to Harry Norris, musical director at the time of the Glasgow revival. Other changes were certainly made by Geoffrey Toye, and possibly Malcolm Sargent, but he is unable to say for sure which conductor was responsible for which change, except that Toye undoubtedly composed the new overture.
The most conspicuous changes that became traditional were as follows:
The standard Chappell vocal score was revised in the late 1920s to reflect this new tradition, including the Toye overture, the deletion of Robin's Act II song, the revised finale, and numerous other changes. However, the Melodrame and "The battle's roar is over" continued to be printed. The G. Schirmer vocal score published in America agreed with the revised Chappell score, except that it also included Robin's Act II recitative and patter song "Henceforth all the crimes" and both versions of the Act II finale.
Until the Oxford University Press edition was published in 2000, the available orchestral parts reflected many of the standard D'Oyly Carte alterations, although the traditionally cut songs were available to those who wanted them. The Oxford edition has led to an increased interest in the opera as Gilbert and Sullivan wrote it, and has also made it easier to restore passages deleted from the opera. Due to the many different editions available and the work's complex textual history, there is no standard performing version of Ruddigore.
The first revival was in December 1920 in Glasgow, and the first London revival was the following year. The opera was cut and heavily revised, including a new overture and a new second-act finale. The revival was a success, and from that point on, Ruddigore was a permanent fixture in the D'Oyly Carte repertory. It was included in every season until the winter of 1940–41, when the scenery and costumes (along with those of three other operas) were destroyed in enemy action.
In Australia, no authorised production of Ruddigore was seen until 23 June 1927, at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide, produced by the J. C. Williamson company. A new D'Oyly Carte production debuted on November 1 1948. From then on, it was played in every season through 1976–77, aside from 1962–63 (a season that included a lengthy overseas tour). In the late 1970s, the Company started to play a reduced repertory. Ruddigore was included in the 1976–77 tour, then for five months in 1978–1979; and finally in 1981–82.
In 1987, the New Sadler's Wells Opera revived Ruddigore, playing a new edition of the text that restored many of the passages that prior productions had cut.
The following table shows the history of the D'Oyly Carte productions in Gilbert's lifetime:
|Theatre||Opening Date||Closing Date||Perfs.||Details|
|Savoy Theatre||January 22 1887||November 5 1887||288||First London run.|
|Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York||February 21 1887||April 9 1887||53||Authorised American production.|
|Robin Oakapple||George Grossmith||George Thorne||Henry Lytton||Henry Lytton||Martyn Green|
|Richard Dauntless||Durward Lely||Courtice Pounds||Derek Oldham||Charles Goulding||John Dean|
|Sir Despard||Rutland Barrington||Fred Billington||Leo Sheffield||Sydney Granville||Sydney Granville|
|Old Adam||Rudolph Lewis||Leo Kloss||Douglas Kirke||Joseph Griffin||L. Radley Flynn|
|Sir Roderic||Richard Temple||F. Federici||Darrell Fancourt||Darrell Fancourt||Darrell Fancourt|
|Rose Maybud||Leonora Braham||Geraldine Ulmar||Sylvia Cecil||Sylvia Cecil||Margery Abbott|
|Mad Margaret||Jessie Bond||Kate Forster||Catherine Ferguson||Nellie Briercliffe||Marjorie Eyre|
|Dame Hannah||Rosina Brandram||Elsie Cameron||Bertha Lewis||Bertha Lewis||Evelyn Gardiner|
|Zorah||Josephine Findlay||Aida Jenoure||Marion Brignal||Sybil Gordon||Marjorie Flinn|
|Ruth||Miss Lindsay||Ethel Murray||Mary Athol||Murielle Barron||Maysie Dean|
|Robin Oakapple||Martyn Green||Peter Pratt||John Reed||John Reed||Peter Lyon|
|Richard Dauntless||Leonard Osborn||Leonard Osborn||David Palmer||Meston Reid||Meston Reid|
|Sir Despard||Richard Watson||Kenneth Sandford||Kenneth Sandford||Kenneth Sandford||Kenneth Sandford|
|Old Adam||L. Radley Flynn||John Banks||George Cook||Jon Ellison||Michael Buchan|
|Sir Roderic||Darrell Fancourt||Donald Adams||Donald Adams||John Ayldon||John Ayldon|
|Rose Maybud||Margaret Mitchell||Jean Barrington||Ann Hood||Julia Goss||Jill Washington|
|Mad Margaret||Pauline Howard||Joyce Wright||Peggy Ann Jones||Judi Merri||Lorraine Daniels|
|Dame Hannah||Ella Halman||Ann Drummond-Grant||Christene Palmer||Lyndsie Holland||Patricia Leonard|
|Zorah||Muriel Harding||Mary Sansom||Jennifer Marks||Anne Egglestone||Jane Stanford|
|Ruth||Joyce Wright||Beryl Dixon||Pauline Wales||Marjorie Williams||Helene Witcombe|
The Gilbert and Sullivan Discography judges that the best commercial recording is the New Sadler's Wells disc and that, of those by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, the 1924 and 1962 recordings are best. It also asserts that the Brent Walker video of Ruddigore is one of the stronger entries in that series. The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival also offers various video recordings of the opera, including its excellent 2004 professional G&S Opera Company recording.Selected recordings