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 Introductory guide to the life and works of the famous British duo, by poet/biographer Ffinch (G.K. Chesterton, 1987). Though of some service, it won't endanger the shelf life of standard works in the field, particularly Leslie Baily's classic The Gilbert and Sullivan Book. As you might expect from a poet, the emphasis here is on Gilbert over Sullivan. Ffinch traces the pair's career from their first collaboration through their final work, with some incidental discussion of Gilbert's other plays and libretti. A complete synopsis is given of each work, with liberal quotes from Gilbert's often amusing lyrics. Notes about the original productions and about critical and audience responses--as well as some glimpses of the backstage tensions between the collaborators and their producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte--are also offered, drawing on readily available sources. Perhaps most interesting are the descriptions of the original cast members, showing how Gilbert and Sullivan sensitively shaped their works to meet the needs of their repertoire company. Gilbert's pettiness in arguing over production costs with the wily D'Oyly Carte, and Sullivan's interest in cultivating the producer's friendship in order to ensure that D'Oyly Carte would produce the ``serious'' opera that Sullivan dreamed of composing, led to the duo's ultimate downfall. Although Ffinch emphasizes the importance of the collaborative effort, he offers scant discussion of Sullivan's music; and although well- known songs are mentioned, the author's obvious literary bent precludes any serious musical discussion. His sympathy for Gilbert, too, skews his book's ending, where it's apparent that Gilbert's own character faults led to the failure of the partnership. Not without its uses, but a more balanced account would help the beginning listener enjoy these works as comic operas, not just as comic texts. (Photographs)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-297-81236-X
Page count: 294pp
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993