What in the world is a Groom of the Back Stairs? or a Chancery Lane young man? or spleen and vapours? or Dithyrambic revels? or Time’s teetotum? or asinorum pons? And how does one tuck in one’s tuppenny? These are words or phrases that I have carefully mouthed hundreds of times in my forty-one-year professional career as a performer of the Savoy operas. I had at best only some vague idea of what they meant. And, to be frank, I seldom had the time to find out what Mr Gilbert really had in mind. Then, in 1978 Harry Benford published the first edition of this book and the full genius of Gilbert’s creativity began to come to light. Harry brought out a second edition in 1991, which enlarged the scope of coverage. Now, in this third edition he has provided not only an even greater scope, but a significant increase in the depth of understanding. Each of these editions has given me a heightened appreciation of the G&S librettos and enhanced my pleasure in performing my parts.
Gilbert’s skill as a word-smith deserves much of the credit for the continuing popularity of the comic operas he and Sullivan brought forth. But Gilbert’s genius is seldom fully appreciated because new nuances of meaning have crept into the language during the more-than-hundred years that have passed since he wrote the lines. Even when the operas were freshly minted, admirers in the United States and Canada continually ran across unfamiliar, unfathomable terms. Now, however, this book opens the door to a complete understanding of Gilbert’s genius, hence an enhanced pleasure in the Savoy operas. You could even derive a new appreciation of Sullivan’s musical genius in matching Gilbert’s words.
I have made extensive use of the book and recommend it to all G&S admirers, whether in the audience, on the stage, or behind the scenes.