Opera: Patience – Sir Arthur Sullivan

“Patience,” or “Bunthorne’s Bride,” a comic opera in two acts with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and text by W. S. Gilbert, was produced at the Opéra Cornique, London, Aug. 23, 1881.


Reginald Bunthorne, a fleshy poet. Archibald Grosvenor, an idyllic poet. Colonel Calverly, Major Murgatroy, officers of the Dragoon Lieutenant, The Duke of Dumstable, Guards. Chorus of Dragoon Guards. The Lady Angela, The Lady Saphir, The Lady Ella, rapturous maidens. The Lady Jane, Patience, a milkmaid. Chorus of maidens.

Like most of its fellows, this Gilbert-Sullivan opera is a satire, this time directed against the aesthetic school which flourished at the time of its composition, and which, it may be added, declined immediately thereafter. Mr. Gilbert hints not too subtly, in Bunthorne’s confession, that the aesthetic culture may be a pose rather than a great new thought.

Am I alone And unobserved? I am! Then let me own I’m an aesthetic sham!

It is an opera with two heroes, the aesthetic Bunthorne and the idyllic Grosvenor. The curtain rises on the twenty rapturous maidens dressed in aesthetic draperies and playing dolefully on lutes, apparently in the last stages of despair for unrequited love. Their concerted affections have alighted upon Bunthorne. Patience, a buxom unaffected milkmaid, in whose dairy the loved one recently has been discovered eating butter with a tablespoon, arrives and is much concerned at the spectacle of their woe, voicing her delight however that she never has known this disturbing thing, love. She hopes to cheer them by the announcement that the Dragoon Guards, for whom a year ago they were sobbing and sighing, are in the village. But it seems that since the etherealization of their tastes they care nothing for such earthy creatures as Dragoon Guards. When these heroes appear on the scene of their former conquests and find that a melancholy literary man has routed them, they are deeply indignant. Utterly ignoring them, the maidens fall on their knees and beg to hear Bunthorne’s poem. He bids them cling passionately to one another and think of faint lilies and taking care to retain the hand of Patience in his, he recites a dreary composition on the general commonplaceness of things, entitled, ” Oh Hollow, Hollow, Hollow! ” When finally left alone, Bunthorne makes a declaration of love to Patience, and the milkmaid has to confess that she does not know the meaning of the tender passion, never having loved anyone save her great-aunt. She goes to Lady Angela for enlightenment, and that person gives her an aesthetic definition of which she can understand little except ” that it is the one unselfish emotion in this whirl-pool of grasping greed.” Patience, greatly impressed, vows that she will not go to bed until she is head over heels in love with someone, and Grosvenor, the apostle of simplicity, conveniently enters. They discover that they have been playmates in childhood and fall mutually in love, but their brief bliss is spoiled by the thought of Patience that since it makes her happy, it must be selfish to love him, so they decide that they must sunder. The scene is enlivened by the arrival of Bunthorne, who, crowned with roses and hung with garlands, is followed by a procession of maidens dancing classically and playing on archaic instruments. He nobly has decided to be raffled off. Patience, who perceives that to devote herself to loving Bunthorne would be very unselfish indeed, brushes the others aside and offers to wed him herself. The poet overjoyed to escape the possibility of falling into the hands of the antique Jane, accepts without hesitation. The maidens have recourse to the Guards, but forsake them again for the more poetic Grosvenor, whom Bunthorne recognizes with jealous discomfiture may prove a rival.

The ancient Jane is discovered at the rising of the curtain of the second act sitting in a glade and promising herself ever to be faithful to Bunthorne, whom the others have deserted because he has ” glanced with passing favor on a puling milkmaid.” A little later her hero arrives, but her devotion does not seem to be superlatively consoling to the jealous aesthetic.

Grosvenor appears in turn, followed by the maidens of whom he is heartily tired. Finally, in desperation he announces that he can never be theirs, and begs a respite in the following words : ” Ladies, I am sorry to appear ungallant, but you have been following me about ever since Monday and this is Saturday. I should like the usual half-holiday and if you will kindly allow me to close early today, I shall take it as a personal favor.”

In the next scene the Dragoons come attired as aesthetics and struggling manfully with their ” angular attitudes,” having reached the decision that it is the only way to gain favor with the ladies. Bunthorne and Grosvenor have an important interview, in which the former accuses the latter of monopolizing the feminine attention. Grosvenor declares that he would be only too glad of any suggestion whereby his fatal attractiveness might be lessened. Bunthorne tells him that he must cut his hair and become absolutely commonplace. He cringes under the awfulness of this decision but Bunthorne threatens him with his curse and he yields. When the maidens find that Archibald, the All Right, has discarded aestheticism, they conclude that it proves that aestheticism ought to be discarded. Patience sees that she could be perfectly unselfish in loving such a commonplace fellow, and flies to his arms. The maidens find lovers among the Dragoons and Bunthorne is left alone with his lily, for even Jane is wrested from his side by the Duke, who chooses her as a recompense for her plainness.

Among many sparkling and melodious numbers are the Colonel’s song ” If you want a recipe for that popular mystery ; ” Bunthorne’s ” Oh, Hollow ! Hollow ! Hollow ! ” and ” If you are eager for to shine; ” the duet of Patience and Grosvenor, ” Prithee, pretty maiden ; ” the Duke’s plea, ” Your maiden hearts, ah, do not steel; ” the lovely sextet, ” I hear the soft note of the echoing voice ; ” Jane’s song, ” Silvered is the raven hair ; ” Grosvenor’s song of the magnet and the churn; the ballad of Patience, ” Love is a plaintive song ; ” and the duet of Bunthorne and Grosvenor, ” When I go out of door.”