How we got here: Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian make their entry into the grounds of Castle Adamant, from a Savoynet production in Bruxton.
"Darwinian Man, though well-behav'd,
at best is only a monkey shav'd!"
-- Lady Psyche, in Act II of Princess Ida
Last week, in "Prince Hilarion's mission of the heart," we left our royal wooing party -- comprising Prince Hilarion and his childhood friends Cyril and Florian -- safely embedded behind enemy walls, in the garden of Castle Adamant, seat of the woman's college founded by Princess Ida, Hilarion's betrothed since she was a 12-month-old and he was twice as old. The princess, alas, has shown herself unwilling to honor her infant betrothal. In fact, in her 21 years she has had quite her fill of men, and has forsworn them; hence the college for women only.
As I noted last week, the common assumption that it's the women being ridiculed in Princess Ida seems to me utterly unsustainable by anyone who has eyes, ears, and a working brain. The lofty goals of Ida and her protégées may be tainted with charming silliness, but at least they have goals that go beyond fighting the next battle. By comparison, the behavior of the men -- whether of the martial or the poetical strain (our dramatis personae includes a quantity of each) -- ranges from preposterous to ludicrous and back.
Two plans are afoot to bring Princess Ida around, and at the moment we've been following the quest of Prince Hilarion to penetrate Castle Adamant and woo his child bride. To that end he, Cyril, and Florian have succeeded in disguising themselves as students of the college, and have even withstood the scrutiny of the princess herself, though in fairness what she has been scrutinizing these ungainly young maidens for isn't male impersonation but the earthly disappointment that is the true mark of an educable young woman.
Last week we heard our young gentleman agreeing with the princess, in a beautiful quartet, that "The world is but a broken toy, its pleasures hollow, false its joy." At this point, a new disaster befalls.
[Exit PRINCESS. The three gentlemen watch her off. LADY PSYCHE enters, and regards them with amazement.]
PRINCE HILARION: I'faith, the plunge is taken, gentlemen!
For, willy-nilly, we are maidens now,
and maids against our will we must remain.
[All laugh heartily.]
LADY PSYCHE [aside]: These ladies are unseemly in their mirth.
[The gentlemen see her, and, in confusion, resume their modest demeanor.]
FLORIAN [aside, to HILARION]:
Here's a catastrophe, Hilarion!
This is my sister! She'll remember me,
Though years have passed since she and I have met!
PRINCE HILARION [aside, to FLORIAN]:
Then make a virtue of necessity,
and trust our secret to her gentle care.
FLORIAN [to PSYCHE, who has watched CYRIL in amazement]:
Psyche! Why, don't you know me? Florian!
LADY PSYCHE [amazed]: Why, Florian!
FLORIAN: My sister! [Embraces her.]
LADY PSYCHE: Oh, my dear! What are you doing here -- and who are these?
PRINCE HILARION: I am that Prince Hilarion to whom
your Princess is betrothed.
I come to claim
her plighted love.
Your brother Florian
and Cyril came to see me safely through.
LADY PSYCHE: The Prince Hilarion? Cyril too? How strange!
My earliest playfellows!
PRINCE HILARION: Why, let me look!
Are you that learned little Psyche who
at school alarmed her mates because she called
a buttercup "ranunculus bulbosus"?
CYRIL: Are you indeed that Lady Psyche, who
at children's parties, drove the conjuror wild,
explaining all his tricks before he did them?
PRINCE HILARION: Are you that learned little Psyche, who
at dinner parties, brought in to dessert,
would tackle visitors with "You don't know
who first determined longitude -- I do --
Hipparchus 'twas — B.C. one sixty-three!"
Are you indeed that small phenomenon?
LADY PSYCHE: That small phenomenon indeed am I!
But gentlemen, 'tis death to enter here:
We have all promised to renounce mankind!
FLORIAN: Renounce mankind!? On what ground do you base
this senseless resolution?
LADY PSYCHE: Senseless? No.
We are all taught, and, being taught, believe
that Man, sprung from an Ape, is Ape at heart.
CYRIL: That's rather strong.
LADY PSYCHE: The truth is always strong!
John Bernard (Prince Hilarion), Melanie Melcher (Lady Psyche), Bradley Wilson (Florian), Christopher Swanson (Cyril). Newport Classic, recorded live at the 1999 Ohio Light Opera Festival
IF THIS SOUNDS LIKE A SONG CUE, IT IS