31st January 1891. Ivanhoe.
Ivanhoe was Arthur Sullivan’s only grand opera and didn’t involve Gilbert who said that in that genre dialogue would be subservient to music. Sullivan always thought he should be writing more serious work than the Savoy Operettas and was persuaded by Queen Victoria to write one. Ivanhoe had its first night Today in 1891 and premiered at the Royal English Opera House, later the Palace Theatre, in Cambridge Circus.
Ivanhoe was an historical novel first published in 1820 by Sir Walter Scott in 3 volumes and subtitled ‘A Romance’ and was a shift away from his fairly realistic novels to a fanciful medieval England.
It was a highly influential novel set in 12th century England, though many of its facts are anachronistic with its tournaments, outlaws and witch trials, and showing the divisions between Jews and Christians, and credited with an increased interest in medieval romance.
J.H.later Cardinal Newman said the book was important in our modern perceptions of the Middle Ages a view echoed by writers Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin.
Thus we see Richard the Lionheart as a great hero, King John as a bad king and Robin Hood, originally known as Locksley, has come down as a leader of cheery, noble outcasts.
The story centres on one of the remaining Saxon noble families when the nobility was largely Norman and follows the protagonist Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe out of favour and disinherited by his father Cedric of Rotherwood for allying with King Richard in 1194 after the failure of the 3rd crusade when Richard was captured by Leopold of Austria, and for falling in love with Lady Rowena the ward of Cedric.
Scott’s Ivanhoe like his novels Rob Roy and Heart of Midlothian have similar themes where a conflict between heroic idealism and early 19thc society are highlighted and which were to inspire a romantic medievalism in both the arts and culture generally.