Saturday, April 7, 2018

Douglas Messerli | on Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze" from My Favorite Musical Theater Songs


“The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze”
Composers: Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert
The D’Oyly Carte Company
Performer: Valerie Masterson (from the film version of The Mikado, 1966)
Composers: Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert
Performer: Leslie Garrett
Composers: Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert
Performer: Norma Burrowes, 1973
Composers: Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert
Performer: Barbara Hendricks
Composers: Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert
Performer Shirley Henderson (from the film Topsy-Turvy, 1999)

One of the most beautiful musical compositions by Arthur Sullivan along with what you might almost describe as “lilting lyrics” from the often rambunctious W.S. Gilbert is the ur-feminist work, “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze” from their great musical The Mikado of 1885, which ran for 672 performances at the Savoy Theatre. The lyrics, in this case, are particularly fascinating, given the patriarchal society of the day and even the chauvinism of the lyricist himself. In this work the Japanese maiden, Yum-Yum sings not only of her beauty but of her intentions to rule the earth and the sun and moon do the skies. If nothing else, as she herself admits, she is certainly “not shy.”

The sun, whose rays
Are all ablaze
With ever-living glory,
Does not deny
His majesty —
He scorns to tell a story!
He don't exclaim,
"I blush for shame,
So kindly be indulgent."
But, fierce and bold,
In fiery gold,
He glories all effulgent!

I mean to rule the earth,
As he the sky —
We really know our worth,
The sun and I!
I mean to rule the earth,
As he the sky —
We really know our worth,
The sun and I!

      Every soprano of importance has probably interpreted this lovely song of entitlement, so it is difficult to even know where to begin in selecting a discology as I have above. Valerie Masterson, who often performed on stage and on film, is excellent. And sopranos Leslie Garrett, Norma Burrowes (despite the utterly kitsch scenery in which she sits), and Barbara Hendricks sing it equally well, some with fuller-bodied voices, but all with great delicacy and fine interpretation. My personal favorite, however, is Shirley Henderson in Topsy-Turvy, playing a drugged Yum Yum, staring into her own mirror before singing the song on stage. Only she sings it like she truly means it:
Ah, pray make no mistake,
We are not shy;
We're very wide awake,
The moon and I!
Ah, pray make no mistake,
We are not shy;
We're very wide awake,
The moon and I!

And here Gilbert’s ironies truly come through since, obviously, the character in the movie is far from wide awake in her own life, given her drug addiction.

Los Angeles, April 7, 2018

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