His Excellency (opera)

His Excellency (opera)

for a run of 88 performances, and in German translation at the Carltheater, Vienna, in both 1895 and 1897. The opera also enjoyed a British provincial tour.


From the late 1870s through the 1880s, Gilbert wrote a series of successful comic operas, working almost exclusively with Arthur Sullivan. The Gilbert and Sullivan partnership dissolved for several years after the production of "The Gondoliers", but in 1893 they were reunited with "Utopia, Limited". Soon afterwards, Gilbert was ready with the scenario for a libretto that would become "His Excellency", and which he hoped Sullivan would set to music. But the two collaborators quarreled again, this time over the casting of the leading lady. Gilbert insisted on casting his protegée, Nancy McIntosh, who had played the heroine in "Utopia". Sullivan, along with many of the critics, had found her unimpressive and did not want her in another one of his operas. The two men were not able to settle their differences, and Gilbert and Sullivan once again had to find different partners.

By 1894, the popular trend on the London stage had moved from traditional comic opera to musical comedy. Gilbert continued his own evolution in that direction, a trend that had begun in "The Gondoliers" and "Utopia Limited". Gilbert's new partner, Carr, had had a few modest successes in musical comedy, but critics inevitably found him inferior to Sullivan.

For the production of "His Excellency", Gilbert was able to woo former Savoy opera stalwarts George Grossmith, Rutland Barrington, Alice Barnett, Charles Kenningham and Jessie Bond, as well as John Le Hay and the young musical comedy star, Ellaline Terriss, to the cast. Its London run of just over five months, cut short because of an influenza epidemic, was a disappointment. Nevertheless, the opera had a respectable provincial tour. Gilbert later wrote to Helen Carte, the wife and partner of Richard D'Oyly Carte, "if it had had the benefit of your expensive friend Sullivan's music, it would have been a second "Mikado" (quoted in Wolfson 1976, p. 65).

Roles and original cast

* The Prince Regent ("disguised as Nils Egilsson, a Strolling Player") (lyric baritone) – Rutland Barrington
* George Griffenfeld ("Governor of Elsinore") (comic baritone) – George Grossmith
* Erling Sykke ("a Young Sculptor") (tenor) – Charles Kenningham
* Dr. Tortenssen ("a Young Physician") (baritone) – Augustus Cramer
* Mats Munck ("Syndic of Elsinore") (comic baritone) – John Le Hay
* Corporal Harold ("of the King's Hussars") (bass) – Arthur Playfair
* A Sentry (bass-baritone) – George Temple
* First Officer (speaking role) – Ernest Snow
* Second Officer (speaking role) – Frank Morton

* Christina ("a Ballad Singer") (soprano) – Nancy McIntosh
* Nanna ("Griffenfeld's Daughter") (mezzo-soprano) – Jessie Bond
* Thora ("Griffenfeld's Daughter") (soprano) – Ellaline Terriss
* Dame Hecla Cortlandt ("a Lady of Property") (contralto) – Alice Barnett
* Blanca ("a Vivandière") (mezzo-soprano) – Gertrude Aylward
* Elsa ("a Peasant Girl") (speaking role) – May Cross


The scene is laid in Elsinore, Denmark, in 1801.

Act I

The people of Elsinore celebrate a newly-unveiled statue of the Prince Regent. Its creator, Erling Sykke, has been named Sculptor to the Royal Family. After the chorus exit, Christina remains, transfixed. She tells Erling that she is in love with the statue.

Erling's friend, Dr. Tortenssen, has been named Physician to the King. The two men are in love with Nanna and Thora, the daughters of Elsinore's governor, George Griffenfeld. Until now, the girls have refused the two suitors' advances. They hope for better luck, now that they have secured royal appointments. Nanna and Thora appear, and they seem receptive to the men's entreaties. But after the men exit, the girls admit that the appointments are a practical joke, one of many their father has perpetrated on the citizens of Elsinore.

The King's Hussars enter, led by Corporal Harold. The Governor has compelled them to dance like ballet-girls every day from 10 to 2. Griffenfeld joins them, and chastises the Hussars for their lack of a sense of humour. He also admits to Harold that one of his practical jokes has backfired. Just for fun, he had proposed marriage to the extraordinarily wealthy Dame Hecla Cortlandt. He now wants to break off the engagement, but he fears her dangerous temper. When she arrives, Griffenfeld asks her what she would do if, hypothetically, his proposal turned out to be a ruse. Her angry reply leaves him terrified. With his two daughters, he plots to trick Mats Munck, the local Syndic, into believing that Dame Cortlandt wants to marry him.

After they leave, the Prince Regent enters, dressed as a "tattered vagabond." He has received many complaints about Griffenfeld's behaviour from the citizens of Elsinore, and he wants to see for himself if they are true. He encounters Christina, who is struck by his resemblance to the statue, but he tells her that he is a mere strolling player, Nils Egilsson. After she leaves, he encounters Griffenfeld, who also notices the resemblance. Seeing another opportunity for a practical joke, Griffenfeld asks "Egilsson" to impersonate the Prince Regent – dispensing fake honours to the townspeople, which will later be revealed as hoaxes. Christina overhears their agreement, but left alone with the Regent once again, promises not to divulge their secret.

Mats Mucnk has a meeting with Dame Cortlandt, in which she believes she is consulting him on arrangements for her marriage with Griffenfeld, but Mats believes that she plans to marry "him". Dame Cortlandt finds his behaviour incomprehensible.

Erling now learns that his appointment as Court Sculptor is a sham, when he receives a letter from the King's Treasurer stating that the King had not commissioned any statue. Nanna tells him that marriage is out of the question, given his newly impoverished status. Tortenssen, too, has received a similar letter, and has likewise been rejected by Thora.

Fed up with Griffenfeld's incessant practical jokes, Erling and Tortenssen assemble the townspeople, and insist they are going to Copenhagen to complain to the King directly. When Griffenfeld arrives, he tells them that the Regent is already in Elsinore to hear their complaints. The chorus are jubilant that their grievances will finally be heard, while Griffenfeld and his daughters pretend to be alarmed.

Act II

The people of Elsinore await their audience with the Regent. Mats Munck has drawn up their complaints in a formal legal document. Christina assures them that she foresees the Governor's downfall. Nanna and Thora beg forgiveness for their father, but the crowd will have none of it. Finally, the Regent arrives in a great ceremony. As evidence of the Governor's practical jokes, Harold and the Hussars dance a ballet for him.

The Regent announces that Erling and Tortenssen's previous appointments are confirmed, and they are elevated to the nobility. Corporal Harold is promoted to Colonel, Mats Munck is promoted to Governor, and Griffenfeld is degraded to the rank of Private. Lastly, he commands that Erling and Tortenssen marry Griffenfeld's daughters, and he invites the whole village to a banquet at the castle. After the chorus have left, Griffenfeld tells "Egilsson" that he is pleased with how well the joke has worked.

Harold, now a Colonel, is enjoying his new rank. He and Blanca decide to write a three-volume novel about their lives. Meanwhile, Dame Cortlandt once again confronts Mats Munck. She insists that she was engaged to the Governor. Now that Mats is Governor, she is engaged to "him". Mats asks a nearby sentry if he is obliged to marry her. Griffenfeld changes places with the sentry, and says that he must. Griffenfeld is delighted that, once again, all of his practical jokes are working beautifully, but his daughters are starting to feel some remorse over their treatment of Erling and Tortenssen, who make a pretense of behaving haughtily towards them. Left alone, the girls finally admit that they have real feelings for the men.

Everyone gathers for the weddings, but Griffenfeld abruptly announces that the Regent's visit was a sham, and all of the honours he dispensed were practical jokes. But "Egilsson" turns the tables, and announces that he is the real Regent. All of the honours are to become permanent, and likewise Griffenfeld's demotion to the rank of Private is confirmed. The Regent asks Christina to marry him, and all of the couples are happily united.



External links

* [http://diamond.boisestate.edu/gas/other_gilbert/excellency/his_excellency.html "His Excellency" at The Gilbert & Sullivan Archive]
* [http://www.concentric.net/~Oakapple/gasdisc/he.htm "His Excellency" at The Gilbert & Sullivan Discography]
* [http://math.boisestate.edu/GaS/other_gilbert/excellency/HE-score.pdf Vocal score of "His Excellency"]

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