The Gondoliers

The Gondoliers

"The Gondoliers", or "The King of Barataria", is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on December 7 1889, and ran for a very successful 554 performances (at that time the fifth longest-running piece of musical theatre in history), closing on June 20 1891. This was the twelfth comic opera collaboration of fourteen between Gilbert and Sullivan.

"The Gondoliers" was Gilbert and Sullivan's last great success. In this opera, Gilbert returns to the satire of class distinctions figuring in many of his earlier librettos. The libretto also reflects Gilbert's fascination with the "Stock Company Act", highlighting the absurd convergence of natural persons and legal entities, which plays an even larger part in the next opera, "Utopia Limited". As in several of their earlier operas, by setting the work comfortably far away from mother England, Gilbert was emboldened to direct sharper criticism at the nobility and the institution of the monarchy itself.


Genesis of the opera

"The Gondoliers" was preceded by the most serious of the Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations, "The Yeomen of the Guard". On January 9 1889, three months into that opera's fourteen-month run, Sullivan informed the librettist that he "wanted to do some dramatic work on a larger musical scale", that he "wished to get rid of the "strongly marked rhythm", and "rhymed" couplets, and have words that would have a chance of developing "musical effects"."Jacobs, p. 287] Gilbert counselled strongly that the partnership should continue on its former course:

On March 12, Sullivan responded, "I have lost the liking for writing comic opera, and entertain very grave doubts as to my power of doing it.... You say that in a serious opera, "you" must more or less sacrifice yourself. I say that this is just what I have been doing in all our joint pieces, and, what is more, must continue to do in comic opera to make it successful." [Jacobs, p. 288]

A series of increasingly acrimonious letters followed over the ensuing weeks, with Sullivan laying down new terms for the collaboration, and Gilbert insisting that he had always bent over backwards to comply with the composer's musical requirements. Gilbert tried to encourage his collaborator:

Gilbert offered a compromise that Sullivan ultimately accepted — that the composer would write a light opera for the Savoy, and a grand opera ("Ivanhoe") for a new theatre that Carte was constructing for that purpose. Sullivan's acceptance came with the proviso that "we are thoroughly agreed upon the subject." Gilbert suggested an opera based on a theatrical company, which Sullivan rejected (though a version of it would be resurrected in 1896 as "The Grand Duke"), but he accepted an idea "connected with Venice and Venetian life, and this seemed to me to hold out great chances of bright colour and taking music. Can you not develop this with something we can both go into with warmth and enthusiasm and thus give me a subject in which (like the "Mikado" and "Patience") we can both be interested....?" [Jacobs, p. 294]

Gilbert set to work on the new libretto by the early summer of 1889, and by the mid-summer Sullivan had started composing Act I. Gilbert provided Sullivan with alternative lyrics for many passages, allowing the composer to choose which ones he preferred. The long opening number (more than fifteen minutes of continuous music) was the librettist's idea, and it gave Sullivan the opportunity to establish the mood of the work through music.

They worked all summer and autumn, with a successful opening on December 7 1889. Press accounts were almost entirely favourable, and the opera enjoyed a run longer than any of their other joint works except for "H.M.S. Pinafore" and "The Mikado". Sullivan's old collaborator on "Cox and Box" (and the editor of "Punch"), F. C. Burnand, wrote, "Magnificento!...I envy you and W.S.G. being able to place a piece like this on the stage in so complete a fashion."Baily, p. 344]

Reaction of the press and public

Leslie Baily notes, "The bubbling, champagne-quality of the libretto brought out the gayest Sullivan, and the Italian setting called up a warm, southern response from his own ancestry. The "Graphic" (14 December, 1889) pointed out that the music contains not only an English idiom but 'the composer has borrowed from France the stately gavotte, from Spain the Andalusian cachucha, from Italy the saltarello and the tarantella, and from Venice itself the Venetian barcarolle'." [Baily, p. 342]

Of Gilbert's contribution, the "Illustrated London News" reported, "Mr. W. S. Gilbert has returned to the Gilbert of the past, and everyone is delighted. He is himself again. The Gilbert of "The Bab Ballads", the Gilbert of whimsical conceit, inoffensive cynicism, subtle satire, and playful paradox; the Gilbert who invented a school of his own, who in it was schoolmaster and pupil, who has never taught anybody but himself, and is never likely to have any imitator—this is the Gilbert the public want to see, and this is the Gilbert who on Saturday night was cheered till the audience was weary of cheering any more."

There was a command performance of "The Gondoliers" for Queen Victoria and the royal family at Windsor Castle in 1891, the first such performance of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera to be so honoured.

The Carpet Quarrel

With the exception of their first opera, Richard D'Oyly Carte produced every Gilbert and Sullivan opera and had built the Savoy Theatre specifically for productions of their shows. However, on several occasions during the 1880s the relationship among Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte had been strained.cite web |url= |title=The Carpet Quarrel Explained |accessdate=2007-11-06 |last=Crowther |first=Andrew |date=June 28 1997 |publisher=The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive]

In April 1890, during the run of "The Gondoliers", Gilbert discovered that maintenance expenses for the theatre, including a new £500 [ [ Approximately £37,818.60 in 2006 prices] ] carpet for the front lobby of the theatre, were being charged to the partnership instead of borne by Carte. Gilbert had trained and briefly practised as a lawyer, and, knowing this was not appropriate, stormed into D'Oyly Carte's office to put this right. The confrontation did not go well. Gilbert was furious, and, as reported in a letter from Helen D'Oyly Carte (Richard's wife and business partner), addressed Richard "in a way that I should not have thought you would have used to an offending menial."Fact|date=November 2007

Things soon degraded, a legal hearing was held, and Arthur Sullivan supported Carte in the hearing, testifying that: there were outstanding legal expenses from a battle Gilbert had with Lillian Russell; and while there were some outstanding expenses, they were small. Gilbert, however, thought Sullivan had been manipulated and asked him to say he was mistaken. Sullivan refused, and, despite both desiring to reconcile, Gilbert felt it was a moral issue, and could not look past it. Sullivan felt that Gilbert was questioning his good faith, and in any event, Sullivan had other reasons to stay in Carte's good graces. Carte had put into motion plans to build a new opera house, Carte's Royal English Opera House to produce Sullivan's "Ivanhoe", Sullivan's only grand opera.

On 5 May 1890, Gilbert wrote to Sullivan: "The time for putting an end to our collaboration has at last arrived." Gilbert and Sullivan did not work together again for three years, and Gilbert's aggressive, though successful, legal action had embittered Sullivan and Carte. But the partnership had been so profitable that Carte eventually sought to reunite the dramatist and composer. Finally, Gilbert and Sullivan reunited through the efforts of Tom Chappell, who published the sheet music to their operas. [cite book | last=Wolfson| first=John| year=1976 | title=Final curtain: The last Gilbert and Sullivan Operas| publisher=Chappell in association with A. Deutsch| location=London ISBN 0-903443-12-0, p. 7] In 1893, they produced their penultimate collaboration, "Utopia, Limited". But "The Gondoliers" would prove to be Gilbert and Sullivan's last big hit. Utopia was only a modest success, and their final collaboration, "The Grand Duke", in 1896, proved a failure. The two would never collaborate again.


*The Duke of Plaza-Toro, "A Grandee of Spain" (comic baritone)
*Luiz, "his Attendant" (lyric baritone or tenor)
*Don Alhambra del Bolero, "the Grand Inquisitor" (bass-baritone)
*Marco Palmieri, "Venetian Gondolier" (tenor)
*Giuseppe Palmieri, "Venetian Gondolier" (baritone)
*Antonio, "Venetian Gondolier" (baritone)
*Francesco, "Venetian Gondolier" (tenor)
*Giorgio, "Venetian Gondolier" (bass)
*Annibale, "Venetian Gondolier" (speaking role/chorus)

*The Duchess of Plaza-Toro (contralto)
*Casilda, "her Daughter" (soprano)
*Gianetta, "Contadina" (soprano)
*Tessa, "Contadina" (mezzo-soprano)
*Fiametta, "Contadina" (soprano)
*Vittoria, "Contadina" (mezzo-soprano)
*Giulia, "Contadina" (mezzo-soprano)
*Inez, "the King's Foster-mother" (contralto)

*Chorus of Gondoliers and Contadine, Men-at-Arms, Heralds and Pages


Act I

The scene opens in Venice with twenty-four young maidens declaring their passionate love for a pair of gondoliers, Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri. These two gondoliers are so gallant and peerless in their manly beauty that the maidens are waiting for them to select brides before they can consider other suitors. The male chorus of merry gondoliers enters, saying that they adore the young ladies, but the ladies explain that the two brothers must choose first. When the Palmieri brothers enter, the ladies present them with flowers. The two gondoliers amiably offer to pick their two brides in a game of blind man's buff. "As all are young and fair, and amiable besides", they feel it would be unfair to show any favouritism. They appear to be cheating by peeking out from under their blindfolds, however. Eventually, from the crowd of twenty-four maidens, Giuseppe picks Tessa, and Marco picks Gianetta – "Just the very girl I wanted!" (although the two then politely offer to switch girls). All leave to go to church for the double wedding.

"of the most bigoted and persecuting type", and taken to Venice. The King of Barataria was recently killed in an insurrection, and the lost prince is now king. As the wife of the new king, Casilda is now the reigning queen of Barataria, and her parents have brought her to meet with the Grand Inquisitor to be introduced to her husband. Left alone together, Casilda breaks this news to Luiz, and they resign themselves to a life forever apart, with only their happy memories to comfort them.

When the Grand Inquisitor enters, he explains that the prince was raised by Baptisto Palmieri, a humble gondolier, who had a young son of his own about the same age. The gondolier was a drunkard and eventually forgot which boy was his own son and which boy was the prince of Barataria. The two boys (Marco and Giuseppe) grew up and now were both gondoliers themselves. Fortunately, the nurse who took care of the infant prince (and who happens to be Luiz's mother), is now living in the mountains, married to "a highly respectable brigand". Don Alhambra says that he has located her and that she will be able to reveal which of the two gondoliers is the lost prince. If not, he says, "then the persuasive influence of the torture chamber will jog her memory."

In the next scene, the two gondoliers have married Tessa and Gianetta, and as they are extolling the virtues of marriage, Don Alhambra arrives and informs them that one of them is the King of Barataria, but no one knows which. Despite being Republicans, the gondoliers and their new wives are delighted, and agree to go to Barataria at once, acting as one individual until the actual king is identified. The Grand Inquisitor tells them, however, that ladies are not admitted until the actual king is identified, and then each couple can be reunited. The Grand Inquisitor neglects to mention that the King is married to Casilda, fearing that it would cause the men to refuse to leave their new wives. As the two wives are imagining what it will be like to be a queen, their friends enter, and Marco and Giuseppe announce their discovery and promise to reign in a Republican fashion. They announce that in their kingdom, "All shall equal be" and will create new posts such as "the Lord High Coachman on the Box, the Lord High Vagabond in the Stocks". All the men then set sail for Barataria, leaving their wives behind in Venice.

Act II

In Barataria, the chorus of gondoliers are enjoying living under "a monarchy that's tempered with Republican equality". It turns out that Marco and Giuseppe have in fact been doing all the work around the palace for the past three months - it is the privilege of royalty! They are happy enough with this arrangement, except that they are worried about having to share a single portion of rations between the two of them, and they miss their wives. Soon, however, all the ladies arrive, having risked the long sea voyage from Venice – they could no longer stand the separation. In delight, the reunited couples have a magnificent banquet and a dance (a cachucha). The Grand Inquisitor arrives at the ball and inquires why he saw unimportant servants dancing. Realising that the Republican gondoliers have promoted everyone to the nobility, he explains that there must be a distinction between commoners and those of rank, because "when "everyone" is somebody, then no-one's "anybody". He then breaks the news that one of the gondoliers had married Casilda when a baby and therefore is an unintentional bigamist. The gondoliers attempt to console their wives, who are distraught to discover that neither one will be queen, and that one is married to someone who was already married.

The Duke and Duchess of Plaza Toro soon arrive with the beautiful Casilda. They are now dressed in style, and the Duke explains how he was applied for by the public under the Limited Liability Company Act, and how they now earn a very good living. Appalled, however, at the lack of pomp and ceremony with which they were received, he attempts to educate the two monarchs in proper royal behaviour. After a lesson in etiquette, the two Palmieri brothers are left alone with Casilda. She agrees to be an obedient wife, but warns them that she is "over head and ears in love with someone else." Seizing this opportunity, the two men introduce their wives. The three ladies and two men sing a quintet about their unprecedented predicament.

Don Alhambra brings in the nurse who had tended the infant prince of Barataria twenty years ago. She reveals that when the Grand Inquisitor came to steal the prince, she had loyally hidden him away, and given Don Alhambra her own young son instead. Thus, the king is neither Marco nor Giuseppe, but her own son, Luiz. This resolves the romantic entanglements to everyone's satisfaction. Casilda finds that she is already married to the man she loves, Luiz. The two gondoliers surrender their crown to Luiz and, though a bit disappointed that neither will be a king, they can return happily to Venice with their wives. There is a final dance for the full company, reprising the gondoliers' Act I duet and the cachucha.

Musical numbers


;Act I
*1. "List and learn" (Gondoliers, Antonio, Marco, Giuseppe, and Chorus of Contadine)
*2. "From the sunny Spanish shore" (Duke, Duchess, Casilda, and Luiz)
*3. "In enterprise of martial kind" (Duke with Duchess, Casilda, and Luiz)
*4. "O rapture, when alone together" (Casilda and Luiz)
*5. "There was a time" (Casilda and Luiz)
*6. "I stole the prince" (Don Alhambra with Duke, Duchess, Casilda, and Luiz)
*7. "But, bless my heart" (Casilda and Don Alhambra)
*8. "Try we life-long" (Duke, Duchess, Casilda, Luiz, and Don Alhambra)
*9. "Bridegroom and bride" (Chorus)
*9a. "When a merry maiden marries" (Tessa)
*10. "Kind sir, you cannot have the heart" (Gianetta)
*10a. "Then one of us will be a Queen" (Marco, Giuseppe, Gianetta, and Tessa)

;Act II
*11. "Of happiness the very pith" (Marco, Giuseppe, and Chorus of Men)
*12. "Rising early in the morning" (Giuseppe with Chorus)
*13. "Take a pair of sparkling eyes" (Marco)
*14. "Here we are at the risk of our lives" (Giuseppe, Tessa, Gianetta, Marco, and Chorus)
*15. "Dance a cachucha" (Chorus and Dance)
*16. "There lived a king" (Don Alhambra with Marco and Giuseppe)
*17. "In a contemplative fashion" (Marco, Giuseppe, Gianetta, and Tessa)
*18. "With ducal pomp" (Chorus of Men with Duke and Duchess)
*19. "On the day when I was wedded" (Duchess)
*20. "To help unhappy commoners" (Duke and Duchess)
*21. "I am a courtier grave and serious" (Duke, Duchess, Casilda, Marco, and Giuseppe)
*22. "Here is a case unprecedented" (Marco, Giuseppe, Casilda, Gianetta, Tessa, and Chorus)


"The Gondoliers" was immediately a hit in London, playing for 554 performances, the fourth longest of the series (after "The Mikado", "H.M.S. Pinafore" and "Patience"). D'Oyly Carte's "E" Company mounted the first provincial production on February 19 1890 in Preston. [Rollins and Witts, p. 75] From then on, it was never absent from the touring repertory until it was dropped in the final two seasons (September 1980–February 1982) before the closing of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.

The opera fared less well in New York. It opened at the New Park Theatre on January 7 1890 and was immediately panned. Gilbert "refused to indorse ["sic"] the company sent to New York... because he considered the company a 'scratch' one." [cite news|title=Are Gilbert and Sullivan Out?|publisher=The New York Times|date=January 14 1890|url=|accessdate=2007-09-08] Carte himself came to New York to investigate, brought in replacements for most of the cast, and remounted the production at a new theatre. However, the damage was done, and the production ran for just 103 performances in total. The New York press dubbed the opera "the gone-dollars." [Baily, p. 347.] The first production on the European continent was given at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna (as "Die Gondoliere") on September 20 1890. [Gänzl, p. 384] In Australia, its first authorised performance was on 25 October 1890 at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, produced by J. C. Williamson.

A new production, with costumes designed by Charles Ricketts, was prepared for the opening of the renovated Savoy Theatre on 21 October 1929. The critic Ernest Newman wrote: "It was a subtle stroke to open with "The Gondoliers"; there is a peculiar richness of blood in the music of this work that makes the new theatre and the new designs and dresses by Mr. Charles Ricketts particularly appropriate...." The performance was conducted by Malcolm Sargent, and the theatre's only box was occupied by Lady Gilbert. [ [ Programme with photos of the new theatre and productions] ]

The first non-D'Oyly Carte professional production in the United Kingdom was given by Scottish Opera on December 12 1968, with Ian Wallace as the Duke.Gänzl, p. 385] There was also a production by the New Sadler's Wells Opera in February 1984, with John Fryatt as the Duke and Donald Adams as Don Alhambra.

The following table shows the history of the D'Oyly Carte productions in Gilbert's lifetime:

Historical casting

The following tables show the casts of the principal early productions and D'Oyly Carte Opera Company touring repertory at various times through to the company's 1982 closure. The roles of Ottavio and the Drummer Boy were credited only in the original production. Notable casting substitutions are shown for the first New York production; otherwise, only first-night casts are shown.


The 1927 Gondoliers is admired for its excellent cast. The 1961 D'Oyly Carte recording is a good stereo recording and includes complete dialogue. The 1957 Sargent/Glyndebourne and 1991 New D'Oyly Carte recordings are both musically well regarded. [ [ Assessment of recordings of "The Gondoliers"] ]

The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival offers various video recordings of the opera, including its 2004 professional G&S Opera Company video. [ [ G&S Opera Company recordings] ]

;Selected recordings
*1927 D'Oyly Carte – Conductor: Harry Norris [ [ Review of the 1927 recording] ]
*1950 D'Oyly Carte – New Promenade Orchestra, Conductor: Isidore Godfrey [ [ Review of the 1950 recording] ]
*1957 Sargent/Glyndebourne – Pro Arte Orchestra, Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Conductor: Sir Malcolm Sargent [ [ Review of the 1957 recording] ]
*1961 D'Oyly Carte (with dialogue) – New Symphony Orchestra of London, Conductor: Isidore Godfrey [ [ Review of the 1961 recording] ]
*1972 G&S For All (video; abridged) – G&S Festival Chorus & Orchestra, Conductor: Peter Murray [ [ Review of the 1972 video] ]
*1977 D'Oyly Carte (with dialogue) – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Conductor: Royston Nash [ [ Review of the 1977 recording] ]
*1982 Brent Walker Productions (video) – Ambrosian Opera Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Alexander Faris; Stage Director: Peter Wood [ [ Review of the 1982 video] ]
*1991 New D'Oyly Carte – Conductor: John Pryce-Jones [ [ Review of the 1991 recording] ]



* Second edition, second impression.










External links

* [ "The Gondoliers" at The Gilbert & Sullivan Archive]
* [ "The Gondoliers" at The Gilbert & Sullivan Discography]
* [ Gilbert & Sullivan song parodies, including some from "The Gondoliers"]
* [ List of longest-running theatre pieces]

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