Gilbert and Sullivan Archive




Bill McCann: Prompted to think a little about the female characters in GONDOLIERS, my interest immediately lighted on the Duchess. What on earth are we to make of this terrible Harridan married to a Paladin? On the one hand, it is quite clear from the first entrance of the ducal party that SHE wears the trousers in the ducal household. AND if they are to pass to anybody Casilda gets to wear them before the hapless, inoffensive, Duke. Fair enough - Katisha happily married at last one might say! However, when she comes to give Casilda a lesson in wifecraft what do we find ? "Giving him the very best and getting back the very worst" ?To borrow a phrase from some recent Savoynet postings - Where is your evidence Lady? To top it all, Sullivan gives her quite ugly music for this little foray into the hypocrisy of a "Street Angel and House Devil". Goodness, when contrasted with the perfect childlike innocence of Gianetta and Tessa, the Duchess (and Casilda too) comes across as a most undesirable character indeed. What (or whom) was Gilbert ( & Sullivan too by the sound of it) thinking of? Perhaps we should see her as a proto-feminist? Is that perhaps why this opera is more popular with the ladies than with the gentlemen?

Ken Chambers: The Duchess seems to me to be a rational and consistent character, as Gilbert wrote her. From her Second Act song we learn that she at first was submissive to her overbearing husband ("volcanic temper," "ecstatic fury," etc.). In order to survive she had to become Katisha-like, and indeed this change was successful and created a happy marriage. Casilda also seems consistent to me--if we believe that she truly loves Luiz. She fakes a dislike for him to fool her parents; she is upset when the Duke reveals to her the childhood engagement (oh, that word!) to the infant King of Barataria. She hopes he will "repudiate the contract" when he sees what a "shady family he has married into." So, IMHO neither D. nor C. is an unsavoury character. On the point of Sullivan's music for the Duchess, our music director expressed the opinion that the martial sound of "On the day that I was wedded" might have been S.'s counterpoint to the Duke's First Act patter song, "In enterprise of martial kind." I am not musically qualified to judge whether her song ought to be called ugly, however. Bill McCann: From HER song indeed. But, to quote the Lord Chancellor, "my good sir, you mustn't tell us what she told you - it's not evidence." Where is the evidence that the Duke is, was, or could ever have been overbearing? Even he admits that he always ran away when the going got a little rough! And, a happy marriage for whom? Indeed our poor hapless Duke does not really seem to enjoy a moment's happiness until he is finally appreciated by Giuseppe and Marco in the deliciously gentle "I am a courtier grave and serious" when someone seems to take some notice of what he says at last. Note the total lack of acerbity in his music here - he is not hen-picked for once and is basking in a rare moment of respect.

Eugenia Horne: I like the Duchess. It's one of those parts I'd love to do. I tend to think some productions go overboard on the "harridan" business (even to point of casting a man to do it a la "The Wicked Stepmother" in drag). Maybe she is entitled to "wear the trousers". Although, it wasn't typical there were a number of titles that women held "in their own right" and passed them down to their daughter if there were no male heirs. (Gilbert and Sullivan did live in an era when there were a bunch of women reigning as Queen Regnants or had done so in recent memory. Including Spain's Queen Isabella II who reportedly got a real twerpy husband nicknamed "Fanny" forced on her.) Bill McCann: AH, but in the very line introducing the song she says "It was very difficult my dear; but I said to myself, 'That man is a Duke, and I will love him'"....So she took her title from him! Eugenia Horne: Maybe she tried the "preferred" submissive wife routine, found it didn't work, and decided to demand a more "equal" partnership at which point her husband found her more to his liking. Bill McCann: But surely he would run away from anything stronger than himself ? Is there not a sense of his being trapped by the two women in his life in their first entrance, hence his eager desire to offload Casilda? Eugenia Horne: By the way, if was a fairly common belief at this time that men "needed to be tamed" in marriage by the more "civilized" women. Bill Snyder: Which was exactly the relationship worked out by the Duke and Duchess the last time I did a GONDOLIERS. It was an adversarial and loving relationship that both thrived upon. Sparing you the details, it worked and was very funny. May God grant all directors such singers who think out their motivation so coherently!

Bill McCann: But there is no evidence that HE needed to be tamed apart from the Duchess's word for it. And since she acquired her status etc. from his title, the adjective "civilised" might belong on the other foot. Eugenia Horne: The Duke's apparently a "wimp". He even admits it "In Enterprise of Martial Kind". Maybe he WANTED her to "wear the trousers" in the family. Bill McCann: Yes, the Duke is a Wimp but that makes it all the more unlikely that he would willingly submit, in a masochistic manner, to a harridan of a wife. The Duke has been Duped, frankly. From being "very wary" in their early wedded life the Duchess has made rapid strides to "double-shotted guns and her true) colours nailed unto the mast in order to cow this poor wimp into submissiveness. Eugenia Horne: I think On the day when I was wedded is the closest thing a woman gets to a comedic "patter song" in G&S and not those sentimental "lovesick" arias women usual get stuck with. I tend to think this song could be conveyed with a certain sense of charm and "tongue-in-cheek" humour to it's advantage. I'd hazard a guess that G & S needed somebody to "pair up" with the Duke so he'd wouldn't be the sole "comedic" role in an opera that features "equality" and no "star performer". How about G&S expanded on the man vs. woman relationship in marriage in this opera after "flirting with it" in previous operas? And the gentlemen tend to miss this? Bill McCann: Great suggestion for a debate! I may even agree with you on this one.

David Duffey: I have a gently Freudian theory - hotly contested by most on SavoyNet - that how Gilbert dealt with relationships in the operas (viewed broadly) gives some insight into his own emotional background. I think I am correct in asserting that the Plaza Toros are the only example of a nuclear family - man/woman/child - in the canon. LC/ IOLANTHE/Strephon I discount as IOLANTHE acted as a single parent for the best part of a quarter of a century. The picture given of marriage in The GONDOLIERS is interesting in the Freudian light. "That man is a duke and I will love him", suggests an arranged marriage at best, at worst ensnarement by the Duchess for reasons of snobbishness. I agree that Gilbert got man v. woman fun out of the Duke and Duchess, but, arranged marriage or not they work together towards the same ends with equal purpose and enthusiasm and there is no fundamental conflict between them. Possibly having made an arranged marriage work themselves they saw no moral dilemma in arranging one for their daughter: who, herself does not too strenuously protest against it. Then again, the casual manner in which the Palmieri brothers allow impartial fate select for them a mate is hardy anything which we today would cry "Viva" at. And off they go and connubially link themselves without even having the banns read. Also interesting (to me anyway) is that The GONDOLIERS has one of the only two mother/son relationships in the operas. The other is IOLANTHE/Strephon - an idealised and sickly sweet relationship if ever there was one. With Inez and either Marco or Giuseppe it seems like a case of "one of you two, and I don't care which". In contrast there are six examples of father/son(s), four of mother/daughter (I discount Yum-Yum and nature) and eight of father/daughter(s). Sigmund Duffey


Ed Glazier: I don't recall seeing any productions of GONDOLIERS in which, after the revelation about Luiz, some notice is made of the fact that either Marco or Giuseppe is her son. Have any of the assembled multitudes witnessed or participated in a production where anything was done about this in the staging? As a sidelight, at the University of Michigan when I was there, the crew often indulged in a crew prank after the final curtain call on closing night. At the GONDOLIERS in the early '70s, the principals were lined up across the stage when there suddenly appeared from the wings a man dressed as a pizza delivery person. He called out, "Pizza for Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri" as he walked down the line. When he came to Inez, he stopped, stared at her in disbelief, cried out, "Mama!" and hugged her. Of course, this ignores the fact that one of the Palmieri brothers is supposedly her son, but we were highly amused. Judith Weis: When I played Inez at Cornell, the director staged interaction with Marco and Giuseppe in terms of which one of you is my real son - but given all the busy-ness going on after Inez' revelation, I'm not sure if the audience caught on. I haven't seen that interaction done in other productions though. (Bear in mind it's also possible that Luiz is really her son, and she says this to elevate his status!)

Larry Garvin: In the line of the UMGASS curtain call -- I've always wanted to have an Inez end her recitative by singing "His name -- Marco! Behold His Royal Highness!" and then watch what happens. Utter panic, I should imagine. A pleasant thought. David Duffey: But surely the "His name, Marco! Behold his Royal Highness" was done by the D'Oyly Carte on one of their last nights of a London Season. They had Prudence come on too, I seem to remember, as a secretary. I think it was at Sadler's Wells in 1976. One of the weaker last night efforts. The best I saw was the 1958/9 season with Trial done with everyone in different costumes.

Page created 30 June 1997