Gilbert and Sullivan Archive



Janice Dallas: I think the reason I like "GONDOLIERS" so much as a performer, is the many opportunities it presents for the chorus to dance, take on minor roles, and do a lot of interacting between men and women. It is the most exciting of the shows to perform in! Of course, given the wrong director, a lot of that could be lost, but , so far, I've had good directors for "GONDOLIERS". Some of the others can be rather boring for the chorus. One thing I'll never forget about my first "GONDOLIERS" (actually an excerpt, combined with others) was the way we had to design the gondola that the Spaniards arrived in. It was 24' long and we only had about 16' of wing on either end of the stage, so it was built with a hinged bow and stern ( being very careful with the decorated ends!) and a middle on low wheels. As it came on to our stage, we lowered the back end and raised the front end as it left. Two GONDOLIERS poled it and a monofilament cord guided it in place. Our stage was rather plain, about 36' wide, with only a raised platform of about 1' as the quay, so the gondola was very impressive. I've yet to see anything quite like it in other productions.

Paul McShane:

Definition: Stage craft = The Xebeque that takes Marco and Giuseppe away to their balmy isle.

How many productions of GONDOLIERS take the trouble to make their Act I Finale Xebeque different to the gondola that brings the Ducal party to the Venice piazza? Most Xebeques that I've seen would have trouble bobbing through the Venetian canals, let alone making it down the Adriatic, into the Mediterranean, and on to Barataria (wherever that balmy isle is - Majorca? - and incidentally, if they didn't know where it was, how did they get there?). Marty Devine: We did, in fact, create a separate Xebeque for that oh-so-brief scene. Still don't know why, for sure, except that Burt, our set designer extraordinair, is somewhat of a perfectionist. My job, as Giuseppe, was to make sure that one of the brothers didn't fly off of the prow of the ship as it was rather abruptly pulled off stage. Ah, the fame of it all... Marty Devine: Oops...meant to say that I was to prevent Giuseppe from flying off of the "ship." That's what happens when you don't watch what you're doing...

John Shea: At the point in the second act when the Plaza-Toros are greeted by the jointly-ruling kings of Barataria, the Duke (myself) went through the litany of Things Expected For A State Visit that were lacking--guard of honor, refreshments, royal salute, triumphal arches--with the Duke's "No" to each rhetorical question repeated by Marco and Giuseppe louder and louder until my last line: "The bells set ringing?" "No!" "Yes! One! the visitors'; and I rang it myself!" Stan DeOrsey: How did the D'Oyly Carte handle that last line above. Every GONDOLIERS I have seen in the last many years simply pass over the line just like any other. When I saw the old American Savoyards (who supposedly matched DOC in stage business) the Duke ALWAYS made a point by raising his hand and pretending to push a door bell with his index finger. This small gesture clearly made the point of the line. What did DOC do?

David Duffey: "When they have chosen two that leaves you plenty Two dozen we, and ye are four-and-twenty." I am no statistician, but as Marco and Giuseppe have not entered yet, surely a brace of Gondolieri will be enjoying their dolce far niente for longer than "Till then". Which brings me to point debated in every GONDOLIERS I have been associated with, and I think I have done more GONDOLIERS that any other show:

Consider the stage direction - "(Each man kisses each girl.)". Now is this:-

The result? Quite a long pause while the majority of the company indulges in something of a Venetian orgy.

Gordon Pascoe: This is quite correct. I have it on the authority of no less personages than the Astronomer Royal, two Utopian Wise Men, and Inez herself. I blanche to suggest that this might lead to posterity being well provided for and may account for the longevity of G & S. I mention this as merely corroborative detail; Gilbert himself seems quite certain of what he wanted to achieve. The Chancellor being an old equity draftsman could amend (horror! but there is precedent for this) Gilbert's line to provide politically-correct equal opportunity for the women: "Each man kisses each girl AND each girl kisses each man." On the whole nothing could be more satisfactory, although it does tend to delay the curtain and a well-earned elbow bending session in a close-by watering hole.

Ken Chambers: It might enliven our discussion of GONDOLIERS a bit if I ask whether any other groups have used the "bullwhip trick" for the second verse of the Duchess of P.T.'s song, "On the day when I was wedded.." In our 1993 performance for Oregon State University's G&S Festival, the Duchess produced such a whip as a not-so-"gentle intimation of her firm determination," allowing me, as the Duke, to display a certain mixture of fear and--should I say it?--pleasurable anticipation. At least that's what I attempted to show in my expressions. I was wrapped up in the whip for "We were billing, we were cooing," and "When in sequel reunited." All through this, Casilda was interestedly observing her mother's technique in "taming her insignificant progenitor." It was actually not as overdone as this telling might suggest, I should say; just the barest hint of S&M, nothing more.

David Duffey: Do I remember a Martyn Green story about the "long bacon" business by the drummer boy in Act II (Don A's entrance) being considered lude by Canadian audiences in the 1930s? Is this still so? "Long bacon" is a mocking gesture made by putting thumb to nose and extending the hand so the palm is in line with the nose, then putting the thumb of the other hand to the little finger (pinkie) of the nosed hand, hands keeping in line, then wiggling the fingers. Why was/is this so offensive? Susan Poliniak: And would this be considered any worse than the action described in "We quite understand" in THE CHIEFTAIN (i.e., "put your thumb up to your nose and spread your fingers out")? Aren't they the same thing? Opinions?

Dan Kravetz: I don't know what the exact meaning is supposed to be, but Gilbert himself had some knowledge of the gesture and its impact. (Note there are one-handed and two handed versions, and I learned it in illustration of the expression "to thumb one's nose.") In SONGS OF A SAVOYARD, Gilbert illustrated "The Duke and the Duchess" ("Small titles and orders" from THE GONDOLIERS) with a "Bab" drawing that shows a distinguished looking gentleman standing at a dinner table with his hand outstretched behind his back. Another man, looking sideways furtively, is about to place a £100 note in the gentleman's hand. Meanwhile, on the table in front of the gentleman is a pot out of which grows a five-leaf palm branch just opposite his head. The palm branch is drawn to resemble an open hand with fingers spread and the "thumb" leaf curved toward the gent's nose. This seems to be a cartoon double-entendre, suggesting that the gentleman is a speech spinner at a charity dinner being well paid for his trouble, secretly in contempt of his audience. Bill Snyder: How many double-entendres of the comic-opera variety does anyone think Gilbert got away with?

Page created 30 June 1997