Adapted from the book "Tit-Willow or Notes and Jottings on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas" by Guy H. and Claude A. Walmisley (Privately Printed, Undated)
"THE GONDOLIERS, or the King of Barataria", was produced at
the Savoy Theatre on Saturday, 7 December, 1889, and is doubly famous among the
operas; in the first place for possessing perhaps the most sparkling and tuneful
music of them all, and secondly for being the last opera to be produced before
the lamentable and unnecessary quarrel between the great triumvirateGilbert,
Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte.
The story of "The Gondoliers", which satirizes snobbery in
all grades of society, follows Gilbert's favourite theme of
topsy-turvydom. "I am told", said he, "that the public like
the topsy-turvy best, so this time they are going to get it".
Act I, opens on the Piazetta at Venice. The opening
section is the longest continuous musical stretch in any of the
G&S operas, with nearly 20 minutes of bright music and dancing before the first spoken dialogue. The two gondoliers, Marco
and Giuseppe, chose brides, Gianetta and Tessa, and marry
them. Shortly thereafter, they are informed by Don Alhambra,
the Grand Inquisitor, that one of the two gondoliers is no less
a personage than the only son of the late King of Barataria.
The uncertainty of their identity being due to the fact that the
gondolier, to whom the royal babe was entrusted at the time
of the revolution in Barataria, mixed up the child with his
own baby son; and thereafter, owing "to his terrible taste for
tippling, that highly respectable gondolier could never declare
with a mind sincere which of the two was his offspring dear,
and which the Royal stripling".
Therefore, until it is ascertained which of the two is to be
King they must reign jointly but, for the time being, they
must leave their brides behind in Venice and set sail at once
to assume the reins of Government in Barataria. This leads to
Gianetta's delightful song at the opening of the Finale to
Act I, "Kind sir, you cannot have the heart our lives to part".
However they soon forget their sadness at the thought of
being parted when Gianetta realizes that either she or her
sister Tessa will be a Queen and "drive about in a carriage and
pair with the King on her left-hand side".
Meantime the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro arrive with
their daughter Casilda, and their Attendant, Luiz, and while
awaiting an audience with Don Alhambra, which the Duke
has demanded, his Grace describes his conversion into a
Limited Liability Company and then tells, in song, of his
military prowess and how "he led his regiment from behindhe found it less exciting".
Act II opens at the Court of Barataria with Marco and
Giuseppe magnificently dressed and seated on two thrones.
They sing of the delightful duties and privileges of being a
King, and, when left alone on the stage with Giuseppe, Marco
sings that famous song, "Take a pair of sparkling eyes" which
is thought by many to be one of Sullivan's finest airs.
Luiz assumes the throne of Barataria
Gianetta and Tessa and their friends arrive,
and soon everyone is dancing a gay Spanish cachucha. This
is followed later by a graceful Gavotte danced and sung by
the two Kings, together with the Duke and Duchess
and Casildaall three now dressed with the utmost magnificence
(the Limited Liability Company paying well); towards the end of
the Gavotte the Duke dances a pas seul with exaggerated
flourishes and gestures that always bring numerous encores
from the delighted audience.
Finally Inez, the Prince's foster-mother, is brought from
the torture chamber where she has been waiting, with the
illustrated papers to amuse her. "Speak, woman, speak,"
they implore her, and to the astonished assembly she explains
that neither of the gondoliers is King but that Luiz, the Duke
of Plaza-Toro's "Suite", is the Royal Prince and the rightful
King of Barataria.
The Composer went to Venice to get atmosphere, returning
later to England where he worked on the opera both at
Weybridge and in London.
In the "Life of Sullivan" written by his nephew, Herbert
Sullivan, an amusing story is told of Sir Arthur at one of the
rehearsals. A certain singer persisted in singing by ear instead
of by music and annoyed Sullivan. "Bravo!" said he, "that is
really a very good tune of yourscapital. And now, if you
don't mind, I will trouble you to sing mine!"
After the first brilliant performance Gilbert wrote his
appreciation to Sullivan"I must thank you again," said he,
"for the magnificent work you have put into this piece. It
gives one a chance of shining right through the Twentieth
Century with a reflected light".
"The Gondoliers" ran for 554 consecutive performances and
was honoured by a Command Performance before Queen
Victoria at Windsor Castle in March, 1891. The entire
company and orchestra went there and back in a special train;
the opera lasted from 9-11.30 p.m.
Unfortunately, while to the outside world all seemed to be
running smoothly, a storm in a teacup was brewing.
D'Oyly Carte, as Manager, had purchased a new carpet for
the front of the house, the cost, among other items, being
charged to the joint account.
the expenditure of £140 gross extravagance but Sullivan, on being consulted,
raised no objection and sided with Carte; whereupon Gilbert went to law against
Carte and Sullivanand lost the case.
As the operas probably reached their zenith with the
production of "The Gondoliers", which for sparkle, buoyancy and sheer delight in
absurdity surpasses them all, it is the more to be regretted that their quarrel
should have taken place at
such a time.
Updated 5 December 2003