The Chieftain
You are here: Archive Home > Arthur Sullivan > Major Works > The Chieftain > Preface


by F. C. Burnand

What may be called the first version of this Opera was produced in 1869 [sic] by Mr. German Reed when he opened St. George's Hall for the performance of Light English Opera. It was in two acts, and entitled The Contrabandista. There were in it six principal characters - Peter Grigg, Inez, Rita, Vasquez, Sancho, and Jose - and the story was limited to telling how an English tourist in Spain was taken prisoner by the Ladrones, or Brigands, and how in consonance with their law he was elected Captain, that post being vacant by the death of their former leader. On accepting the position, the new Chief took upon himself, by another unwritten law of the otherwise lawless band, the solemn obligation of marrying the late Captain's widow. The penalty for refusing either the rank or its concurrent obligation, was instant death at the hands of the fierce Ladrones. In the first version the arrival of the soldiers commanded by Count Vasquez released the unhappy Grigg, and so the Opera terminated.

Since then, the Annals of the Grigg Family have brought to light the whole of the story, showing how dangerous it was for Mr. Peter Adolphus Grigg, amateur photographer, to make any attempt at escape from the matrimonial tie by which, at a supreme crisis, he had bound himself. To save his life he had sacrificed his liberty, and now in the entirely new second Act is given the answer to the inquiry, "How did he get out of the difficulty?" Several characters appear on the scene who had no existence in the first version; and of that version, it may be as well here to state, only five [sic] of the original "numbers" are used in this opera. With these exceptions, the present work, as regards songs, choruses, concerted pieces, action, and dialogue, is entirely new.

It being the object of the Opera to show how Mr. Peter Adolphus Grigg compromised himself in the first instance, and what further compromise he was compelled to make in order to be quit of the consequences of his own act, it will be as well not to anticipate the story by any indiscreet prefatial revelation.

On topographical, etymological, and ethnological matters, the best and most easily accessible authorities have been consulted, with what result the reader and spectator will see for themselves.

The story is briefly this: -

Mr. Peter Grigg having concluded the business that brought him to Spain, goes for a pleasure trip, with his photographic apparatus, into the mountains, in order that he may carry back to his wife and family a few pictorial reminiscences taken on the spot. He loses his way, and is captured by a band of Brigands, whose chieftain has disappeared. The law of these Ladrones (or Brigands) lays it down that, if the Chieftain does not return within a fixed time, any stranger arriving in the midst on a certain day is to be elected their Chieftain, and is to become the affianced husband of their Chieftainess. Should he refuse the honours he is to be shot.

Mr. Grigg is captured, and under pressure of carbines, daggers, and pistols, accepts the situation. He is at once enthroned as affianced husband to Inez de Roxas, the Chieftain's deserted wife, or, it may be, widow, and becomes the Chieftain of the Ladrones. Count Vasquez, a friend of his, has ventured, disguised, into the mountains to rescue Rita, a young English lady to whom he is betrothed and who has recently been taken prisoner (simply as a matter of business, i.e,, for the sake of a ransom) by the Ladrones. Vasquez sends for the ransom, and Rita and he are released, leaving the unhappy Grigg in the mountains with the Ladrones.

On returning to Compostello the Count sends his secretary with money for Grigg's ransom, who is released on parole, but only on condition of his returning when summoned by the Chieftainess. Inez de Roxas and the leading Ladrones disguise themselves and go in search of the missing Chieftain, Ferdinand, who has gone off with the Brigands' funds and has vainly attempted to quit Spain.

As photographs of the Chieftain are everywhere about, the police would soon be on his track, and so he has to assume the disguise of a Courier. In this capacity he falls in with Mrs. Grigg, who has come out to search for her husband. The Count's secretary returns with the liberated Grigg, and they meet Mrs. Grigg and the Courier at Compostello. But, with the exception of one valise, all Mr. Grigg's luggage has been taken on, and his hotel bill paid, by the Count, who, after his marriage with Rota, is on his way to his Chateau, and at the village of Dehesas he and his bride stay to pass the honeymoon. Mr. Grigg, therefore, has to join them in order to regain his luggage, and so with Mrs. Grigg, and accompanied by the Courier, he arrives to spend a short time with the Count and Countess.

The Courier (i.e., Ferdinand de Roxas, the real Chieftain) intends to stick to the travellers, and return with them to England. The unhappy Grigg, aware that he has in effect got a Spanish wife, or at least an affianced bride, in the person of Inez de Roxas, dares not confide the truth of his adventure in the mountains to his lawful English spouse, and eagerly looks forward to meeting the Count and Countess, in order that they may concoct a story that will satisfy the curiosity of Mrs. Grigg, who wants to know what has kept her Peter so lone away from her, in Spain, without his having written her a single line. The Count and Countess help him out of his difficulty, and Mrs. Grigg is induced to believe that her husband is an unusually modest, self-effacing hero of romance.

But suddenly Inez and the Ladrones, all in disguise, appear on the scene, prosecuting their search for their lost Chief. Inez makes the acquaintance of Mrs. Grigg, passing herself off as the Duchesse de Roxas, and as such Mrs. Grigg introduces the unlucky Grigg to her. Grigg would deny the story, but the witnesses are all present, and the damning evidence of a snap- shot photograph, taken by the Count, of Grigg and Inez in a decidedly compromising attitude, is produced. Grigg purchases the silence of the Ladrones and with it his own freedom for a hundred pounds down (advanced by the Count), and Dolly (Mrs. Grigg) remains in blissful ignorance of his escapade.

The Chieftain, Ferdinand, under the impression, from the tale invented by the Count, that the band of Ladrones is broken up, that they are all killed, and that he is free, recklessly turns up his sleeves (thereby showing his tattoo marks) to go gold-fishing, and gaily sings the one song by which the Chieftain of the Ladrones is known to all his followers. They hear it; he is stripped of his disguise, his weapons are taken from him, he is embraced by his loving wife, and welcomed back to the band by his faithful lieutenants, who, besides sharing in the ransom, look forward to participating in the price of the photograph, and to regaining the funds with which the Chieftain had absconded. Peter and Mrs. Grigg determine at once to return to their native land, where their small family is anxiously awaiting them, and, bidding good- bye to all their Spanish friends, they depart.

Such in brief is the story of "The Chieftain."

Page created 26 October 2003