The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

The Sapphire Necklace

Libretto by Henry F. Chorley
Music by Arthur S. Sullivan

This was Sullivan's first opera. It had a libretto by Henry F. Chorley, music critic of The Athenaeum.

Although he had written opera libretti before, including that for Vincent Wallace's The Amber Witch, Chorley's libretto was poor. In later years Sullivan admitted that no other libretto had ever tried him as much as Chorley's had. Nevertheless, Sullivan devoted much time and effort to composing this opera during the years 1863 and 1864, and produced some fine music, some of which he subsequently used in other works. The opera was in four acts and completed by 1867.

In 1868 Sullivan sold the performance rights to the music publishers Metzler and Co. for £275 and the full score was deposited with them. The original intention had been that the piece would be performed either at Covent Garden, or by a new English Opera company. In the event, the opera was never produced, nor was it published.

Sullivan bought the rights of the opera back from Metzler in 1880 just after completing The Pirates of Penzance. At this time it, The Sapphire Necklace was known by its sub-title, The False Heiress.

The Overture was performed a number of times at concerts of Sullivan's music including one at the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, London on the 13th April 1867 which, besides the overture included two vocal numbers from the opera. They were a recitative and prayer beginning "Then come not yet", and a song "Over the Roof." Edith Wynne was the soprano soloist. The second song was encored.

Henry C. Lunn, editor of the Musical Times, wrote in 1863:

Of this overture to The Sapphire Necklace we may say that there is very much to admire and that, without contrasting it with mature works, it contains sufficient to show that Mr. Sullivan has power to advance to a high place provided that power be rightly directed in time...

Chorley also wrote the libretto for Sullivan's masque Kenilworth, which was relatively successful despite Chorley's libretto, and wrote the words for Sullivan's most popular part song, The Long Day Closes.

Research by Ian Bond and Jim Farron. Revised by Paul Howarth

Updated 23 August 2017 Copyright © Paul Howarth 2003-2017