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Cartoon of John Hollingshead. An impresario ahead of his time, he built the Gaiety to improve the state of London Theatre.
John Hollingshead

This, the first collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan, was conceived as a Christmas entertainment for John Hollingshead's Gaiety Theatre where it received its first performance on 26 December 1871 and ran for 63 performances. Although it has often been described as a failure, it outlasted most of the Chistmas entertainments that season.

The Gods on Mount Olympus are old and tired, so decide to leave Mount Olympus and take a holiday. Meanwhile a troupe of travelling actors take their place.

Most of the original music for this opera has been lost, so performances today either adapt music from other Sullivan scores, or use a score by one of the several composers who has written a replacement for the lost music.

The Original Production

  • The Libretto

    • Text version (G&S Archive Edition)

    • The libretto sold at the Gaiety Theatre during the run of Thespis was, at several points, at variance with what was actually performed on stage according to contemporary press reviews. Dr. Terence Rees has researched this, and this libretto attempts to restore the missing lines. It is available as a zipped Word Document [104KB] or as a PDF File [275KB].

    • Benford's Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon at External Link
  • The Music

    • In Forty Years of Thespis Scholarship by Selwyn Tillett and Roderic Spencer, the authors put forward the theory that much more of the music of Thespis than Climbing over rocky mountain was adapted and re-used in The Pirates of Penzance. This article is an abridged and amended text of their talk, delivered at the Sullivan Society Festival weekend, Cirencester, Saturday 21 September 2002. It is added to the Archive by kind permission of the authors who may be contacted through The Chimes Musical Theatre.

    • At least one early reviewer remarked that the theme used in the overture bore a resemblance to a song by James Molloy, with words by Gilbert, entitled Thady O'Flynn.

Sketch of Thespis Rehearsal
Thespis in rehearsal at the Gaiety Theatre, December 1871. Gilbert can be seen
behind the gas 'T-piece'. Pen and ink drawing by Alfred Bryan.

Modern Productions

  • The Music

    • MIDI files, including complete sets of MIDI and MIDI Karaoke files of music for
      composed by Colin Johnson.

    • Wingert-Jones Publications have published a vocal score and have performance materials available for hire for Bruce Montgomery's score of Thespis.

    • A new full score (except for the two surviving Sullivan numbers) has been composed by Quade Winter. This version was enthusiastically received at its world premier by the Ohio Light Opera in 1996.

  • Production. A description of a Thespis production staged by the St. Pats Players of Toronto, Canada, in 1993. Very helpful information for groups considering staging Thespis.
  • Normansfield Production. A new performing edition created by Anthony Baker & Timothy Henty which was first performed at the Normansfield Theatre, Teddington on March 8th and 9th 2008, starring Richard Suart as Thespis. External Link


  • There is some controversy about how to pronounce the names of the characters in this opera. Should they be pronounced to make the puns obvious, or should they be pronounced according to the rules of pronunciation of ancient Greek? In this article, Arthur Robinson makes the case for the latter.
  • Transcript of a discussion of Thespis by members of the Savoynet distribution list during September 1997. This extensive discussion provides substantial background information on this opera, and is a must for anyone wanting to understand it better, produce it or perform in it. Compiled by Paul McShane.

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