The Gondoliers

The D'Oyly Carte Opera

The Gondoliers, The D'Oyly Carte Opera
CD1 56'11''
CD2 52'58''

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Libretto W.S. GILBERT
Musical text based on
The D’Oyly Carte Performing Edition

Prepared from the composers autograph by
David Lloyd-Jones


of the

Conducted by

The Duke of Plaza – Toro Richard Suart
Luiz - Philip Creasey
Don Alhambra del Bolero - John Rath
Marco Palmieri - Alan Oke
Antonio - Tim Morgan
Francesco - David Cavendish
Giorgio - Tony Barrett
Anniable - Gareth Vaughan
The Duchess of Plaza Toro - Jill Pert
Casilda - Elizabeth Woollett
Gianetta - Lesley Echo Ross
Tessa - Regina Hanley
Fiametta - Yvonne Patrick
Guilia - Elizabeth Elliot
Inez - Claire Kelly

Chorus and Orchestra of The D’Oyly Carte Opera
Orchestra Manager Peter Harrap
Orchestra Leader Geoffrey Allan
Chorus Master David Gibson
Conducted by John Pryce-Jones

Gary Alexander, William Allenby, Stephanie Allman, Sally Anderson, Toby Barrett, Elaine Boxall, Sian Britton, Virginia De Ledesma, Bethan Dudley, Deryck Hamon, Rachel Hickman, Andrea Holmes, James Hutton, Julian Jenson, James Llewellyn-Thomas, Howard Ludlow, James McLauglin, Emma Mabin, Madelaine Mitchell, Louise Owen, Stephen Parr, Kevin Tillett, Robert Traynor, Sarah Uren, Gareth Vaughen, Guy Wilson


The Gondoliers was the last great success of the Gilbert & Sullivan Partnership.  Written in a spirit of bitter artistic estrangement, it carries every indication of having been created – as one first night reviewer observed – ‘con amore’.  Yet the peace and goodwill amounted to no more than a lull before the tempestuous ‘carpet quarrel’: a Sovoy drama played in open court to anything but public approval.

Sullivan’s attitude towards the composition of operettas was decidedly ambivalent.  These works, upon which he lavished so much of his creative genius, were central to his output throughout his career, as well as being the main source of his material prosperity.  Yet he often felt the works written with Gilbert restricted his musical scope and other, loftier musical forms more worthy of his attention.  He did warm, however, to the ‘very human’ libretto of The Yeomen of the Guard which seemed to open up possibilities in new and more conducive directions.

The undoubtedly romantic rather than comic ambience, and distinct veer towards Grand Opera, mark Yeomen as a work quite different from it’s predecessors.  Yet for Sullivan it did not go far enough.  He explained to Gilbert how he ‘wanted to do some dramatic work on a larger musical scale’ in which ‘the music must occupy a more important place’, and that he ‘wanted a voice in the musical construction of the libretto’.  Whilst Gilbert appreciated the composer’s desire to ‘write big work’ his own view was that public response to Yeomen had not been such as to encourage production of something ‘more earnest still’.  Hostility followed and the prospect for reconciliation seemed gloomy indeed.  Gilbert had rationally maintained, however, that Sullivan could satisfy his ambitions for large scale operatic work by writing a grand opera for the audiences which wanted that, without having to abandon the lighter form of operetta favoured by the patrons of The Savoy.  Eventually the opportunity to write and grand opera on the subject of Ivanhoe for production in a theatre built by Richard D’Oyly Carte, the Royal English Opera House (now the Palace Theatre), brought Sullivan to this realization also.  Making his peace with Gilbert, Sullivan expressed a particular liking for the Venetian subject he knew the librettist had been considering.  Just over seven months later, on 7thnDecember 1889, The Gondoliers opened at the Savoy Theatre.

Sullivan’s diary records that at the première performance ‘Everything went splendidly with immense ‘go’ and spirit – right up to the end Gilbert and I got a tremendous ovation -  we have never had such an audience and never such a brilliant first night.  It looks as if the opera were going to have a long run and be a great success’.  His estimates proved correct.  The Gondoliers achieved a remarkable initial run of 554 performances. It was even honoured by a Royal Command Performance before Queen Victoria – who on that occasion certainly was amused.  On the other side of the Atlantic, however, audiences were rather less enthusiastic over this latest offering from the Savoy team.  Considered a bad investment for D’Oyly Carte, it soon became known as ‘the gone-dollars’.

If The Gondoliers has remained amongst the most popular collaborations between Gilbert and Sullivan, it was also one of the most congenial for the partners themselves.  Having managed to cajole Sullivan back to the Savoy, Gilbert was anxious to ensure that the composer had no cause for regrets,  For various lyrics sent by him to Sullivan, Gilbert provided alternatives, gave carte blanche for lines to be omitted and even offered to write completely new material to please the composer.  The structure of the operetta also revealed Gilberts willingness to conceded prominence to the music for significantly more of the playing time of the work is taken up by music than in the previously full-length pieces (The one act Trial by Jury which has no spoken dialogue is a case apart).  Right at the beginning, this decidedly musical ambience is established in a scene, which sets the first stages of a drama within a continuous sequence of brilliantly evocative music lasting virtually 20 minutes.  One can appreciate why Frank Burnand, editor of Punch, should write to Sullivan, ‘Place some of it, costumes and all, on the stage as an extract without saying from what, and they’d say Grand Opera’.  It is the predominance of dance rhythms which is so distinctive a feature of Sullivan’s music for The Gondoliers.  There are waltz tunes of the opening sequence and the courtly pastiche of the gavotte in Act II, but most striking is the wealth of sparkling Mediterranean measures: the saltarello, tarantella and cuchacha – this latter being intended, perhaps, to indicate the proximity of Batataria to the Spanish mainland.  Outstanding in every respect, but not least for its authentic Italian ring – albeit Neapolitan rather than Venetian – is the duet called ‘We’re called gondolieri’.  As well as these exotic elements in the score there is also music in the composer’s more than familiar vein.  The glee ‘Try we life-long’ is closely related to the pseudo madrigals of, for example, The Mikado and Ruddigore.  ‘In enterprise of martial kind’ and ‘Rising early’ as species of patter-song  -  but without quite the verbal frenzy of earlier models  -  and ‘Take a pair of sparkling eyes’ maintains a vein of tenor balladry which stretches  back to The Sorceror and extends into Sullivan’s drawing room output.

Gilbert’s libretto re-uses the baby swapping idea from HMS Pinafore and combines it with a kidnapping which brings to mind Gilbert’s own claim to have been captured at an early age by Neapolitan bandits.  If there is something in the story of The Gondoliers which recalls an earlier work, far more important is the complete recovery by the librettist of that sense of unclouded gaiety which characterizes his earlier operettas.  Gone are the sombre overtones which colour The Yeomen of The Guard and Ruddigore.  Gilbert’s exaltation of youth and love is sincere and, although the libretto has it’s satirical elements, these never overshadow the essentially sunny, optimistic and romantic outlook.  In many respects The Gondoliers is one of Gilbert’s finest, most balanced and most human plays.

Soon after the first night Sullivan wrote to Gilbert ‘in such a perfect book as The Gondoliers you shine with an individual brilliancy which no other writer can hope to attain.’  Gilbert, for his part, knew that the work they had created  contained the vital spark of immortality:  ‘It gives one the chance’ he wrote of ‘shining right through the twentieth century with a reflected light.’  Amidst the post-première euphoria, Gilbert may have looked forward to an artistic relationship with his fickle composer which would, at last, be on a firm and stable footing, but it was not to be.  Soon Gilbert was questioning the expense at the Savoy of a new carpet front-of-house.  D’Oyly Carte charged this to Gilbert and Sullivan as part of the production expenses but the author felt it to be no part of their liability.  Sullivan refused to enter the lists under Gilbert’s banner.  Gilbert took the matter to court and won, but Sullivan’s lack of support rankled.  The partners did work together on two last operettas, Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke but neither matched the success of earlier works.  The great days were over.  Gilbert and Sullivan were never to transcend The Gondoliers.

  1. Overture
  2. List and Learn
  3. Good Morrow, Pretty Maids
  4. For the Merriest Fellows Are We
  5. Buon Giorno, Signorine
  6. We Are Called Gondolieri
  7. And Now to Choose Our Brides
  8. My Papa, He Keeps Three Horses
  9. Thank You, Gallant Gondolieri
  10. From the Sunny Spanish Shore
  11. In the Enterprise of Martial Kind
  12. O Rapture, When Alone Together
  13. There Was a Time, a Time Forever Gone
  14. I Stole the Prince and I Brought Him Here
  15. But Bless My Heart
  16. Try We Life Long
  17. Bridegroom and Bride
  18. When a Merry Maiden Marries
  19. Kind Sir, You Cannot Have the Heart
  20. Then One of Us Will Be a Queen
  21. For Ev'ry One Who Feels Inclined
  22. Now, Marco Dear, My Wishes Hear
  23. Then Away They Go to an Island Fair
  1. Oh Happines the Very Pith In Barataria
  2. Rising Early In the Morning
  3. Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes
  4. Here We Are, At the Risk of Our Lives
  5. Dance a Cachucha
  6. There Live a King
  7. In a Contemplative Fashion
  8. With Ducal Pomp and Ducal Pride
  9. On the Day When I Was Wedded
  10. To Help Unhappy Commoners
  11. I Am a Courtier Grave and Serious
  12. Here Is a Case Unprecedented
  13. Now Let the Loyal Lieges Gather Round
  14. This Statement We Receive
  15. Once More Gondolieri