Entertainment/Gilbert and Sullivan

From Quiz Revision Notes

Librettist William Schwenck Gilbert (1836 – 1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842 – 1900) collaborated on a series of fourteen comic operas in Victorian England between 1871 and 1896. Their works have become known as the Savoy Operas, after the Savoy Theatre in London, which was built in 1881 by their producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, to present their operas. For over a century, until it closed in 1982, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company performed the operas. Every summer, there is a three-week-long International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton


Alternative title - The Gods Grown Old

Premiere - 1871

The first Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration was Thespis, produced at the large Gaiety Theatre, an extravaganza in which the gods of the classical world, who have become elderly and ineffective, are temporarily replaced by a troupe of actors and actresses. The piece mocked Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld and La Belle Hélène, which (in translation) then dominated the English musical stage. Thespis opened at the Gaiety Theatre on Boxing Day in 1871 and ran for 63 performances








Thespis, manager of a travelling theatrical company

Trial by Jury

Premiere - 1875

Trial by Jury is the only Gilbert and Sullivan opera played in one act, and the only one with no spoken dialogue. As it is only about 30 minutes long, it is usually coupled with another work — often one of the shorter two-act Savoy Operas, such as The Sorcerer or H.M.S. Pinafore, or presented as a triple bill with Cox and Box and The Zoo. As with all the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the plot of Trial is ludicrous, but by behaving as if everything were perfectly reasonable, the characters in this satire of the legal system (a favorite target of Gilbert's, who had a brief legal career) reveal truths about common foibles and follies of men, women and society at large


The Learned Judge

The Plaintiff

The Defendant

Counsel for the Plaintiff


Foreman of the Jury

The Sorcerer

Premiere - 1877

Gilbert expanded on his own short story, The Elixir of Love and also used ideas from his earlier Bab Ballads, creating a plot about a magic love potion that – as often occurs in opera – causes everyone to fall in love with the wrong partner


Sir Marmaduke Poindextre, an Elderly Baronet

Alexis, of the Grenadier Guards, his son

Dr. Daly, Vicar of Ploverleigh

John Wellington Wells, of J.W. Wells & Co., Family Sorcerers

Lady Sangazure, a Lady of Ancient Lineage

H.M.S. Pinafore

Alternative title - The Lass That Loved a Sailor

Premiere - 1878

The plot revolves around a middle-class naval captain's daughter who is in love with a lower-class foremast hand (a common sailor, well below officer rank), even though she is betrothed to the upper-class First Lord of the Admiralty, the government official in charge of the Royal Navy

Mrs Cripps is known as Little Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore


The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty

Captain Corcoran, Commander of the H.M.S. Pinafore

Ralph Rackstraw, Able Seaman

Dick Deadeye, Able Seaman

The Pirates of Penzanze

Alternative title - The Slave of Duty

Premiere - 1879

The work's title is a multi-layered joke. On the one hand, Penzance was a docile seaside resort at the time, and not the place where one would expect to encounter pirates. On the other hand, the title was also a jab at the theatrical pirates who had staged unlicensed productions of H.M.S. Pinafore in America. The Pirates of Penzance was the only Gilbert and Sullivan opera to have its official premiere in New York, although the world premiere in was Paignton

A Policeman’s Lot is not a Happy one – from The Pirates of Penzance

I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General – from The Pirates of Penzance


Major-General Stanley

The Pirate King

Samuel, his Lieutenant

Frederic, the Pirate Apprentice


Alternative title - Bunthorne's Bride

Premiere - 1881

The opera is a satire on the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and '80s in England. This artistic movement was so popular, and also so easy to ridicule as a meaningless fad, that it made Patience a big hit. A popular myth holds that the central character, Bunthorne, a ‘Fleshly Poet’, was intended to satirize Oscar Wilde


Colonel Calverly, Officer of Dragoon Guards

Major Murgatroyd, Officer of Dragoon Guards

Lieut. The Duke of Dunstable, Officer of Dragoon Guards

Reginald Bunthorne, a Fleshly Poet

Archibald Grosvenor, an Idyllic Poet


Alternative title - The Peer and the Peri

Premiere - 1882

The Savoy Theatre was the first theatre in the world to be wired for electricity, and such stunning special effects as sparkling fairy wands were possible. Captain (later Sir) Eyre Massey Shaw, to whom the Fairy Queen refers in the second act, was head of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. He was present at the first night of Iolanthe, and the words were directed at him by Alice Barnett as the Fairy Queen. Much of Sullivan's ‘fairy’ music pays deliberate homage to the incidental music written by Felix Mendelssohn for a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Iolanthe is banished to the bottom of a stream for marrying a mortal


The Lord Chancellor

Earl of Mountararat

Earl Tolloller

Private Willis, of the Grenadier Guards

Strephon, an Arcadian Shepherd

Queen of the Fairies

Iolanthe, a Fairy, Strephon's mother

Princess Ida

Alternative title - Castle Adamant

Premiere - 1884

Princess Ida is based on Tennyson's poem The Princess and is the only Gilbert and Sullivan work with dialogue entirely in blank verse. It is also the only one of their works in three acts. The opera satirizes feminism, women's education, and Darwinian evolution. It is partly set in a women-only university


King Hildebrand

Hilarion, King Hildebrand's Son

Cyril, Hilarion's Friend

Florian, Hilarion's Friend

King Gama

The Mikado

Alternative title - The Town of Titipu

Premiere - 1885

The Mikado is a comedy that deals with themes of death and cruelty. To the extent that the opera is inspired by, and purports to portray, Japanese culture, style, and government, it draws on Victorian notions of the subject, gleaned from the general British fascination with Japanese fashion and art

Three Little Maids from School are we – from The Mikado

A Wandering Minstrel I – from The Mikado

On a tree by a river ("Willow, tit-willow") – from The Mikado

“Short sharp shock” – phrase in The Mikado

“I’ve got a little list” – phrase in The Mikado


The Mikado of Japan

Nanki-Poo, his Son, disguised as a wandering minstrel, and in love with Yum-Yum

Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner of Titipu

Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else

Pish-Tush, a Noble Lord

Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, and Peep-Bo, three Sisters, Wards of Ko-Ko


Alternative title - The Witch's Curse

Premiere - 1887

The Baronets of the castle of Ruddigore have been cursed by a witch. Each Baronet, in his turn, must commit a crime a day – or die in torture. To escape his dreadful fate, the latest Baronet, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, disguises himself as Robin Oakapple, a farmer. Only two people know his true identity – his faithful servant, Old Adam Goodheart, and his adopted brother, Richard Dauntless, a seaman. Robin Oakapple is in love with the beautiful Rose Maybud and wants to marry her - but his future plans appear doomed when his true identity is revealed


Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd disguised as Robin Oakapple, a Young Farmer

Richard Dauntless his Foster-Brother, a Man-o'-war's-man

Sir Despard Murgatroyd of Ruddigore, a Wicked Baronet

Old Adam Goodheart, Robin's Faithful Servant

Rose Maybud, a Village Maiden

The Yeomen of the Guard

Alternative title - The Merryman and his Maid

Premiere - 1888

The opera is set in the Tower of London, during the 16th century, and is the darkest, and perhaps most emotionally engaging, of the Savoy Operas, ending with a broken-hearted main character and two very reluctant engagements, rather than the usual numerous marriages


Sir Richard Cholmondeley, Lieutenant of the Tower

Colonel Fairfax, under sentence of death

Sergeant Meryll of the Yeomen of the Guard

Jack Point, a jester

The Gondoliers

Alternative title - The King of Barataria

Premiere - 1889

Gilbert returns to the satire of class distinctions figuring in many of his earlier librettos. The libretto also reflects Gilbert's fascination with the ‘Stock Company Act’, highlighting the absurd convergence of natural persons and legal entities


The Duke of Plaza-Toro, a Grandee of Spain

Luiz, his Attendant

Don Alhambra del Bolero, the Grand Inquisitor

Marco Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier

Giuseppe Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier

Utopia, Limited

Alternative title - The Flowers of Progress

Premiere - 1893

Gilbert's libretto satirizes limited liability companies, and particularly the idea that a bankrupt company could leave creditors unpaid without any liability to its owners. It did not achieve the success of most of the earlier comic operas

The Grand Duke

Alternative title - The Statutory Duel

Premiere - 1896

Gilbert and Sullivan come full circle, back to the theme of their first collaboration, Thespis: a troupe of actors taking political power. The plot hinges on the mis-interpretation of a 100 year-old law regarding statutory duels (decided by drawing cards). The baffled central character, Ludwig, becomes engaged to four different women before the plot is resolved. It had a short run and was a financial failure

Other works by Gilbert and Sullivan

The Bab Ballads are a collection of light verse by W. S. Gilbert, illustrated with his own comic drawings

WS Gilbert’s last libretto – Fallen Fairies, by Edward Germany, in 1909

Cox and Box – a one-act comic opera with a libretto by F. C. Burnand and music by Arthur Sullivan

The Zoo is a one-act comic opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by B. C. Stephenson, writing under the pen name of Bolton Rowe

Pineapple Poll is a Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired comic ballet, created by choreographer John Cranko with arranger Sir Charles Mackerras. Pineapple Poll is based on The Bumboat Woman's Story, one of W. S. Gilbert's Bab Ballads, written in 1870. H.M.S. Pinafore was also based, in part, on this story

Ivanhoe – Arthur Sullivan’s only grand opera

Arthur Sullivan composed 23 operas, 13 major orchestral works, eight choral works and oratorios, two ballets, incidental music to several plays, and numerous hymns and other church pieces, songs, and piano and chamber pieces. The best known of his hymns and songs include Onward Christian Soldiers and The Lost Chord

Irish Symphony – Arthur Sullivan

The Golden Legend is a cantata by Arthur Sullivan based on the 1851 poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow