Season: Spring 1981
(also performed May 30th, 1981, Auditorium Theatre, Perry NY)
Notes: (by Alan Fischler)The Gondoliers, the 12th of the 14 Gilbert and Sullivan operas, was first presented at the Savoy Theatre, in London on 7 December 1889, and had an original run of 554 performances. From a financial point of view, it was the most successful product of the authors' long collaboration; unfortunately, it was also their last complete success. Just a few months after their new opera opened, the two partners became involved in a quarrel which started over the cost of a new carpet for the theatre but which had to be settled in a court of law. The two operas which they wrote after their 1894 reconciliation are rarely performed today.
Gilbert's libretto for The Gondoliers contained the elements that had, by now, become standard for him: mistaken identities, political satire and a miraculously neat last-minute resolution of the plot: this last device was used in parody of the melodramas that had dominated the English stage in the early 19th century, the final scenes of which would often spring completely unexpected solutions to seemingly insoluble problems.
Sullivan, meanwhile, steeped himself in Italian opera and atmosphere by journeying to Venice before beginning the score to The Gondoliers. He too had parody on his mind, but his particular triumph here, as one critic has noted, was that he "managed to reproduce the Italian operatic style and yet write music which is spontaneous and entirely original." The consistently sunny and joyful qualities of this music belie the great pain that Sullivan suffered when he composed it, victimized as he was by attacks of a kidney problem that plagued him throughout his life.
The opera was an immediate success: over 20,000 copies of the score were sold within a few days of its publication, as were over 70,000 copies of arrangements of individual numbers. On the day after the opening, Gilbert wrote to Sullivan: "I must thank you for the magnificent work you have put into the piece. It gives one the chance of shining right through the twentieth century." Today's performance proves him to have been right.
Last updated: 07/31/09