….in 1889 The Gondoliers opened at the Savoy Theatre in London for the first of a very successful 554 night run. In fact, the Gondoliers earned more in its opening run than any other Gilbert and Sullivan work.
The Gondoliers was the next collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan following The Yeomen of the Guard and Sullivan was very open in his desire to move away from their usual form into something more ambitious. Gilbert however was of the opinion that they should remain with the formulaic style of their previous successes. A series of wrangling letters ensued until ultimately a compromise was reach that Sullivan would right a light opera for the Savoy and then a more grand opera for a new theatre built for that purpose.
The opening number of The Gondoliers is certainly the longest in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon with a massive 15 minutes of continuous music before any libretto is spoken. The style of the music with its flavours from Venice and Spain is set for the rest of the operetta in this opening passage.
The Gondoliers was received to critical acclaim by theatre goers and on 6th March 1891 was performed as a Royal Command Performance for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle – the first of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works to achieve such heights.
The Gondoliers is certainly not a show for the faint-hearted to produce – requiring sumptuous costumes, impressive scenery and a massive cast – indeed if a company stays true to the opening number, “four-and-twenty” maidens are required simply for the female chorus not to mention a host of gondolieri and various lead roles.
On a personal note, The Gondoliers is my absolute favourite in the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire because of its amusing storyline and the absolutely glorious melodies and foot-tapping music that Sullivan produced.
Bingley Gilbert and Sullivan Society has performed The Gondoliers on 7 occasions, the most recent being 2008 and I very much look forward to being involved with another fine production at The Arts Centre in the near future.