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Gilbert & Sullivan Chapter 4 (1880-1900) “Object All Sublime” British musical theatre before G&S British audiences seemed content with improbable plots, leggy showgirls, burlesque and the operettas of Offenbach. The theatre was ready for innovations led by producer Richard D’Oyly Carte. He saw a performance of THESPIS in 1871 that showed the possibility of a new form for England’s musical stages… …and in the 1870s – playwright William S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan -- revolutionized the musical theatre, creating a series of witty, melodic operettas that set a new standard for stage professionalism. Sullivan's music sparkled with fresh melody, and Gilbert's librettos blended silliness and satire in settings that ranged from pure fantasy to the utterly realistic. Richard D'Oyly Carte publicized these shows as "light operas", but by any name, they were musicals – some of the finest the world would ever see in any language. Richard D’Oyly Carte Gaeity Theatre Gilbert and Sullivan’s Thespis (1871), was a mythological spoof involving a theatrical troupe that stumbles onto Mount Olympus and trades places with the aging Greek gods. Written and staged in a frantic five weeks, Gilbert himself later dismissed this show as "crude and ineffective.” Yet, four years later, when Carte needed a one-act "curtain raiser" to share the bill with his production of Offenbach's La Perichole at London's Opera Comique, he convinced G&S to adapt one of Gilbert's satirical poems. Gilbert was an unsuccessful attorney before a series of his illustrated comic poems were published in several popular British magazines. This opened the way to a successful career as a London playwright and director. At the same time, Sullivan was winning acclaim as Britain's most promising serious composer, but he was quite willing to compose lighter pieces to cover the expenses of the high-society lifestyle he craved. Both men had written minor musical shows with other collaborators, but neither expected that musical theatre would be their key to lasting fame. Innovations of Gilbert and Sullivan included the notion of TOPSY-TURVY… Topsy - Turvy Click for “Three Little Maids” • Realistic costumes and settings • Turned reality “on its ear” -or- topsy-turvy • Unqualified men would rise to high public office • Disdain toward older women • Heavy patter songs for the lead comedian • Lyrics were creatively rhymed Gilbert on poetry • A whimsical letter written by W. S. Gilbert notes ‘a great want’ among poets. ‘I should like to suggest,’ he says, ‘that any inventor who is in need of a name for his invention, would confer a boon on the rhymsters, and at the same time insure himself many gratuitous advertisements, if he would select a word that rhymes to one of the many words in common use, which have but few rhymes or none at all. A few more words rhyming with ‘love’ are greatly wanted; ‘revenge’ and ‘avenge’ have no rhyming word, except ‘Penge’ and ‘Stonehenge’; ‘coif’ has no rhyme at all; ‘starve’ has no rhyme except (oh, irony!) ‘carve’; ‘scarf’ has no rhyme, though I fully expect to be told that ‘laugh,’ ‘calf,’ and ‘half’ are admissible, which they certainly are not.’ W.S. Gilbert 1836-1911 Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) Notable credits In 1861 he became organist of St. Michael’s, London, He wrote music to The Tempest (1862); Kenilworth cantata (1864); a ballet, L’Île enchantée, produced at Covent Garden (where Sullivan was organist for a time); a symphony and a cello concerto; the In Memoriam and the Overtura di Ballo overtures; and numerous songs. First comic opera was Sir Francis Cowley Burnand’s Cox and Box (1867). An operetta, the Contrabandista, also on a libretto by Burnand, was produced in the same year. Thespis (1871), the first work in which Sullivan collaborated with Gilbert, met with little success when produced at the Gaiety Theatre. It was Richard D’Oyly Carte, then manager of the Royalty Theatre, who brought the two men together again in 1875; the result was Trial by Jury, which was originally put on as an afterpiece to an Offenbach operetta; it won instant popularity and ran for more than a year. The collective works of Gilbert and Sullivan became known as the “Savoy Operas.” From time to time, Sullivan protested against the artificial nature of Gilbert’s plots; this led to a disagreement between them that came to a head when Sullivan supported Carte in a minor business dispute. Sullivan wrote his next opera, Haddon Hall (1892), to a libretto by Sydney Grundy. Subsequent collaboration with Gilbert, in Utopia Limited (1893) and The Grand Duke (1896), did not reach their former standard. Sullivan completed three other operettas: The Chieftain (1895), largely an adaptation of Contrabandista; The Beauty Stone (1898), with a libretto by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero and J. Comyns Carr; and The Rose of Persia (1889), with Basil Hood, who also wrote the libretto for The Emerald Isle, which was left unfinished by Sullivan and completed by Edward German. Sullivan’s more classical compositions included The Prodigal Son (1869), The Light of the World (1873), The Martyr of Antioch (1880), The Golden Legend (1886), and the “romantic opera” Ivanhoe, written for the opening of the Royal English Opera House built by Carte in 1891. They were not maintained in the repertory, though they were acclaimed in their day. He also wrote many hymn tunes, including “Onward! Christian Soldiers,” and his song “The Lost Chord” attained great popularity. He was knighted in 1883. (Source, Encyclopedia Britannica) The Savoy Theatre Opened on 10 October 1881, was built by Richard D''Oyly Carte (1844 -1901) on the site of the old Savoy Palace in London as a showcase for the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, which became known as the Savoy Operas. It became famous as the first public building in the world to be lit by Incandescent electric lights Current theatre (the third version) is home to “Let It Be.” Gilbert and Sullivan“Operas” Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on 14 operas in the 25 year period from 1871 to 1896. These 14 operas constitute the most frequently performed series of operas in history. They are still being performed regularly throughout the English speaking world. The dates and performances shown are for the initial run. Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old (December 26, 1871; Gaiety Theatre; 64 performances) The Gods on Mount Olympus are old and tired, so decide to take a vacation to earth while a group of traveling actors take their place. Most of the music for this opera has been lost, so it is played today only in reconstructions using either other Sullivan music, or original music. The general theme was used again in Grand Duke. Trial by Jury, (March 25, 1875; Royalty Theatre; 131 performances) Hijinks in a courtroom, as the "bride" sues for breach of promise. The only one act G&S opera, usually played along with another opera. The Sorcerer, (November 7, 1877; Opera Comique; 178 performances) With the help of a love philter, everyone in the village is in love -- with the wrong person. H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass That Loved a Sailor (May 28, 1878; Opera Comique; 571 performances) The captain's daughter and a common sailor on his ship fall in love. The first smash hit G&S opera, and one of the Big Three today. The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty (April 2, 1880; Opera Comique; 363 performances) A young pirate just out of his "indentures" in love with Mabel, Major General Stanley's ward, while the rest of the pirate crew want to marry the general's other wards. Also one of the Big Three G&S operas. Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride (April 23, 1881; Opera Comique; 578 performances at both Opera Comique and Savoy Theatre) The county dames are in love with two poets while the poets are both in love with Patience, the village milkmaid. The brigade men don't see the point to aesthetics, but decide they had better give it a try to win the women's love. Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri (November 25, 1882; Savoy Theatre, 400 performances) Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, wants to marry Phyllis, a ward in chancery. Strephon, however, is half fairy -- down to the waist. His mother, Iolanthe, pleads his cause. Very well known overture, and beautiful music throughout. Original poster art for THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant (January 5, 1884; Savoy Theatre; 246 performances) Princess Ida decides that men are little more than monkeys in suits, so retreats to Castle Adamant to run a women's college. The men first infiltrate, then invade, the castle. The only three act G&S opera. The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu (March 14, 1885; Savoy Theatre; 672 performances) Opera Japanese. Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, becomes the Lord High Executioner for Titipu, while Pooh-Bah is Lord High Everything Else. Nanki-Poo, the Mikado's son, wants to marry Yum-Yum, Ko-Ko's ward. The situation gets complicated when Ko-Ko executes Nanki-Poo. The most popular G&S Opera, and perhaps the most popular opera ever. Click here to see a clip (I’ve Got a Little List.) Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse (January 21, 1887; Savoy Theatre; 288 performances) None of the village girls stand a chance at marriage because all the village lads love Rose Maybud, but are too shy to court her Robin Oakapple also loves Rose, but when he becomes the wicked Baronet of Ruddigore, however, he must commit one major crime a day or die in agony. The ghosts of his ancestors step from their picture frames to confront him for not conscientiously carrying out this duty. The Yeomen of the Guard, (October 3, 1888; Savoy Theatre; 423 performances) Colonel Fairfax, sentenced to die in an hour on a false charge of sorcery, marries Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer. But then he escapes, causing complications. At the end Elsie's boyfriend, Jack Point, dies of a broken heart. Or does he? The nearest that G&S came to grand opera. Helen Carte Helen Carte or Helen Lenoir (1852 – 1913) was the second wife of Richard D'Oyly Carte. They met in 1875 and she soon became his assistant and business manager. She helped produce all of the Gilbert and Sullivan and other Savoy Operas, beginning with The Sorcerer in 1877. One of her principal assignments was to manage American productions and tours of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Helen Lenoir married Richard D'Oyly Carte in 1888. During the 1890s, with Carte's health declining, Helen took greater and greater responsibility for the businesses, taking full control upon his death in 1901. She remarried in 1902 but continued to own the opera company and run most of the Carte business interests until her death, when they passed to her stepson, Rupert D'Oyly Carte This 1885 program cover for New York's Madison Square Theatre shows a lavish Victorian interior. This is where Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance premiered six years before, when the space was called The Fifth Avenue Theatre. The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria (December 7, 1889; Savoy Theatre; 554 performances) One of two just-married gondoliers is the King of Barataria, but no one knows which one. As Barataria needs a king to put down unrest in the country, they travel there to reign jointly, leaving their wives behind. A fine romp, with lots of bright music and dancing. Utopia, Limited, or The Flowers of Progress (October 7, 1893; Savoy Theatre; 245 performances) Having a rather idealistic view of England and the English people, King Paramount of the south sea island of Utopia decides that his people should adopt all English customs and fashions, and that the kingdom should become a "company limited.” The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel (March 7, 1896; Savoy Theatre; 123 performances) Ludwig, an actor, replaces Rudolph, the miserly Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbfennig, after "killing" Rudolph by drawing the Ace in a statutory duel. By assuming all of Rudolph's obligations, he soon finds himself with far more wives, and prospective wives, than he knows what to do with. The most underrated of the G&S operas. Gilbert reading UTOPIA LIMITED to the company Arthur Sullivan W.S. Gilbert D’Oyly Carte LEGACY The works of G&S have remained popular with all levels of British society for more than a hundred years – an extraordinary achievement in one of the world's most openly class-conscious cultures. Professional and amateur groups still perform the canon throughout the British Empire and the United States. It is almost impossible to estimate the influence G&S had on the development of musical theatre, both as a business and as an art form, in Britain and the United States. Thanks to them, the musical theatre was redefined forever.