The Gondoliers Trivia

The Gondoliers Trivia No. 1.

The Gondoliers was one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s greatest successes, but it was also their last.  Shortly after its opening, a dispute arose between Gilbert and Carte over the cost of a new carpet for the Savoy Theatre stairs; and this seemingly minor matter became the catalyst for a quarrel which escalated out of control with startling rapidity, eventually leading to a lawsuit with Gilbert on one side and Carte and Sullivan, who had been reluctantly drawn into the dispute, on the other.  The antagonism which this caused between the collaborators prevented them from working together for the next four years; and the two operas written after they had tentatively joined forces again, Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke, failed signally to recapture past glories.

The Gondoliers Trivia No. 2.

Several ideas in Gilbert’s libretti are re-workings of devices which he had used, or considered but rejected, in earlier plays or poems.  Our Island Home, produced in 1870, has a character called Captain Bang, who in his boyhood was mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate instead of a pilot.  As another example, a surviving draft version of The Pirates of Penzance shows that the Pirate King was originally imagined as a humble figure who performed menial tasks for his crew.  This conception bears no relation to the Pirate King in the final version; but the idea re-emerges in The Gondoliers with the two kings who, in the name of republican equality, act as the servants of their courtiers.

The Gondoliers Trivia No. 3.

During the run of The Yeomen of the Guard, a serious disagreement arose between Gilbert and Sullivan, the latter asserting that his music had always been subordinated to Gilbert’s libretti.  An exchange over several weeks of angry letters among Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte led ultimately to a reconciliation; and the next opera, The Gondoliers, is unique in opening with a twenty-minute scene of continuous music with no spoken dialogue — almost certainly a deliberate response on Gilbert’s part to Sullivan’s complaint.