The Gondoliers, Gilbert & Sullivan

Title The Gondoliers
English Title
Composer Arthur Sullivan
Librettists William Gilbert
Language English, Dutch translation available
Genre Light opera
First performance 7 December 1889, Savoy Theatre, London
Time of action 1750
Place of action
  1. The Piazetta in Venice
  2. Pavilion in the Palace of Barataria (three months later)
Main parts
  • Gianetta, contadine, soprano
  • Marco, gondolier, tenor
  • Giuseppe, gondolier, baritone
  • Tessa, contadine, mezzo-soprano
  • The duchess, contralto
  • The duke, baritone
  • Luiz, his attendant, tenor
  • Casilda, his daughter, soprano
  • Don Alhambra, bass/baritone
Prominence of chorus Large
Orchestra 2 flutes, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani/percussion, strings
Special demands This is the only Gilbert & Sullivan opera for which three, instead of two, trombones are needed
Full score and orchestral parts Available
Level Not particularly difficult; many solo parts to be cast
Length Two acts, together about 2½ hours

Next to The Mikado, this is the most popular Gilbert & Sullivan opera. Gilbert must have been specially inspired while writing it. It is a stream of sublime choruses, soli, duets and ensembles, in elegant Italian or, here and there, Spanish style.

Highlights: two magnificent finales and the cachucha, a splendid dancing scene for chorus.

As a baby, the crown prince of Barataria was kidnapped and put in the charge of a Venetian gondolier who had a little boy of the same age. By now, the two boys are grown-up and married. One day, a certain Don Alhambra arrives and announces that one of them is king of Barataria. Because it is no longer clear which of the two was the kidnapped child, it is decided, for the time being, to put them on the throne together, until the prince’s former nurse has arrived to clear up the question of identity. The matter is further complicated when it appears that the baby prince was wedded to Casilda, daughter of the duke of Plaza-Toro; so one of the young men is an ordinary gondolier and the other is king – and a bigamist. After numerous comic developments the matter is solved in a way that is satisfactory to all parties.

Men: two costumes, as gondoliers and as courtiers
Women: one costume, Venetian folk-dress
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Tags: Gilbert | Sullivan | Fransen