Gilbert & Sullivan 101

The Musicals of G&S: The Canon

Catalogued by John Kenrick

A. The Auxiliary Works

Written by Arthur Sullivan with other lyricists, these two one-act works are occasionally presented or recorded with shorter works from the G&S canon. Though not nearly as witty as Gilbert's best, they are still delightful.

1. Cox and Box

Premiere - 1869 - St. George's Hall, London
Two men tricked by their landlord into sharing a room discover they are engaged to the same girl. With libretto by F. C. Burnand, it was privately performed in 1866 and 1867, receiving a public run two years later. It was later staged and recorded by the D'Oyly Carte company.

2. The Zoo

Premiere - June 5, 1875 - St. James Theatre, London
Produced while Trial By Jury was still running, this curtain raiser told of two pairs of lovers who save their endangered relationships one afternoon beside the bear pit at the London Zoo. B.C. Stephenson wrote the libretto under the pen name "Bolton Rowe." Long forgotten, the score was rediscovered and recorded in the 1970's.

B. The Canon

Here in chronological order are the thirteen G&S shows known affectionately as "the canon." With these works, Gilbert and Sullivan brought the musical theater to S of wit and sophistication it had not previously known -- and has seldom matched since.

1. Thespis

Premiere - Dec. 26, 1871 at The Gaiety Theatre, London.
The story of the aging gods and goddesses of Olympus contending with a traveling troupe of actors. Hastily put together, this ninety minute production was a disappointment to everyone, including the authors. Except for two melodies, the score was lost -- but the full libretto survives.

2. Trial By Jury

Premiere: March 25, 1875 - Royalty Theatre, London
A giddy one act spoof of the Victorian custom whereby a jilted bride could sue her former fianc e for breach of contract. Intended by producer D'Oyly Carte as a curtain raiser for an Offenbach operetta, Trial By Jury became a tremendous success in its own right, inspiring the series of hits that would stretch over the next two decades.

3. The Sorcerer

Premiere: Nov. 17, 1877 - Opera Comique, London
A modern day wizard unleashes a love potion in a small English village, wreaking havoc with the unsuspecting inhabitants. The first full-length G&S work, it was a solid money maker.

4. H.M.S. Pinafore

Premiere: May 25, 1878 - Opera Comique, London
At first, this tale of a common sailor competing for the hand of his captain's daughter with none other than the Lord Admiral of the Royal Navy seemed doomed to failure. It became an international sensation, reshaping the commercial theater in both England and the United States.

5. The Pirates of Penzance

Premiere: Dec. 30, 1879 - Bijou Theatre, Paignton
Premiere: Dec. 31, 1879 - The Fifth Avenue Theatre, NY

A pirate's apprentice, now out of his indentures, must choose between his deep sense of duty and his love for a Major General's daughter. Jointly premiered on both sides of the Atlantic to protect the author's copyright, it proved to be one of their most enduring works.

6. Patience

Premiere - April 23, 1881 - Opera Comique, London
Reopened - Oct. 10, 1881 - Savoy Theatre, London

The story of an effete poet who pines in vain for a simple milkmaid was a wicked spoof of Oscar Wilde and the entire Esthetic Movement.

7. Iolanthe

Premiere - Nov. 25, 1882 - Savoy Theatre, London
Britain's House of Peers clashes with an army of fairies as a shepherd fights the Lord Chancellor for the love of a maiden. British history and politics have never been funnier. Many a G&S connoisseur considers this one the canon's caviar piece.

8. Princess Ida

Premiere - Jan. 5, 1884 - Savoy Theatre, London
Based on a poem by Tennyson, this is the story of a medieval feminist princess who forgoes her hatred of men when confronted with true love. This is the only G&S musical written completely in verse form.

The Mikado

Premiere - Mar. 14, 1885 - Savoy Theatre, London
The residents of a Japanese town, anxious to please their strict monarch, almost behead the heir to the throne. A cunning send-up of British mores, this has been the most popular work in the canon from its premiere to the present, and is still one of the funniest musicals ever written.

9. Ruddigore

Premiere - Jan. 22, 1887 - Savoy Theatre, London
Spoofing the melodramas so beloved by Victorian audiences, this murky tale of family curses and haunted paintings has its pleasures. But audiences and critics considered it a weak follow-up to The Mikado, and some fussy London critics found the title distasteful.

10. The Yeoman of the Guard

Premiere - Oct. 3, 1888 - Savoy Theatre, London
Justice is served but the course of true love does not run smoothly in this medieval tale set in the Tower of London. the most serious work in the canon, its rich score was Sullivan's favorite.

11. The Gondoliers

Premiere - Dec. 7, 1889 - Savoy Theatre, London
One of two Venetian gondoliers is supposedly the king of a revolution-torn country. Lots of romance and giddy music make this one of the best known and most frequently performed G&S masterworks. With Pinafore, Pirates and Mikado, it is the fourth (and last) of their super-hits.

12. Utopia, Limited

Premiere - Oct. 7, 1893 - Savoy Theatre, London
Having buried the quarrel that interrupted their partnership for four years, G&S turned out this spoof of British envoys anglicizing a tropical island kingdom. A triumphant first night was followed by a barely profitable run. That's a pity, because the show is entertaining. For the first time since Trial By Jury, a G&S piece was not presented in the United States until many decades later.

13. The Grand Duke

Premiere - Mar. 7, 1896 - Savoy Theatre, London
A petty German ruler tries to hand over his tottering duchy to a theatrical troupe. Despite some charming songs, this was a disappointment to most. Like Utopia, it was not professionally staged in the US until almost a century had gone by.

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