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The Gondoliers
1907 Gondoliers.jpg
The Gondoliers, Act 1
Written by W. S. Gilbert (lyrics and book)
Arthur Sullivan (music)
Date of premiere 7 December 1889
Place of premiere Savoy Theatre
London, England
Original language English
Subject Republicanism
Genre Operetta
Setting Venice and Barataria in the 18th century

The Gondoliers; or, The King of Barataria is an operetta in two acts by Gilbert and Sullivan. It is the twelfth of their fourteen operettas. It was first performed at the Savoy Theatre in London on 7 December 1889. It ran for 554 performances. It tells of two gondoliers. One appears to be the heir to the throne of Barataria, but which one?


After completing The Yeomen of the Guard, Sullivan wanted to leave light opera for more serious music. Gilbert reminded him that light, humorous operas were the source of their great success. Their manager Richard D'Oyly Carte promised Sullivan the opportunity to write a grand opera on the condition that he continue to write the light operas. Sullivan accepted. The grand opera would be Ivanhoe.


Gilbert proposed a Venetian setting for the new light opera. Sullivan would have the chance to write bright, colorful music. Sullivan went to Venice to soak up the atmosphere. Once back in England, he received the lyrics to the new opera as Gilbert completed them. Sullivan however puttered at them. He was distracted with plans for the grand opera. He devoted the fall of 1889 however to The Gondoliers. Sullivan labored at the light opera and completed it by December 2. The curtain went up on The Gondoliers on December 7 before a brilliant audience. The press raved.


The Gondoliers was an instant hit in London, chalking up 554 performances. It earned more money than any other Savoy opera in its original run. 20,000 copies of the published score were sold on publication, and over 70,000 copies of various arrangements were sold within a few days.

D'Oyly Carte's "E" Company mounted the first provincial production on 19 February 1890 in Preston, Lancashire. From then on, it was never absent from the touring repertory until it was omitted from the final two seasons (September 1980–February 1982) before the closing of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.


Charles Ricketts03
Costume design for Gianetta by Charles Ricketts, ca. 1921
  • The Duke of Plaza-Toro, A Grandee of Spain (comic baritone)
  • Luiz, his Attendant (lyric baritone or tenor)
  • Don Alhambra del Bolero, the Grand Inquisitor (bass-baritone)
  • Marco Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier (tenor)
  • Giuseppe Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier (baritone)
  • Antonio, Venetian Gondolier (baritone)
  • Francesco, Venetian Gondolier (tenor)
  • Giorgio, Venetian Gondolier (bass)
  • Annibale, Venetian Gondolier (speaking role/chorus)
  • The Duchess of Plaza-Toro (contralto)
  • Casilda, her Daughter (soprano)
  • Gianetta, Contadina (soprano)
  • Tessa, Contadina (mezzo-soprano)
  • Fiametta, Contadina (soprano)
  • Vittoria, Contadina (mezzo-soprano)
  • Giulia, Contadina (mezzo-soprano or soprano)
  • Inez, the King's Foster-mother (contralto)
  • Chorus of Gondoliers and Contadine, Men-at-Arms, Heralds and Pages

Story of the opera

Marco and Giuseppe are two gondoliers. One of them is believed to be the King of Barataria. But which one? It is decided that the two will jointly rule Barataria until the King's identity is brought to light. To complicate the story, a Princess has been promised in marriage to the King of Barataria. In the end, the two gondoliers marry their long time Venetian sweethearts. The Princess discovers her father's drummer boy is the long lost heir to the throne of Barataria. She is thrilled because she has always loved him. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Musical numbers

  • Overture
Act I
  • 1. "List and learn" (Gondoliers, Antonio, Marco, Giuseppe, and Chorus of Contadine)
  • 2. "From the sunny Spanish shore" (Duke, Duchess, Casilda, and Luiz)
  • 3. "In enterprise of martial kind" (Duke with Duchess, Casilda, and Luiz)
  • 4. "O rapture, when alone together" (Casilda and Luiz)
  • 5. "There was a time" (Casilda and Luiz)
1881 Savoy Theatre
Savoy Theatre, 1881
  • 6. "I stole the prince" (Don Alhambra with Duke, Duchess, Casilda, and Luiz)
  • 7. "But, bless my heart" (Casilda and Don Alhambra)
  • 8. "Try we life-long" (Duke, Duchess, Casilda, Luiz, and Don Alhambra)
  • 9. "Bridegroom and bride" (Chorus)
  • 9a. "When a merry maiden marries" (Tessa)
  • 10. "Kind sir, you cannot have the heart" (Gianetta)
  • 10a. "Then one of us will be a Queen" (Marco, Giuseppe, Gianetta, and Tessa)
Act II
  • 11. "Of happiness the very pith" (Marco, Giuseppe, and Chorus of Men)
  • 12. "Rising early in the morning" (Giuseppe with Chorus)
  • 13. "Take a pair of sparkling eyes" (Marco)
  • 14. "Here we are at the risk of our lives" (Giuseppe, Tessa, Gianetta, Marco, and Chorus)
  • 15. "Dance a cachucha" (Chorus and Dance)
  • 16. "There lived a king" (Don Alhambra with Marco and Giuseppe)
  • 17. "In a contemplative fashion" (Marco, Giuseppe, Gianetta, and Tessa)
  • 18. "With ducal pomp" (Chorus of Men with Duke and Duchess)
  • 19. "On the day when I was wedded" (Duchess)
  • 20. "To help unhappy commoners" (Duke and Duchess)
  • 21. "I am a courtier grave and serious" (Duke, Duchess, Casilda, Marco, and Giuseppe)
  • 22. "Here is a case unprecedented" (Marco, Giuseppe, Casilda, Gianetta, Tessa, and Chorus)

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