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ClassicsOnline Home » SULLIVAN: Gondoliers (The) (D'Oyly Carte) (1950)
By Raymond Tuttle
William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)
this brightest of operas".
(The Sunday Times, December, 1889)
Ever since its first appearance at the tail-end of 1889, The Gondoliers or The King of Barataria has held its place among the more engagingly operatic of the Savoy Operas. Vocally demanding on the one hand, it is a model of its kind, which to some extent also harks back to Gilbert and Sullivans earlier essays in burlesque. Arranged in two acts and set appealingly against a circa-1750 Venetian backdrop, it was the last great success of its creators before their famous quarrel. Following chronologically on the heels of Ruddigore (1887) and Yeomen of the Guard (1888), it was given its first airing on 7th December 1889 in London at the Savoy, where it enjoyed a healthy initial run of 554 performances. It also ran, for a time concurrently, another 103 on Broadway and while, like its predecessor The Mikado, it met with a more short-lived success as Der Gondoliere in both Vienna and Berlin, in Australia, under the auspices of J.C. Williamsons company, it was to prove, both in its first production and in subsequent revivals spanning several decades, as firm a favourite as previously in England.
Among the most frequently recorded of all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, in both complete and abridged selections during the pre-1925 acoustic period and for the first time electrically, by HMV, in 1927, its solos have remained staples in the concert repertoires of, particularly, sopranos and tenors. In December 1968, after the G&S copyrights were relaxed, the work was revived by Scottish Opera and later re-assumed by Sadlers Wells (1984) and, more recently still, toured by the reformed DOyly Carte companies. It has consistently been welcomed by Savoyards as "a good sing"; while in diverse ways the entire opera is a departure from earlier G&S works, its innovative opening scene, a through-composed fifteen-minute operatic ensemble sequence shorn of dialogue, establishes the pattern for what is to follow.
Born William Martyn-Green in London on 22nd April, 1899, Martyn Green studied singing first with his father, the distinguished English tenor William Green and later with Gustave García (1837-1925) at the Royal College of Music. After active service during the First World War, he gained his first stage experience in 1919 touring the Dalys Theatre circuit in musical comedy. Green joined the DOyly Carte as a chorister and understudy in 1922 and his solo début as Luiz in The Gondoliers was followed by other comic leads, including John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer, Major Murgatroyd in Patience, the Major-General in Pirates of Penzance, The Associate in Trial by Jury and the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers. His masterly portrayal of the title-rôle in The Mikado is preserved in the 1939 Technicolor screen adaptation by Geoffrey Toye and in a 1950 Decca studio recording he sang Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner, his other great characterisation from that operetta. After service in the RAF during the Second World War, he returned in 1946 to DOyly Carte to sing comic leads until 1951. Thereafter, he toured the United States, performing and directing as well as lecturing on the Savoy Operas. Martyn Green appeared on American TV (his was the voice of the fox in the cartoon Pinocchio) and on Broadway as Chaucer in the Richard Hill-John Hawkins musical Canterbury Tales. He died in Hollywood, California, on 8th February 1975.
Notwithstanding his close ties with G&S, the career of bass Richard Watson was more generalised. Born in 1906 in Adelaide, Southern Australia, where he studied initially at the Elder Conservatory, he was from 1926 until 1929 a vocal student at the London Royal College of Music. In 1929 he joined Covent Gardens resident opera company and by 1933 was appearing in both its English and international seasons. Already a popular soloist on the British oratorio circuit and on radio and gramophone recordings (for Decca), later that year Watson left Covent Garden to join DOyly Carte and until 1937 also toured regularly with J.C. Williamson in Australia and New Zealand. In 1937 he resumed his career at Covent Garden but in 1940 returned again to Australia where he gave recitals for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and again undertook principal rôles on tour with J. C. Williamson. From 1944 he taught singing at the Elder Conservatory and produced operas at the Tivoli in Adelaide financed by the ABC. From 1946 until 1951 Watson was again principal bass with DOyly Carte both in London and the United States, most notably in New York, and was during this period a featured lead in several Decca hi-fi recordings of G&S operas, including The Mikado (Pooh-Bah) and The Gondoliers (Don Alhambra). From 1951 until 1955 he was Director of the Regina Conservatory of Music in Saskatchewan in Canada, before returning to Southern Australia for further tours with J.C. Williamson.
At first an amateur singer in his native London, Leonard Osborn worked as a chemist in a silk-printing mill before joining the professional chorus of DOyly Carte in the mid-1930s. After his début in a small part in Yeomen of the Guard in 1937, he had by 1939 sung the defendant in Trial by Jury, Francesco in The Gondoliers and Leonard Merrill (in Yeomen). An RAF flight-lieutenant during the second World War, in 1946 Osborn returned to DOyly Carte where, until his retirement in 1959, his many rôles included Tolloller in Iolanthe, the Duke of Dunstable in Patience, Fairfax in Yeomen, Ralph in HMS Pinafore, Frederick in Pirates and Marco in The Gondoliers.
Alan Styler was born in Redditch in Worcestershire. A keen semi-professional baritone in his youth, he was a Grenadier Guard at seventeen and served in the British Army during the Second World War. In 1947 he joined the DOyly Carte where, until his retirement in 1968, he sang a variety of principal rôles, including Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore, Samuel in Pirates, the Lieutenant in Yeomen and Giuseppe in The Gondoliers.
Radley Flynn joined the DOyly Carte in 1928 and sang with the Company for a total of 23 years. He made his solo début during his first season as Giorgio in The Gondoliers and his many subsequent rôles included Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore, the Mikado, the Pirate King and the Usher in Trial by Jury. Flynn was married to the contralto Ella Halman.
After joining the DOyly Carte Chorus in 1937, Ella Halman remained with the Company until 1951, singing a variety of rôles, including Lady Jane in Patience, Katisha in The Mikado, Ruth in Pirates and the Duchess in The Gondoliers.
A DOyly Carte Chorus-member from 1945, before she left the Company in 1954, Muriel Hardings bright, evenly-produced high soprano voice was heard in a variety of rôles, including the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury, Mabel in Pirates, Lady Ella in Patience, Kate in Yeomen, Zorah in Ruddigore, the title-rôle in Princess Ida and Gianetta in The Gondoliers.
After an alternately graceful and hurtling Overture which pre-echoes the operettas main tunes , Act 1 opens on the Piazzetta in Venice, where a group of 24 local girls (contadine) are binding posies for the gondolieri , who gradually arrive in their gondolas and make amorous approaches [3-4]. It is however obvious that the two most handsome, Marco and Giuseppe, who have just come ashore , could in theory marry any of their female admirers. Swamped by the girls bouquet tributes, they sing together  and, in order to make the selection easier, agree to be blindfolded and promise to marry whichever of the girls they catch. In the ensuing game, Marco and Giuseppe cheat in order to catch the girls of their choice (respectively, Gianetta and Tessa)  and they dance off gleefully to get married . Scarcely have they left before a flourish heralds the arrival, by gondola, of "that celebrated, cultivated, under-rated nobleman" the Duke of Plaza-Toro, an impoverished Castilian hidalgo, with his Duchess and manservant Luiz . The Duke has journeyed from Spain to Venice to interview Don Alhambra, the Spanish Grand Inquisitor, regarding Casilda, his daughter, who now learns from her father that she was married by proxy as a six-month-old baby to the infant son and heir of the King of Barataria. He adds that, unfortunately, shortly after the ceremony the King had embraced Wesleyan Methodism, whereupon the Grand Inquisitor had sequestered the Prince to be reared in Venice. The Duke further informs Casilda that only "a fortnight since, the Methodist Monarch and all his Wesleyan Court were killed in an insurrection" and that she is therefore now Queen of Barataria, although the whereabouts of the new King remain a mystery. Casilda declares she has no costume that befits a Queen, whereupon the Duke reaffirms his mission  and departs with the Duchess to pay his respects to the Grand Inquisitor, leaving Casilda and Luiz alone to declare their love . Casilda tells Luiz of her childhood marriage to the King of Barataria and Luiz reveals that his own mother was the royal babys nurse. As they lament their lost happiness , the Duke and Duchess re-enter with Don Alhambra, who declares that he left the Prince with Baptisto "a highly respectable gondolier" who promised to rear him with his own son. Unfortunately, he goes on to explain, Baptisto was given to tippling, confused the boys identity and died unable to distinguish between them. The one certainty is that both are now grown men and work as gondoliers  and the only person who knows the truth is Inez, Luizs mother and the Princes foster-mother. During the ensuing ensemble  Luiz is sent to fetch her. Next, Giuseppe and Marco return with their newly-wed wives [15-16]. Don Alhambra informs them that one or other of them must be the King of Barataria and that until the mystery is unravelled they will have to rule jointly. In apparent contradiction of their avowed Republican principles, both agree at once to this prospect, and whereas the girls are unhappy that they must stay behind , Don Alhambra reassures them that the separation will be only temporary . Then, with Gianetta leading the speculation as to who will be the new Queen , the gondoliers and girls return  and lend their ears to Marco and Giuseppes forthright democratic assurances . A boat appears and the gondoliers prepare to sail for Barataria . After the two girls have exhorted their husbands to be faithful during their absence , Marco leads the closing chorus  as the contadine wave a tearful farewell.
Three months later, Marco and Giuseppe are seated upon their twin throne in a Pavilion at the Court of Barataria . True to their Republican convictions they have to do all the hard work, which includes the polishing of crown and sceptre, while their former gondolier courtiers live a life of ease and luxury . Albeit amiably content with the status quo, they nonetheless miss female company, a fact emphasized by Marco in his famous aria . Fortunately for the men, prompted by their curiosity all the girls arrive unexpectedly from Venice . The men announce a grand banquet to celebrate their arrival and a merry dance  ensues which is rudely interrupted by the sudden return of the Grand Inquisitor, who has been away in search of the nurse. A staunch anti-Republican, he takes a dim view of the situation and endeavours to explain where, in his view, their theories of government are off-beam . He declares that either Marco or Giuseppe, whichever is the real King of Barataria, is married to the beautiful Casilda, who is due to arrive in half an hour to claim her consort. At this, Gianetta and Tessa, who have been listening unobserved, are understandably upset . Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess arrive  with Casilda who, because of her love for Luiz, dreads the discovery of the real King and protests that although she will endeavour to be a dutiful wife, she can never truly love her "husband". Her mother assures her that there is no cause for worry and, by way of illustration, recounts how she forced herself to love the Duke, once she had tamed him . The Duke describes how he has turned his social prestige to account and become a Limited Company. Casilda hopes that when the King discovers what a disreputable family he has married into he will repudiate their alliance, but the Duke and Duchess, in a delightfully droll duet, reject the idea that their actions are shady . Next, Marco and Giuseppe appear on the scene and the Duke offers them a lesson in regal deportment . The Duke and Duchess leave the two men alone with Casilda, who explains how she was betrothed as a baby, but now loves another. Gianetta and Tessa enter and they all discuss the complex problem of who is married and who is not  until they are interrupted by the sudden return of Don Alhambra with the Duke and Duchess and the entire Court of Barataria. Inez, the foster-mother of the Prince, has been found and is brought forward to unravel the mystery . She confesses that when members of the Inquisition came to take the Prince from her she had substituted her own small boy. The deception worked and she reared him as her own son, calling him Luiz. Luiz is, therefore, the King, a revelation which naturally suits all parties very nicely. As Casilda and Luiz are proclaimed King and Queen of Barataria and Marco and Giuseppe are reunited with their brides, the Venetians bid a happy farewell to Barataria.
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SULLIVAN: Gondoliers (The) (D'Oyly Carte) (1950)