Savoy opera

Savoy opera was a style of comic opera that developed in Victorian England in the late 19th century, with W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan as the original and most successful practitioners. The name is derived from the Savoy Theatre, which impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte built to house the Gilbert and Sullivan pieces, and later, those by other composerlibrettist teams. The great bulk of the non-G&S Savoy Operas either failed to achieve a foothold in the standard repertory, or have faded over the years, leaving the term "Savoy Opera" as practically synonymous with Gilbert and Sullivan. The Savoy operas (in both senses) were seminal influences on the creation of the modern musical.

Gilbert, Sullivan, Carte and other Victorian era British composers, librettists and producers,[1] as well as the contemporary British press and literature, called works of this kind "comic operas" to distinguish their content and style from that of the often risqué continental European operettas that they wished to displace. Most of the published literature on Gilbert and Sullivan since that time refers to these works as "Savoy Operas", "comic operas", or both.[2] However, the Penguin Opera Guides and many other general music dictionaries and encyclopedias classify the Gilbert and Sullivan works as operettas.[3]

Patience (1881) was the first opera to appear at the Savoy Theatre, and thus, in a strict sense, the first true "Savoy Opera", although the term "Savoy Opera" has, for over a century, included the complete set of thirteen operas that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote for Richard D'Oyly Carte:

Trial by Jury (1875)
The Sorcerer (1877)
H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor (1878)
The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty (1880)
Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride (1881)
Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri (1882)
Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant (1884)
The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu (1885)
Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse (1887)
The Yeomen of the Guard, or The Merryman and his Maid (1888)
The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria (1889)
Utopia, Limited, or The Flowers of Progress (1893)
The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel (1896)
c.1881 Savoy Theatre

Other definitions

During the years when the Gilbert and Sullivan (“G&S”) operas were being written, Richard D'Oyly Carte produced operas by other composerlibrettist teams, either as curtain raisers to the G&S pieces, or to fill the theatre when no G&S piece was available. To their contemporaries, the term "Savoy Opera" referred to any opera that appeared at that theatre, regardless of who wrote it.

Aside from curtain raisers (which are listed in the second table below), the G&S operas were the only works produced at the Savoy Theatre from the date it opened (10 October 1881) until The Gondoliers closed on 20 June 1891. Over the next decade, there were only two new G&S pieces (Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke), both of which had comparatively brief runs. To fill the gap, Carte mounted G&S revivals, Sullivan operas with different librettists, and works by other composerlibrettist teams. Richard D'Oyly Carte died on 3 April 1901. If the nexus of Carte and the Savoy Theatre is used to define "Savoy Opera," then the last new Savoy Opera was The Rose of Persia (music by Sullivan, libretto by Basil Hood), which ran from 28 November 1899 – 28 June 1900.

Gilbert, Workman and German at a rehearsal

After Carte's death, his wife Helen Carte assumed management of the theatre. She continued to produce new pieces in the G&S style, along with G&S revivals. Counting the pieces that Mrs. D'Oyly Carte and the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company produced, the last Savoy Opera was A Princess of Kensington (music by Edward German, libretto by Basil Hood), which ran for four months in early 1903. This is the point that Cyril Rollins and R. John Witts adopt as the end of the Savoy Operas. After A Princess of Kensington, Mrs. D'Oyly Carte relinquished control of the theatre until 8 December 1906, when she produced two seasons of G&S revivals in repertory, with Gilbert returning to direct.

In March 1909, Charles H. Workman assumed control of the theatre, producing three new pieces, including one by Gilbert himself, Fallen Fairies (music by Edward German). The last of these Workman-produced works came in early 1910, Two Merry Monarchs, by Arthur Anderson, George Levy, and Hartley Carrick, with music by Orlando Morgan. The contemporary press referred to these works as "Savoy Operas",[4] and S. J. Adair Fitz-Gerald regarded Workman's pieces as the last Savoy Operas.[5]

Fitz-Gerald wrote his book, The Story of the Savoy Opera, in 1924, when these other pieces were still within living memory. But over time, all of the works produced at the Savoy by composers and librettists other than Gilbert and Sullivan were largely forgotten. The term "Savoy Opera" came to be synonymous with the thirteen extant works of Gilbert and Sullivan. The first collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivanthe 1871 opera Thespiswas not a Savoy Opera under any of the definitions mentioned to this point, as Richard D'Oyly Carte did not produce it, nor was it ever performed at the Savoy Theatre. Given its lack of a D'Oyly Carte or Savoy connection, Thespis has a tenuous claim to be a "Savoy Opera." However, Rollins & Witts include it in their compendium of the Savoy Operas, as does Geoffrey Smith.

Complete list

The following table shows all of the full-length operas that could be considered "Savoy Operas" under any of the definitions mentioned above. Only first runs are shown. Curtain-raisers and afterpieces that played with the Savoy Operas are included in the next table below.

Title Librettist(s) Composer(s) Theatre Opening Date Closing
Thespis W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Gaiety 26 December 1871 8 March 1872 64
Trial by Jury W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Royalty 25 March 1875 18 December 1875 131
The Sorcerer W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Opera Comique 17 November 1877 24 May 1878 178
H.M.S. Pinafore W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Opera Comique 25 May 1878 20 February 1880 571
The Pirates of Penzance W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Bijou, Paignton 30 December 1879 30 December 1879 1
Fifth Avenue, NY 31 December 1879 5 June 1879 100
Opera Comique 3 April 1880 2 April 1881 363
Patience W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Opera Comique 23 April 1881 8 October 1881 170
Savoy 10 October 1881 22 November 1882 408
Iolanthe W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy 25 November 1882 1 January 1884 398
Princess Ida W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy 5 January 1884 9 October 1884 246
The Mikado W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy 14 March 1885 19 January 1887 672
Ruddygore W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy 22 January 1887 5 November 1887 288
The Yeomen of the Guard W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy 3 October 1888 30 November 1889 423
The Gondoliers W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy 7 December 1889 20 June 1891 554
The Nautch Girl George Dance & Frank Desprez Edward Solomon Savoy 30 June 1891 16 January 1892 200
The Vicar of Bray Sydney Grundy Edward Solomon Savoy 28 January 1892 18 June 1892 143
Haddon Hall Sydney Grundy Arthur Sullivan Savoy 24 September 1892 15 April 1893 204
Jane Annie J. M. Barrie & Arthur Conan Doyle Ernest Ford Savoy 13 May 1893 1 July 1893 50
Utopia Limited W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy 7 October 1893 9 June 1894 245
Mirette Harry Greenbank & Fred E. Weatherly (revised by Adrian Ross) André Messager Savoy 3 July 1893 11 August 1894 41
6 October 1894 6 December 1894 61
The Chieftain F. C. Burnand Arthur Sullivan Savoy 12 December 1894 16 March 1895 97
The Grand Duke W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy 7 March 1896 10 July 1896 123
His Majesty F. C. Burnand, R. C. Lehmann, & Adrian Ross Alexander Mackenzie Savoy 20 February 1897 24 April 1897 61
The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein Charles H. Brookfield & Adrian Ross Jacques Offenbach Savoy 4 December 1897 12 March 1898 104
The Beauty Stone A. W. Pinero & J. Comyns Carr Arthur Sullivan Savoy 28 May 1898 16 July 1898 50
The Lucky Star Charles H. Brookfield, Adrian Ross, & Aubrey Hopwood Ivan Caryll Savoy 7 January 1899 31 May 1899 143
The Rose of Persia Basil Hood Arthur Sullivan Savoy 29 November 1899 28 June 1900 213
The Emerald Isle Basil Hood Arthur Sullivan & Edward German Savoy 27 April 1901 9 November 1901 205
Ib and Little Christina Basil Hood Franco Leoni Savoy 14 November 1901 29 November 1901 16
The Willow Pattern Basil Hood Cecil Cook
Merrie England Basil Hood Edward German Savoy 2 April 1902 30 July 1902 120
24 November 1902 17 January 1903 56
A Princess of Kensington Basil Hood Edward German Savoy 22 January 1903 16 May 1903 115
The Mountaineers Guy Eden Reginald Somerville Savoy 29 September 1909 27 November 1909 61
Fallen Fairies W. S. Gilbert Edward German Savoy 15 December 1909 29 January 1910 51
Two Merry Monarchs Arthur Anderson, George Levy, & Hartley Carrick Orlando Morgan Savoy 10 March 1910 23 April 1910 43

Companion pieces

The fashion in the late Victorian era and Edwardian era was to present long evenings in the theatre, and so full-length pieces were often presented together with companion pieces.[6] During the original runs of the Savoy Operas, each full-length work was normally accompanied by one or two short companion pieces. A piece that began the performance was called a curtain raiser, and one that ended the performance was called an afterpiece. W. J. MacQueen-Pope commented, concerning the curtain raisers:

This was a one-act play, seen only by the early comers. It would play to empty boxes, half-empty upper circle, to a gradually filling stalls and dress circle, but to an attentive, grateful and appreciative pit and gallery. Often these plays were little gems. They deserved much better treatment than they got, but those who saw them delighted in them. ... [They] served to give young actors and actresses a chance to win their spurs ... the stalls and the boxes lost much by missing the curtain-raiser, but to them dinner was more important.[7]

The following table lists the known companion pieces that appeared at the Opera Comique or the Savoy Theatre during the original runs and principal revivals of the Savoy Operas through 1909. There may have been more such pieces that have not yet been identified. In a number of cases, the exact opening and closing dates are not known. Date ranges overlap, since it was common to rotate two or more companion pieces at performances during the same period to be played with the main piece.

Many of these pieces also played elsewhere (and often on tour by D'Oyly Carte touring companies). Only the runs at the Opera Comique and the Savoy are shown here.[8]

Title Librettist(s) Composer(s) Theatre Opening Date Closing
Played With
Dora's Dream Arthur Cecil Alfred Cellier Opera Comique 17 November 1877 7 February 1878* The Sorcerer
The Spectre Knight James Albery Alfred Cellier Opera Comique 9 February 1878 23 March 1878 The Sorcerer
28 May 1878 10 August 1878 Pinafore
Trial by Jury W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Opera Comique & Savoy 23 March 1878 24 May 1878 The Sorcerer
11 October 1884 12 March 1885
22 September 1898 31 December 1898
6 June 1899 25 November 1899 Pinafore
Beauties on the Beach George Grossmith George Grossmith Opera Comique 25 May 1878 5 August 1878 Pinafore
14 October 1878 5 December 1878*
A Silver Wedding George Grossmith George Grossmith Opera Comique part of 1878 Pinafore
Five Hamlets George Grossmith George Grossmith Opera Comique ? 1878 12 October 1878 Pinafore
Cups and Saucers George Grossmith George Grossmith Opera Comique 5 August 1878* 20 February 1880 Pinafore
After All! Frank Desprez Alfred Cellier Opera Comique 16 December 1878* 20 February 1880 Cups and Saucers
? Feb. 1880 20 March 1880 Children's Pinafore
Savoy 23 November 1895 4 March 1896 Mikado & Grand Duke
4 April 1896 8 August 1896
7 May 1897 16 June 1897 Yeomen
In the Sulks Frank Desprez Alfred Cellier Opera Comique 21 February 1880 ? Pirates
21 February 1880 20 March 1880 Children's Pinafore
3 April 1880 2 April 1881 Pirates
23 April 1881* 2 May 1881 Patience
Savoy 11 October 1881 14 October 1881
Uncle Samuel Arthur Law George Grossmith Opera Comique 3 May 1881 8 October 1881 Patience
Mock Turtles Frank Desprez Eaton Faning Savoy 11 October 1881 22 November 1882 Patience
25 November 1882 30 March 1883 Iolanthe
A Private Wire Frank Desprez Percy Reeve Savoy 31Mar. 1883 1 January 1884 Iolanthe
The Carp Frank Desprez & Arnold Felix Alfred Cellier Savoy 13 February 1886 19 January 1887 Mikado
21 February 1887 5 November 1887 Ruddigore
Mrs. Jarramie's Genie Frank Desprez Alfred Cellier & François Cellier Savoy 14 February 1888 ? Nov. 1889 Pinafore, Pirates, Mikado, Yeomen
Captain Billy Harry Greenbank François Cellier Savoy 24 September 1891 16 January 1892 Nautch Girl
1 February 1892 18 June 1892 Vicar of Bray
Mr. Jericho Harry Greenbank Ernest Ford Savoy 18 March 1893 15 April 1893 Haddon Hall
3 June 1893 1 July 1893 Jane Annie
Quite an Adventure Frank Desprez Edward Solomon Savoy 15 December 1894 29 December 1894 The Chieftain
Cox & Box F. C. Burnand Arthur Sullivan Savoy 31 December 1894 16 March 1895 The Chieftain
Weather or No Adrian Ross & William Beach Bertram Luard-Selby Savoy 10 August 1896 17 February 1897 The Mikado
2 March 1897 24 April 1897 His Majesty
Old Sarah Harry Greenbank François Cellier Savoy 17 June 1897 31 July 1897 Yeomen
16 August 1897 20 November 1897
10 December 1897 12 March 1898 The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein
22 March 1898* 21 May 1898 Gondoliers
Pretty Polly Basil Hood François Cellier Savoy 19 May 1900 28 June 1900 Rose of Persia
8 December 1900 20 April 1901 Patience
The Outpost Albert O'Donnell Bartholeyns Hamilton Clarke Savoy 2 July 1900 3 November 1900 Pirates
8 November 1900* 7 December 1900 Patience
The Willow Pattern Basil Hood Cecil Cook Savoy 14 November 1901 29 November 1901 Ib and Little Christina
(revised version) 9 December 1901 29 March 1902 Iolanthe
A Welsh Sunset Frederick Fenn Philip Michael Faraday Savoy 15 July 1908 17 October 1908 Pinafore & Pirates
2 December 1908 24 February 1909

*Indicates an approximate date.


  1. See German Reeds, Frederic Clay, Edward Solomon and F. C. Burnand
  2. See, e. g., Crowther, Stedman, Bailey, Bradley, Ainger and Jacobs. Gilbert & Sullivan described 12 of their 14 collaborations as "operas":
    • The Sorcerer: a "Modern Comic Opera"
    • H.M.S. Pinafore: a "Nautical Comic Opera"
    • The Pirates of Penzance: a "Melo-Dramatic Opera"
    • Patience: an "Aesthetic Opera"
    • Iolanthe: a "Fairy Opera"
    • Princess Ida: "A respectful Operatic Perversion of Tennyson's Princess"
    • The Mikado: a "Japanese Opera"
    • Ruddygore: a "Supernatural Opera"
    • The Yeomen of the Guard: an "Opera"
    • The Gondoliers: a "Comic Opera"
    • Utopia, Limited, a "Comic Opera"
    • The Grand Duke: a "Comic Opera"
  3. The New Penguin Opera Guide, ed. Amanda Holden, Penguin Books, London 2001 and The Penguin Concise Guide to Opera, ed. Amanda Holden, Penguin Books, London 2005 both state: "Operetta is the internationally recognized term for the type of work on which William Schwenck Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated under Richard D'Oyly Carte's management (1875-96), but they themselves used the words 'comic opera'". See also the Oxford Dictionary of Opera, ed. John Warrack and Ewan West, Oxford University Press 1992 and The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols, ed. Stanley Sadie, Macmillan, New York 1992
  4. See e.g., The Manchester Guardian, 17 September 1910, p. 1, advertising The Mountaineers.
  5. See also Farrell, passim
  6. Lee Bernard. "Swash-buckling Savoy curtain-raiser", Sheffield Telegraph, 1 August 2008
  7. MacQueen-Pope, Walter James. Carriages at Eleven (1947), London: Robert Hale and Co., p. 23
  8. Walters, Michael and George Low. Article on Savoy curtain raisers at The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 8 May 2010


Further reading

External links

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