Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

June 21, 2013

A Word About the Piece:

I can’t say anything about this piece that isn’t better said elsewhere; half an hour’s googling will tell you all sorts of fascinating details. But for the sake of introduction to the work, I’ll say a few words:

The Gondoliers was written at a time when its authors were trying to preserve their working relationship. As a consequence, neither of them suggested many corrections in the other’s work. That’s why the piece is so long; in an earlier time, they may have felt their relationship could weather suggesting cuts, but here, they were worried about the whole thing falling apart, so they kept their opinions to themselves. Gayden Wren speculates on this in the book I recommend further down this page. Their relationship had been shaky for a while, with Sullivan harboring ambitions for grand opera, and Gilbert knowing (in my opinion) the strengths and limitations of them both. Here Gilbert humors Sullivan by giving him a number of places where he can indulge his grander ambitions. But Gilbert has also constructed a plot which rather baldly spoofs their working relationship. The action continually revolves around the difficulty of running things with two equal masters, and the view of the author is clearly that someone needs to be in charge. I’m not sure whether Sir Arthur got the joke, if he had, it might have scuttled the partnership even further. Or perhaps he did get the joke, and maybe that provides some of the undercurrent of the infamous Carpet Quarrel, which bubbled into existence soon thereafter. At any rate, I got a kick out of Gilbert’s very thinly veiled jabs at the idea of equal partnership throughout the work. To his mind, somebody must be in charge, and I suspect he envisioned himself in that role.

Among many connoisseurs, The Gondoliers is a musical favorite, containing as it does, some of Sullivan’s most inspired music. It’s often placed in the top four, after their three most famous pieces. (I’m not going to rank Pinafore, Mikado, and Pirates. You G&S enthusiasts would hoist me on my petard in the comment section)The glories of the score are, moreover, spread fairly evenly among the many principals, and the chorus gets its share of beautiful music too. I enjoyed music directing it very much indeed, and if you have the cast and are up for the challenge, you’ll have a fabulous time.

Before You Start:

You’ll want to get your hands on the vocal score. You’ll be choosing between the Schirmer version and the Chappell (don’t bother with the Church). I chose the Schirmer. Both editions have MANY errors, more than is acceptable, frankly, for such a prominent piece. But the Schirmer edition is laid out like a modern piano score, and there is an excellent list of errata I’ll get into later, which you will use to correct these many errors.

You will also need to get a couple of recordings of The Gondoliers, and fortunately there are several good ones. If you’re looking to do the show the ‘traditional’ way, you’ll want to get a D’Oyly Carte recording or two. The 1927 recording is legendary, but you will have to do some digging to find it on C.D. I wound up purchasing the 1961 D’Oyly Carte recording with all the dialogue, and the 1991 John Pryce Jones recording, which is excellent, although it contains no dialogue. The 1989 Opera Australia DVD of the show is amusing, and can be helpful for those who need to see a show to follow the ideas, but there are a lot of additions to the original material, new arrangements and to my mind, unnecessary innovations, which you will have to try and block out.

This is an excellent Gondoliers Discography, for you completists:


If you’re Music Directing Gilbert and Sullivan, you’ll want to begin building a library of reference materials. I recommend getting these, as you are able:

The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan by Ian Bradley. You should probably get this one ASAP.

A Most Ingenious Paradox: The Art of Gilbert and Sullivan by Gayden Wren: I will rely on some of the insights in this book later in this article. It’s excellent.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon by Harry Benford: in which you will find the definitions of all those words you don’t understand.

After you have procured some of these, set aside a number of hours to do the following:

1) Listen to the soundtracks with the score in hand, marking things that strike you as interesting. I also made a pass at one point with a metronome and marked the tempi of all the sections from several recordings so that I would have a benchmark of speed. When a singer complains about a tempo, it helps to be able to check and say, “Ah, yes, we’re too slow” or: “This is within the range of generally accepted tempi.” or yet again, “I’d like to take it this fast, but currently our diction won’t allow it.”

2) Take the Lexicon book and copy in pencil all the definitions into the score where you don’t already know the meanings.

3) Go to this webpage:


Print the page out, and go through your score, marking and correcting the many errors in your part. Make a mental note of which errors you think you’ll need to tell your accompanist, and which you need to tell your singers. Please note that some of the errors in the list are open to interpretation, you’ll need to use your discretion to decide which of several options you prefer. .

As You’re Casting:

This Operetta has a very large cast, in fact something of a double cast. There are two sets of principal characters that share almost no stage time. Each set has basically a complete vocal quartet. There are also a number of featured chorus parts that are great, a very brief featured women’s character part, a part for an imposing baritone, and a strong chorus.

You really shouldn’t do this operetta unless you have two very strong ‘carry-the-show’ kind of sopranos, with another very good one in the wings, 2 character mezzos and one more lyric one, one very strong carry-the-show high tenor, another slightly lower tenor or lyric baritone who is a great stage presence, a couple of character baritones with spectacular diction, and several more chorus baritones who can sing the featured chorus parts. Not a show for a company with a shallow bench. It is, however, a great show for bringing out a lot of leads, and for enticing strong chorus members with small singing features.

I’ll use the order of characters from the Dramatis Personae in the Schirmer Vocal Score to make my comments.

The Duke of Plaza Toro:

The Duke is a comic Baritone with a little bit of patter. He has quite a lot of dialogue, and a number of hard-to-remember spots. The vocal writing isn’t difficult, but there are some harmony parts that are hard to distinguish in places from the next adjacent voice in the part-writing. Cast a baritone who reads older, can play distinguished, faded, and put upon.

My audition side: first verse of No. 3: In Enterprise of Martial Kind, ending at measure 20.


Luiz is a high lyric baritone or lower tenor. The ability to play the drum would be a plus, although it isn’t a necessity. I believe he has less stage time than Giuseppe, although you’d be pulling them from the same basic pool of actors. Giuseppe has more patter, Luiz is more of a lyric role. He also sings in ensembles throughout the show. In the right hands, he is a comic character, but it wouldn’t destroy the show to have your run-of-the-mill romantic lead instead.

My audition side: No. 4: O Rapture, when alone together measures 129-158

Don Alhambra Del Bolero:

Don Alhambra should be one of those imposing, dangerous looking gentlemen, with a wry, sardonic quality. There isn’t a patter song, per-se, but Don Alhambra has a lot of words to get out, and he articulates many of the most important pieces of plot information in the show. You must get someone with clear diction.

My audition side: No. 6: I Stole The Prince, first verse.

Marco Palmieri:

Our production was terribly fortunate to have a true Donizetti tenor in this role, which made Sullivan’s writing really sparkle. (pun intended) We were able to interpolate 2 spectacular ossia high notes, and the opening duet between the gondoliers was a tremendous moment. You should cast the best tenor you have. If you have options, consider the chemistry between Marco and Giuseppe, who each never appear on stage without the other. .

My audition side: No. 13: Take A Pair of Sparkling Eyes, 2nd verse all the way to the end.

Giuseppe Palmieri:

Giuseppe is also a baritone, but we wound up casting a tenor in the role. There is only one place in the operetta where Giuseppe’s part dips down into a sub-tenor range, and I will explain how to get around it when I get to that spot. Giuseppe has what is closest to a true patter number, you’ll need someone who can negotiate that speedy articulation with ease, and also someone whose vocal timbre matches the tenor’s enough to achieve a good blend in the duets between Marco and Giuseppe.

My audition side: No. 12: Rising Early In The Morning, pickup to measure 17 through 57.


This part is great for a baritone you may be trying to cultivate for future use; he has a great feature song in the opening scene, in which the audience isn’t completely clear who will be the important people on stage.

My audition side: No. 1: List and Learn, measures 172-262 (Schirmer Score p.25-27)


A small but delightful role for a tenor.

My audition side: No. 1: List and Learn, measures 135-140 (Schirmer Score p. 21)


A fun role for a bass, with a comic line in the second act that can be hilarious.

My audition side: No. 1: List and Learn, measures 152-156 (Schirmer Score p. 23)


Does not sing, has a funny dialogue in Act II.

SIDE NOTE: If you find your bench isn’t quite deep enough to fill all these smaller parts, I think there is likely a way to combine them to good effect. However, if you don’t have enough men to fill these undemanding parts, the opening of your second act will be pretty unsatisfying.

The Duchess of Plaza Toro:

The Duchess is one of those great G&S comic Mezzo/Contralto roles. I really don’t need to say much about it. There should be some comic chemistry, naturally, between the Duke and Duchess, and she should have a good sense of humor.

My audition side: No. 19: On The Day When I was Wedded, second verse.


Casilda is a great role for a soprano, could go to a light lyric soprano or even a soubrette, but make sure you get someone who can carry her own on the high B flat over the rest of the Quintet at the beginning of Here is A Case Unprecedented. Casilda is probably the most nuanced acting role for a woman in the show; she needs to be mock-imperious, madly in love, put upon and embarrassed, skeeved out, and delighted at various points. It goes without saying that she needs excellent diction, especially in the quartets and quintets to which she will provide the clear top part, occasionally at a breakneck speed.

My audition side: No. 22: Here is a Case Unprecedented, pickup to 33 through 77 AND No. 7 But Bless My Heart measures 1-11.


Another great soprano role, with some beautiful lyric passagework and some fast patter in ensembles. Does not need to carry as much weight dramatically as Casilda, but does need to hold the stage at several points by herself.

My audition side: No. 1: List and Learn, measures 631-662. (pages 57-59 in Schirmer Score) also potentially the second verse of No. 10: Kind sir, you cannot have the heart, although I would suggest the passage from No. 1 for your primary audition, because it contains a tricky descending chromatic passage you will certainly want to hear.


Gianetta’s mezzo counterpart, she has a very funny monologue you will need delivered well, and also some lovely legato work you will want executed beautifully.

My audition side: No. 17: In a Contemplative Fashion, measures 47-51, (pages 222-223 in Schirmer Score) also potentially No. 9 Bridegroom and Bride, measures 108-120, (pages 115-116)


Fiametta is the most important featured chorus part; it would be helpful to have someone the audience will think could be a major principal part, because the function of the three featured ladies is essentially to establish potential rivals for the affections of the two gondolieri.

My audition side: No. 1: List and learn, from the pickup to 141 through 148, inclusive


A mezzo featured chorus part, smaller than Fiametta, but hopefully a believable principal to the audience, to throw them off the scent of the Tessa and Gianetta.

My audition side: No. 14: Here We Are, At The Risk Of Our Lives, 58-79 inclusive


The third most important featured chorus member, again, hopefully very good.

My audition side: I would choose my Giulias from the same pool as your Fiamettas and Vittorias


A truly hysterical part for a character mezzo.

My audition side: 22. Here Is a Case Unprecedented, pickup to 128 through 149. (this is the entire role)

The Musical Materials:

I’ve already noted the many errors in the vocal score; you will do well to correct them before your first rehearsal. For some reason, there are numbers in the Schirmer score that have rehearsal letters, and others that don’t. I copied mine from the orchestral parts we rented. There are a number of places to obtain orchestral music for the operetta. Our production used James Newby’s reduction of the orchestrations for a variety of reasons. If you’re a purist, of course, these reductions will not do. But in the right circumstances, they provide a pit that takes up less space, they help the bottom line, and they provide a complete, if somewhat thinner sound. The parts are well edited, and include some common practice caesuras, indications of likely conducting patterns, and cued recitative passages, which are great time savers and really help speed things along. Sadly, they do not include a full score; rather, you are provided with a Chappell edition vocal score, marked in red pen with all the instrumental cues. I had already heavily annotated my Schirmer score, so I wound up spending the better part of a Saturday copying all the cues and measure numbers into my score. This incredibly time consuming process really helped me to understand the orchestration in detail, but as I was doing it, I was not very happy.  Incidentally, if you’re writing measure numbers into your score before you look at the parts, you might well pause to consider whether the orchestral edition you’ll be using will be writing out repeats, and whether there will be only a single set of measure numbers in each repeated section of measures, or whether (as in Newby’s edition) there is a set of numbers for each pass through the section.

Trouble Spots and Advice:

Again, I use Schirmer’s numbering here. The Chappell Score begins numbering the movements again at 1 after the act break.

General Pronunciation Advice:

I am still learning many details about G&S pronunciation. I was fortunate to have several English chorus members who I was able to turn to in moments of confusion. (although they occasionally disagreed comically with one another) Just a couple of basic pointers, to which I intend to add as I learn more:

1) Words like “Bath” and “Chance” need to be pronounced with a tall Ah vowel.

2) Rs that begin a word are tripped or rolled. Rs that come before a vowel are tripped. Rs that come after a vowel are generally dropped. At no point is the r pronounced as we Amerrricans pronounce it.

3) Mary, Merry, and Marry (two of which appear in close proximity in this show) employ three different vowel sounds. Where I come from, they are pronounced identically. In Philadelphia, they are pronounced as three different vowels, but they aren’t the same vowels. Interesting chart on this matter: http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_15.html In G&S, you’ll want to say Mary with an eh as in air, Merry with eh as in get, and Marry with an ah as in cat. (someone will certainly correct me on this)

4) Many u vowels will need a y sound before them: duty becomes dyewtee, tuning becomes tyooning, new becomes nyoo, and institution becomes instityooshun.

5) Been becomes bean.

6) For words which in American English replace ‘t’s with a d sound, a true ‘t’ sound should be used. “Water” is not pronounced “wadder”.

That is by no means exhaustive, and I’ve probably gotten some of it wrong, but that’ll get you started.


I was fortunate to have a really great orchestra of seasoned professionals who had many years of experience playing Gilbert and Sullivan. This enabled me to do exactly what I wanted with the overture. I took a little ritardando at 117, slowing until I could do a l’istesso tempo at 127 (which in the Newby score is letter F) The old Dotted Quarter is the new Quarter. At H, (measure 182) I took a little ritardando in some of those 4 8th note upbeats in the Gavotte, then into uptempo at the downbeat. I didn’t do that when this number appears later in the show, but I thought it added a Viennese touch to the proceedings in the overture, which was a lot of fun. This overture ends on a bit of a down note, and at some point someone added the Cachucha at the end of the overture, to great effect, right after the penultimate measure of the Schirmer score. This section was included in the parts that were given to me, but because I had no full score, I needed to xerox the last page of the 1st violin part, and conduct it from that. Should you have access to that new ending, it puts a much better finish to the proceedings.

1. List and Learn

According to Gayden Wren, the first 20 minutes of the show (this number) represents the beginning of the “Sullivan” part of the Operetta. It’s quite long, and needs a lot of tender care to pull off correctly, although none of it is particularly hard. Be careful you drill the chorus cutoffs so that they’re crisp and accurate. Right off the bat, there is a landmine for the Altos; the portion from measures 26-28 is different from any of the similar passages. If you don’t teach the difference very early in the rehearsal process, you will have an exceedingly difficult time getting the passage in tune. At letter E, be sure the chorus “alas” has a quick cutoff. Make clear to the ladies that the lyric after Fiametta’s arietta has changed because the flowers have now learned the lesson they were promised. It’s “now ye know” from there on out.

At one after G, I believe the chorus “passionately” is meant to rhyme with “lately”, “sedately”, and “greatly”, but Sullivan’s setting, though closer to the spoken rhythm one would use for those words, unfortunately obscures that rhyme. I tried to get the word to rhyme but eventually abandoned the effort, because it struck me that not only wasn’t it working, it was also likely to be incomprehensible to the audience.

I really don’t know why Giulia doesn’t sing 4 before rehearsal letter I. If you’d like to add her, you can make them “3 little maids from Venice” by giving Giulia a B flat on each note from “then” through “your”, an A on “dol-ce far ni-”, and then another two B flats for “-ente” I honestly think Sullivan was writing in a hurry there, if he’d had time, he probably would have added the third part.

Antonio’s arietta is really fun. Make sure the chorus does the ‘tra-la’s crisply and cleanly, observing the rests, and making note of where the ‘tra’s are, and which are merely ‘la’. Even though it isn’t in the vocal parts, do make the ‘Tra’s forte at 196, and continue to observe the dynamics even on the next page. Over time, the chorus may accidentally devolve into singing Antonio’s part at 208. Be sure to make it clear that they only join him in that at measure 210.

No breath for the ladies between ‘hail’ and ‘gallant’ two measures after L. Should you choose to keep measure 292 and 334 as written, be sure the ladies memorize the different rhythms. Should you choose to make them both the same, be sure your orchestra parts have the rhythm you have chosen.

It has become common practice to put a slight ritardando 3 measures before N, with a fermata or at the very least a tenuto on the first eighth of the 3rd beat. (si—-gno-rina) We also put a Rubini Sob on the downbeat of ‘t’amo’. It made me laugh, anyhow.  At N, the chorus needs to get back into tempo; mine had a tendency to drag there. Careful, or it’ll sound like a dirge.

If you cast a tenor as Giuseppe, measure 350 is where it dips down too low. I gave him what amounted to the alto part at the Piu Lento, then back to the written part the following measure. (His written part is essentially the bass part, so you’re not really losing anything by moving him elsewhere)

At the Allegro Vivace con molto brio, there is an articulation you need to tell your accompanist and then later, your string section. On the A at the top of the rocketing main melody figure (the 5th note of the figure) you should add a staccato, and then another on the F at the downbeat of the subsequent measure. Repeat that articulation every time that figure recurs. It gives the tune a great, ripping verve.

Your Duo should be drilled in clean cutoffs at the end of each phrase. I fell in love with that fp at S, and frankly, I overindulged it in rehearsal, so when we added the orchestra, I was unable to get the balance against the orchestra to make it convincing. We wound up dialing the volume back up. I do think, though, that the section at S should be quieter, and that the forte at 7 before V ought to be a fantastic surprise. There is a high C to be interpolated in Marco’s part in the fermata at 517. Be aware that in performance you must leave a space for applause before 527 at the double bar.

Be aware of the error in the score at 541. (the sopranos “indelicate” should be A, F, E, D, just as Marco’s was at the top of the page) I believe this is meant to be indeli-KATE, to rhyme with “fate” and “mate”. It’s hard to do in practice, but that’s my thought. The gentlemen who echo 4 before B (shouldn’t that be BB?) ought to really be clean and crisp at “seleCT.. for theM… a maTE” on beats 2, 4, and 2 respectively.

A small point, but potentially an important one: Marco and Giuseppe are blindfolded at the Allegro Con Moto. You should lock that tempo in clearly in rehearsal; they can’t see your conducting beat.

Work that diction in the chorus entrance at 573, and keep it deliberate to the end of that section. There are many many plosive consonants to be deliberately executed. Make sure your Giuseppe sings “granted” so that it rhymes with “wanted”

The Vivace Waltz is one of the great dangerous spots in Gilbert and Sullivan. Many a production has run aground on the rocky shoals of this double metered section. Some conductors actually prefer to leave the orchestra’s waltz meter on their own and actually conduct a two. I found a strong one beat did the trick. When Gianetta sings “Gladly will devote our pleasure” she has what is potentially a very tricky descending vocal line. It starts out chromatically, but there are some important whole steps that need to be scrupulously observed. By the time you arrive at “Gallant Gondolieri” your Gianetta may well be a half or a whole step high. Tessa’s part is easier. SIDE NOTE: I swear the Tra la las at the ends of each of those passages is a quote from Fledermaus, but can’t remember what number it’s from. Would one of you help me?

When the chorus comes in, you must insist the lower three parts observe the rests scrupulously, and not just for a few measures. Laziness can set in and then after 16 measures or so, they sound like quarter notes. Don’t let anyone block them looking upstage or offstage. They need to see your beat. I changed the final vocal cutoff to the downbeat of 780 for clarity.

2. From The Sunny Spanish Shore

According to Gayden Wren, this would be the beginning of the Gilbertian portion of the operetta. Incidentally, as you’re scheduling your rehearsals with the principals, you should name them in groups, because you’ll be calling them at completely different times. As I said before, they share almost no stage time.

With your director, you must decide whether Luiz plays or mimes the drums.

I need to warn you that there will likely be some confusion about the individual entrances, and it isn’t the actors’ fault.

The first entrance the Duke has is on an upbeat: 1, 2, 1, from the SUNny spanish SHORE.

The second time through that passage, the entrance is on an upBAR: 1, 2, nei-ther that gran-DEE from the Spa-nish SHORE.

This distinction can be very confusing.

A further point that could be confusing is that Luiz says “AND his Grace’s…” the first time and “NOR his Grace’s” the second time. The first time they go into the chorus, the lyric is “AND if…” The second time it’s “IF….” Don’t let these things slide early in rehearsal. They are not easily corrected after they have calcified incorrectly in the brain.

Choose the fastest tempo possible at which the Quartet is capable of negotiating the patter. The number needs to go off with a bang to rivet the audience. They’re in for pages of exposition-heavy dialogue.

One further point: in the dialogue that follows, when the Duchess says, “That’s so like a band”, many productions introduce some business, frequently in the brass, to indicate the pit’s disapproval of this insult. You may be called upon to supply something along those lines.

3. In Enterprise of Martial Kind

This number is extremely difficult to memorize. I’m just going to put that out there and let you do with it what you will. The Duke’s 16th note passages are sometimes simplified by actors unwittingly, but they should be reminded that the orchestra plays the 16th notes as written and that they should strive to be in agreement about them.

4. O Rapture, When Alone Together

The bigger the opening 3 measures are, the funnier the joke is. For some reason, I had some trouble locking the tempos of this number into my mind. It’s fairly straightforward, though. I moved the last vocal cutoff to the downbeat of the second to last measure, for the sake of clarity and ease.

5. There Was a Time

I found a poco accelerando was effective in measure 9, dropping back to the original tempo around 16. A long line is necessary in the vocals. The scoring of the last 16 measures or so is quite lovely.

6. I Stole The Prince

A common practice that isn’t in the score happens in the third and fourth verses. Traditionally one slows down at “lying a corpse on his humble bier”, following which is a caesura (railroad tracks), then back to tempo, only to slow down again at “Inquisitor’s tear”, followed by another caesura. Then we’re back in tempo again. The same sort of thing happens the second time through on “one of the two who will soon be here”, but not in the phrase following. We managed to keep it together with the orchestra, but if you find it’s too tricky, you may want to drop the 8th notes after the caesurae, because that’s far easier to coordinate. I also placed an eighth rest after every time the other 4 sing ‘doubt’ as they echo the final phrase, so that the ‘t’ could be really clean.

7. But, Bless My Heart

It is common practice to delay measures 6 and 11 until after Casilda reaches the downbeat. Not all my players had the vocal parts cued, so I found it best to beat through the whole thing, with strong cues on the entrances. This part reminds me of Mozart recitativo Accompagnato.

8. Try We Life-long

This lovely Quintet marks the end of the first Gilbertian chunk of the Operetta, full of confusion and silliness, and ending with the madrigal one often finds at the end of a G&S act. For my money, this number rises and falls based on the dynamic contrast Sullivan has so carefully indicated in the score. Be as clear as he is about what is broad, what is dainty, what has space, and what is legato, what is loud, what is soft, what is pushing forward, what is broadening. Details, people. Details.

9. Bridegroom and Bride

At this point, by Wren’s ‘two opera’ analysis of the piece, we find ourselves back in Sullivan’s world. I taught this number much too slow, and then spent some time trying to get it up to speed. Each time the chorus sang the word ‘bride’, I had them take one eighth note off the end, and put the ‘d’ on the last 8th of the measure. No breath between ‘sincerity’ and ‘wish’. Tessa can really show off that legato line here in spades. Sullivan indicates a rall. at 55 and 98, but I added one at 49 and 92, with subsequent a tempi at 51 and 94. I couldn’t resist. Again, the chorus dynamics really make a tremendous difference. Make sure you have a tall vowel for the word ‘laughing’.

Maybe I’m a little dense, but it wasn’t until the closing night of our production that I heard the connection between the dialogue here, where the ladies are talking about being ten minutes old, and the earlier dialogue in the other cast, where Luiz and Casilda are speaking about their love having ended 10 minutes ago. Clever stuff, Gilbert…

10. Kind Sir, You Cannot Have The Heart

I took a slight accelerando in the first two measures, then dropped back into the real tempo in measure 3. It worked well, I think I stole it from a recording. The clarity of the words and the lyric legato of the music of Gianetta’s aria here are somewhat at odds with one another; if you really make that tune sound like the floating, graceful feather it’s meant to be, you may have some trouble making clear this lyric, which is chockablock with plosive consonants and unusual turns of phrase.

Make a note that in performance you will need to pause in the eighth rest in measure 96 for applause.

The portion following the allegro con brio at 114 has some traditional tempo alterations that are not indicated in the score. There is a poco rit 2 measures before the fermata at 132, then an a tempo at 133. A similar thing happens around the fermata at 162. The corresponding points for the other two members of the quartet are already marked colla voce and a piacere respectively. There is also generally a poco rit. taken at letter C (measure 177) The chorus is simply delightful, and Sullivan has taken pains to mark it with dynamics and articulations that add a glimmering polish. Be sure to work to achieve adherence to those details and absolute alignment of the ensemble, it is one of the catchiest tunes in the score, and in the first performance of the work, the audience demanded an encore.

Be sure your chorus sings beeeen and not bin, and be sure they observe the rests.

The duet at the Moderato (Schirmer page 136) is one of many places in the score where Gilbert has two or more characters completing one another’s thoughts. It’s a musical manifestation of the theme of the show, and this one is the most memorable of all of them. I found the effect worked best when each singer held the final note of his phraselet to the very end of the measure, to create the illusion of a seamless musical idea.

Like so much of Gilbert and Sullivan, the chorus that appears next is very like mock Verdi. It rings very funny if done in a very serious open spooky vowel placement, and EXTREMELY clear closing consonants executed absolutely together. Please note the rhythm of Republican. I believe it’s done incorrectly on most recordings. And now a potentially offensive side note: When confronted with a rhyming couplet that doesn’t rhyme traditionally, I generally try to choose a pronunciation that truly rhymes and does the least violence to the sense of the words in question. Here, I met my match. Because you see, if you pronounce “fallacies” as you would normally pronounce it, you will need to mangle “palaces” into “palacees”, which is preposterous and incomprehensible. But if you try the other option, (palaces) you will discover in the other word a totally different meaning, and indeed a brand new adjective/noun pair that would only be at home in an off-color show in the District of Columbia. You must pronounce each word in the traditional manner and bungle the rhyme.

The fantastic 6/8 “For Everyone Who Feels Inclined” has its own pronunciation complications, specifically Marquis, which is pronounced mar-kwis, in the English manner, Dook, which is pronounced the way we in America pronounce Duke, so as to rhyme with Cook, which is pronounced “kook”. When the chorus joins, again the M.D. is in a world of details that make or break the performance. The tenors and basses simply must observe the rests, and the women need to clearly articulate all those words. Hang the legato line, it’s about the words here. Also, observe that in the accompaniment at O, there are accents on the upbeats. The chorus should also observe them. As that portion comes to its conclusion we have a very typical English musical depiction of royalty. It reminds me of Elgar for some reason. The K of “King” cannot be overdone. I used the HW consonant sound for the opening of “Whichever”

The double recit at 460 was troublesome to me, because I wanted the fluid approach of true recit, which meant that I couldn’t dictate the timing, but I also needed them to be together. It turned out those two approaches were incompatible. It’s the message of the show in microcosm! I wound up conducting them, and we sacrificed natural expression in the recit for clarity and unity. Incidentally, this page is the absolute worst page of the show in the Schirmer edition. Three of the chords are in the wrong place in the measure, and one of them is the wrong chord entirely.

I think of myself as a decent conductor, but I found the Andante con Moto to be truly difficult. As you work on it, you will find yourself wishing it was notated in a different time signature. (or maybe it’s just me) I found I had to conduct it in a moderately slow subdivided 4, which felt counterintuitive to my accompanists, and subsequently my orchestra. I think you’ll see what I mean. Encourage your Gianetta and Tessa to cleanly articulate the 16th note passages and save the beautiful cantabile legato for the “And O my darling” portions. After “In yonder isle beyond the sea.”, be sure the “Do” is on the upbeat. In the old fashioned way of beaming 8th and 16th notes, it is sometimes hard for a singer (or an M.D.!) to calculate the position of the beat.

The passage where they all come together is the Madrigal that closes the Sullivan portion of the operetta. So you see we really are in some kind of double cast-double operetta situation. Your two casts will basically meet when you begin running the show. There is some truly exquisite part writing here, and again very many details to achieve. I gave the singers a staccato articulation at 508. (4 before the allegro moderato) You must train your singers from the beginning to look at you for the last three measures. Things are very quiet and beautiful, and a ragged ensemble will really destroy the effect.

Sullivan is no dummy; he knows he must put a Barcarolle in the show, because the Barcarolle is the most famous Venetian form. He was also a master of the Barcarolle; there are examples in Pinafore, Iolanthe, and elsewhere. Far be it from me to question Sullivan’s judgment, but I found the traditional Barcarolle tempo to be much too languid to close an act. At the closing ritornello, Sullivan asks for the orchestra to play largamente. Heaven forgive me, but I ignored those markings and took it a bit faster. I think if you really had a huge chorus and a large, full orchestra, you could justify the slower tempo by the sheer breadth of the musical line, but with more modest appointments, a faster tempo is necessary.

But anyway, back to business. There are many details, some of which are inevitably lost in the shuffle when you have a full orchestra and 8 individual vocal lines. From the chorus entrance: be sure your chorus is singing 16th notes and not eighths. Dotted eighth, sixteenth, accept no substitutes. There seems to be some little controversy about the use of the word “shall” in the phrase: “When they don’t we/they shall all stand still”. Here in America, we mostly use the word “shall” in legal language and to be funny. But evidently, there is also a difference in correct usage between “will” and “shall”: “shall” is used for the first person. “will” for second or third person. Hence, Gilbert would have been unlikely to stand for what is happening in the sopranos and altos: “When they don’t they shall all stand still”. They should be singing “will” there. That rather mangles the ensemble, because now they have two different words there, but Sullivan has done that many other places in the show. You’ll have to decide for yourself how much of a stickler you intend to be for proper English grammar.

The solo quartet is somewhat hard to learn here. Marco is the star of the quartet. Sullivan must have had a wonderful singer at his disposal to give him so much musical importance here. Impress upon your chorus that they begin as a short punctuation: A-way…. a-way…., quietly, with space in between, so that the glorious quartet soars over it in contrast. The chorus holds its resources in reserve until the rests go away, and Sullivan marks a crescendo to FF, and at that point, the goal is to make the biggest, most glorious sound you can muster. Sullivan’s choice of harmonic progression from 552 to the final choral apotheosis is masterful.

As at the end of any act, the last vocal cutoff must be exactly together. I tell my choruses that all is forgiven if there is a terrific final note, but a bad last note makes the Music Director look like he hasn’t done his work.

I should also note that the last measure of the first act in the Schirmer vocal score was not in the parts we rented. It was simply a crescendo, decrescendo with a fermata on what is the penultimate measure of the Schirmer score.

11. Of Happiness, The Very Pith

We open the second act in Sullivan’s territory, according to Wren’s analysis.

I love the little orchestral prelude to this number. It’s simple, but masterful, and owes something to Verdi, I think.

The Men’s chorus writing is fairly straightforward. I placed a crescendo on each dotted half note.

“Ideal” is pronounced in the English manner, not the French. Performance practice inserts a caesura before the fermata after “Seize every opportunity” in the duet portion. I do chuckle at how the Duet speaks of ‘perfect unity’ and is sometimes in actual unison, other times in thirds. Sullivan was a funny guy.

In the third and fourth measures from the end, I rearranged the second tenor and baritone parts to eliminate the voice crossing. I really couldn’t see any benefit to the way it was written, and it has the drawback of being more confusing. Sullivan doesn’t strike me as someone who really thought a lot about the difference between the tone qualities of second tenors and baritones as they occur in the balance of a chord voicing.

12. Rising Early In The Morning

I conducted the first 16 measures in a fast 4, then switched to 2. The score is unclear about this, but the high notes are for “Shalloo-humps and Shalloo hoops!”, the low notes for “Thistle or the Bath”. “fete” rhymes with “state”. It is performance practice to put a Caesura between “coronation plate” and “spend an hour”, and subsequently between “twelve or one” and “with a pleasure”. The autograph score evidently has a colla voce marking wherever the long “Oh” happens and an a tempo in the subsequent measure, but I didn’t bother with it.

13. Take A Pair of Sparkling Eyes

This tenor aria is actually pooh-poohed in a couple of the reference book as something Sullivan phoned in. He did compose it at the end of an all-night session that had followed a 3.5 hour rehearsal, but with the right singer, it has a nearly bel canto flavor; it sounds rather like Donizetti to me, although I can’t put my finger on what specifically it reminds me of.

There is a high B flat at the end to be pulled on the final “can”, but only the most secure of tenors should attempt it. You can either end on that B flat or come down to the G flat somewhere in there.

14. Here We Are, At The Risk

The ladies chorus at the beginning of the number is not musically difficult, but there are some details that tend to go out of focus in performance, partly because Sullivan changes minor details here and there in a way that is hard to remember. In the ladies’ second phrase, the line “From ever so far” appears, but that’s the only time in the number that phrase is sung, and your ladies are liable to forget about it. Be sure to pronounce “again” so that it rhymes with “main”. At measure 33, (which incidentally is rehearsal A, but Schirmer neglects to tell you) the phrasing becomes clipped and there are rests to observe, but at 41, we are back into legato. More importantly, Sullivan leaves out the word “the” in measure 34. Make a note of that, or you’ll find an errant “the” creeping back in as soon as everyone gets off book. The rest of that section is fairly straightforward.

At the Allegretto Grazioso, Gilbert has extended the complete-each-other’s-sentences idea to Tessa and Gianetta. Be scrupulous about tuning this section from the beginning; there is a sloppy way of doing it that goes back and forth between only two pitches per phrase instead of the three that are notated. The chorus response should be as clear and clean as possible, and I think the number is funnier when faster. Observe the dynamics in that closing passage, and either solidify the fermata at an exact length, or drill into the singers’ minds the beat pattern you will use to get them out of it and plant those last two quarters exactly, down to the two ‘t’s that close the syllables.

15. Dance a Cachucha

Here is a number in which principles must be sacrificed for the greater good. You will have to sacrifice the principle of pronunciation accuracy on the altar of performance practice, because the word Cachucha should by rights be pronounced Cachucha, with the last syllable as in “cha cha cha”, but D’Oyly Carte always pronounced it with a hard C in the Italian manner. (it’s often done both ways, I’m told, but my production strove for D’Oyly Carte accuracy) You will also have to sacrifice some diction clarity on the altar of tempo, because I think it is impossible to actually pronounce “clitter clitter clitter clatter” at the speed you should be taking if you want the number to really pop. You will wind up dropping an L, as most productions do. Try the set of consonants yourself: the “c” consonant in the back, moving instantly to the “l” in the front, opening to the vowel and immediately closing to the “t” over and over at breakneck speed is like eating taffy after a dentist’s appointment. I toyed with the idea of half the ladies singing “litter litter litter” and half saying “kiter kitter kitter”, but found it wasn’t worth the effort. At any rate, you might do as I did, and have the entire chorus speak the words in rhythm at the beginning of every rehearsal from the very beginning as part of your warm up. A rolled ‘r’ on reckless is particularly effective.  I’d like to point out that at letter B, Sullivan has really mangled Gilbert’s rhyme scheme. “Montero”, which is the rhyming word is placed in the middle of a phrase where it can’t land as a rhyme, the “bolero” which is it’s rhyming partner is nowhere to be found. In the place where the rhyme should land, Sullivan has placed “abundance”, which is an orphan rhyme; when it’s partner is expected, we find the word “delight”. “Enhances” and “dances”, which do rhyme, are placed in the line in such a way that they don’t operate as such. Musically, of course, it’s delightful. Wren’s hypothesis about the two men not wanting to edit one another’s work is borne out in this, because although Gilbert has not rewritten the lyric here to suit the cadence, he did correct the problem perfectly for the repeat of this number at the end of the show.

I placed the final cutoff on the downbeat of the next measure. I find chorus cutoffs on the third eighth in a fast one to be fussy and well nigh impossible to keep clean.

16. There Lived a King

This number is not terribly difficult to manage, but some care should be taken right at the end, where standing performance practice requires you to plan a little. After the fermata in the line, “In short, whoever you may be”, the tempo is slower, more deliberate. A short caesura follows before the next line, and then another after “you’ll agree”. Still in the deliberate tempo until “Somebodee”, then a tempo after the fermata. I think it follows that the last “When everyone is somebodee” should also be a slightly slower tempo, but then back to the fast clip again. I don’t know how kosher it is, but in this sort of number, I also like to take my closing ritornelli a little faster too, just to put an exclamation point on the proceedings.

17. In A Contemplative Fashion

Set aside some time to work this one. It is, of course, constructed so that everyone sings the rather simple tune, then leaps out with interjections as the number proceeds. Craft the opening so that the diction is absolutely spectacular, because although these words will continue to be sung throughout the number, they will be conspicuously in the background. Your singers may need to be reminded that when their part is not in the foreground, they will need to drop the dynamic down to a pianissimo. I will endeavor to tell you only what I see as the problem spots here; the problem of remembering where to come in and all that, I leave to you. There are a number of errors in the engraving of this piece, please take the time to fix them before you rehearse.

Giuseppe’s line which begins “I to Tessa willy-nilly…” contains two jumps which your Baritone may inadvertently change: On the word “called”, and on the words, “still she”, those are, of course Fs, but they are easier as As, which works with the harmony. Insist your Giuseppe sing what Sullivan has written. The phrase “He whom that young lady married…” is also a bit tricky to some Baritones.

Tessa’s jump from a B flat below middle C all the way up to the  E flat an octave and a half higher, and then all the way back down to B flat is worthy of Fiordiligi in Cosi.

Your Gianetta will need to know the difference between the F two before rehearsal letter E and the E flat at rehearsal letter E. The passages are similar, and for that stretch of 8 measures or so, that similar phrasing continues, sometimes going up to the E flat and at other times going to the F. Play through the accompaniment there so that your singer grounds her understanding of the phrase in the sound of the harmony: The F phrases go with the F minor or ii chord, the E flat phrases go with the I chord. At rehearsal letter E, if things haven’t gone south, I actually took a little accelerando to the end of the passage. Within reason, the longer the pause in that fermata afterward, the better laugh you’ll get. Once again, diction should be a paramount concern throughout the number.

18. With Ducal Pomp

Now we find ourselves in Gilbert’s operetta, to use Wren’s hypothesis. I think my orchestral parts were marked in common time, but you must conduct it in Cut time, as marked in the score. This opening isn’t rocket science. Clean cutoffs and open sound will do the trick.

Once again we find characters finishing each other’s sentences, for the first time in the Ducal party.

This is one unusual example of a number which has an extended first section and a truncated closing section. Make note to the gentlemen of the chorus that at the end of the number, the ‘brazen brasses’ bang only once.

19. On The Day When I Was Wedded

This is the Duchess’s crowning moment, and in order to allow her the freedom to make this aria funny, you must be flexible with your tempo. Generally, this will mean you slow at “feared a thunderbolt”, then back into tempo a measure later. You will place a caesura after the words “Tartar” and “Martyr”. Colla voce for the next four measures, then a tempo at “Smiling very sweetly”. Then you will likely be in tempo until the 1st ending. A similar set of ritardandi will apply the second time through. When your orchestra arrives, make your lives easier, and eliminate any notes on the last beat of measures 17 and 18, 53 and 54. Then your Duchess will have the freedom to do as she pleases there, and you will be able to maintain good ensemble. Again, in a number such as this, I like to take the closing ritornello at a good clip.

20. To Help Unhappy Commoners

This was one of the numbers where I felt I really needed to pay attention, and where I felt the markings in the Newby parts weren’t exactly heading in the direction I was intending. It’s a tricky number to land, because the conceit of the number itself is lost on a modern audience somewhat. Most of the references are unknown to us, and the idea of a frowsy noble couple who shams their way into money in a shady manner doesn’t resonate the way it did a century ago. Thus the number rises and falls on the ingenious echo effect, where the end of each character’s line is echoed sarcastically by the other. Because the intricacies of the lyric are unlikely to resonate with the audience, I took a tempo that was faster than would have likely been acceptable in 1889. If you’re looking at the Schirmer score, the last two measures of 240, (measures 50 and 51 or 90 and 91) are marked in the Newby parts as being in 6. I slowed a little there, but kept it in two. The same thing happens in measure 100, (In the Schirmer score, the last measure of the third system of page 241) You probably will need to take the third measure from the end in 6, but get that settled in piano rehearsal, because if you leave that measure up to the whim of the actors, you’ll find it very difficult to cue the orchestra there.

Make sure your Duchess says makes “ecarte” rhyme with “party”. The D’Oyly Carte recordings I referenced don’t. Also “patent” rhymes with “blatant”, And again, the snarkiness of the lines marked significantly are likely the only legitimate laughs you’re going to get, so don’t underplay them.

I’d say you could cut this number outright, except that without it, there is a pro-aristocratic, anti-democratic vibe to the piece, and this piece cuts the gentry down to size. Gilbert mocks everyone. Which leads us to:

21. I Am A Courtier

If you played dainty games with the tempo of this tune in the overture, I think you have to play it straight here.

“…what he says” ought to rhyme with “nobleman’s praise!” which takes diligence.

There is a high A to add if you like in Casilda’s part halfway through measure 82, one bar before the gavotta proper.

By this point, the two casts have begun to mingle, which leads us to the finale:

22. Here Is A Case Unprecedented

I believe the opening of this movement should be as fast as articulation of the words will allow. Prepare to spend a little time to work out the parts; Gianetta’s part in particular is a little wild. Again the dynamics add delightful detail.

The Allegro Vivace that follows is marked L’istesso tempo, but I took the new tempo in a very fast 4, to set off the excitement of what will follow. I slowed the tempo back when Don Alhambra’s next part begins. The word “lieges” needs to be carefully voiced, or it becomes “Now let the loyal leeches gather round.” I connected the phrases, so there would be no breath between “declare” and “to silver clarion’s sound” A very strong K on ‘king’, and also the hard ‘c’ and tripped ‘r’ on “crowned”, with a really strong closing ‘d’ at the end of crowned. Unfortunately our hard work was for naught, because the singing was completely drowned out by the audience’s laughter as Inez made her entrance on the a giant rack. Ah well.

“Speak, Woman Speak” should be absolutely stunning in its unity of vowel and articulation.

You can give Inez a lot of freedom in her recitative, but let the benchmark be how funny it is.

It goes without saying that the A tempo vivace passage naturally needs to be very clean in articulation, but I’d like to call your attention to the descending Bb diminished chord which is traced in the phrase “wondrous revelation”. Choruses are not used to singing diminished chords, it will likely be out of tune for a while until they get it into their ears.

The quartet “This statement we receive” is funnier when started quietly and delicately, with a great accent on the word “sore”.

The chorus “Then hail, O King” follows the same framework as the other mock-royal music; Strong K consonants, tall open vowels, 4 measure phrases. For some reason my sopranos started singing an F on the word “hail”, as they do on “past”, which needed to be corrected. Be sure that “past” is pronounced “pahst” and not “paaast” in the South Philly manner.

The closing chorus is easy, but I found two details that needed underlining: In measure 282, the word “pleasure” is neither two dotted half notes nor an eighth and a quarter. Also, be sure you have a real sixteenth note at the pickup to 301: “Once more”

Should you need music for the bows, go back to the fanfare at the Allegro con brio at 208.

Your Pit Orchestra:

I often counsel music directors not to hire all the players, but with G&S, you’re dealing with a true orchestral color. I think you need to make a decision about whether you’re using a piano. If you’re not, you need to either use the complete original orchestrations:


Or you need to rent a Newby Reduction:


If you’re using a piano, then you’ve already decided you’re not going for the true orchestral palette of sounds. In that case, I would add to the piano, in this order:

Violin 1

Violin 2



Flute 1

Clarinet 1

Cornet 1 (or trumpet)







In truth, it’s far more complicated than that, because after you reach a certain point with the winds, you need to start doubling up the strings, and you need to balance those properly. I don’t have space to go into the acoustics of that. Suffice it to say that the Violins, the flute, clarinet, trumpet, and oboe provide much needed color, the cello and bass provide body to the sound, and everyone else gets you closer to the ideal; the orchestral sound. After all, this isn’t piano based music; you’re dealing with an operetta here.

Have fun with your production of The Gondoliers! I will be including more G&S as I music direct them!



  1. […] copy here my earlier note from The Gondoliers guide, with some slight […]

  2. […] copy here my earlier note from The Gondoliers guide, with some slight […]

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