Potted History

"Take all the remarkable people in history, Rattle them off to a popular tune."

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1890 - 1894

1890: The Gondoliers opens in New York at the New Park Theatre on January 7th. Gilbert and Carte were not happy with the casting.

1890: The Gondoliers is relaunched at Palmer's Theatre, New York,on February 18th with a slightly different cast.

1890: Gilbert purchases Graeme's Dyke (later Grim's Dyke), Harrow Weald.

1890: The famous Carpet Quarrel is set in motion on April 22nd.

Historic Note:
Sullivan received the following letter from Gilbert:
"I have had a difficulty with Carte. I was appalled to learn from him that the preliminary expenses of the Gondoliers amounted to the stupendous sum of £4,500!!! This seemed so utterly unaccountable that I asked to see the details and last night I received a resumé of them. This includes such trifles as £75 for Miss Moore's second dress - £50 for her first dress - £100 for Miss Brandram's second dress (this costly garment has now, for some occult reason, been sent on tour); £450 for wages of the carpenters during the time they were engaged on the scenery: £460 for the gondola, the sailing boat, the two columns and the two chairs and fountain for Act 2; £112 for timber, £120 for ironmongery, £95 for canvas - and so forth. But the most surprising item was £500 for new carpets for the front of the house!"

Read more on the Carpet Quarrel.

1891: The Gondoliers opens down under at The Princess Theatre. Melbourne, on the 25th October. (read review)

1891: Sullivan's only Grand Opera Ivanhoe opens at the newly built English Opera House on January 31st. The libretto is by U.S. born Julian Russell Sturgis (1848-1904).

Charles Kenningham as Maurice de Bracy Richard Green as Prince John


Ivanhoe Programme Cover

Opera House

Historic Note:
Ivanhoe was not only to open Carte's new London theatre but it was to do so on a novel principle. The opera would not be a part of a repertory season but would run continuously, night after night, like a 'Savoy' work but with alternating casting of the principal roles.

1891: The Gondoliers is performed for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on March 6th.

1891: Gilbert's burlesque Rosencrantz and Guildenstern opens on June 3rd.

For a complete transcript of this play click here

1891: The Nautch Girl with libretto by George Dance and Frank Desprez, and with music by Solomon Grundy follows The Gondoliers at the Savoy Theatre. This opens on June 30th. Though not a Gilbert and Sullivan this was billed as a Savoy Opera and achieves a respectable run of 200 performances. Many Savoyards are in the cast including Jesse Bond, Rutland Barrington, Courtice Pounds and Frank Thornton.

Newspaper Review:
"Both Mr. George Dance and Mr. Edward Solomon have, with perfectly laudable intention, subordinated their own individualities to the traditions of the theatre, and have produced a work which, if brought out anonymously, would be unhesitatingly classed, by superficial observers at all events, among the rest of the "Gilbert and Sullivan" operas. It may, indeed, be doubted whether the older collaborators would have followed their own example so closely as their successors have done.
The opera was received with every sign of favour, many numbers having to be repeated, and the author and composer, as well as Mr. Carte, were called before the curtain at the close.
London Times of Wednesday, July 1, 1891

Historic Note:
Edward Solomon was involved in quite a public scandal. In 1885 he married the American soprano Lillian Russell. The marriage turned out to be bigamous on his part, and he was arrested in 1886. From that time his career floundered until The Nautch Girl.

1891: Ivanhoe is revived for six performances at the Royal English Opera in November.

1891: There is a performance of Ivanhoeat the Königliche Schauspiele, Berlin, Germany, on November the 26th.


1892: The Mountebanks by Gilbert and Alfred Cellier opens at the Lyric on January 4th. It runs for 229 performances.

1892: The Vicar of Bray by Edward Solomon is mounted at the Savoy opening on January 28th. This work achieves a healthy run finishing in early June. The cast includes Rutland Barrington, Courtice Pounds, W.H. Denny, Rosina Brandram and Mary Duggan.

W.H. Denny

1892: Gilbert's comic opera Haste to the Wedding opens at the Criterion Theatre on July 27th. The music is by George Grossmith.

1892: Haddon Hall by Sullivan and Sydney Grundy opens at the Savoy on September 24th. It runs for 204 performances. The cast includes Courtice Pounds, Richard Green, Charles Kenningham, W.H. Denny, Rosina Brandram and Dorothy Vane.

Courtice Pounds as John Manners. Lucille Hill as Dorothy Vernon. Nita Cole as Nance. W.H. Denny as the McCrankie.

1893: For the opening of the Imperial Institute on May 10th Sullivan writes the Imperial March.

1893: Jane Annie opens at the Savoy on May 13th. The authors are J.M. Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle with music by Ernest Ford. Despite the distinguished names the work is a disaster. The cast includes Rutland Barrington, Walter Passmore, Charles Kenningham, Dorothy Vane, Rosina Brandram and Decima Moore. The operetta lasts less than two months.

1893: Utopia (Limited) is first performed at the Savoy on October 7th. It runs for 245 performances.

Check out original costumes from this production.

Review of Utopia in the Times

Historic Note:
Gilbert hired the American soprano, Nancy McIntosh, for the role of Zara. She had been in London for three years, accompanied by her father. He was there, in part, to escape the memories of a disaster at home. He was a member of the hunting and fishing club whose dam had burst and allowed a river to roar down and obliterate Johnstown, Pennsylvania, beneath it.

Nancy MacIntosh

1894: Messager's Mirette opens at the Savoy on July 3rd. Savoyards in the cast include Scott Fische, Courtice Pounds and Rosina Brandram

Historic Note:
The limited run of Utopia Ltd left Richard Carte with the possibility of an empty theatre during the summer months. As neither Gilbert or Sullivan had anything ready D'Oyly Carte began a search for something new. Andre Messager (1853-1929) had a growing international reputation being looked upon as a second Offenbach in his native France. However Mirette, in its original form, had the dubious distinction of having the shortest run of any Savoy Opera, lasting only 41 performances. The operetta was revised with the help of lyricist Adrian Ross (1859-1933) and reopened on October 6th. It was more successful and ran for another two months.
Messager didn't establish himself in England until 1904, when his Véronique would be successfully produced in London six years after its Paris premiere.
Indeed Véronique is rich in the musical style found in the Savoy Operas. There is a highly polished recording available on EMI with the ever delightful Mady Mesplé in the title role.

1894: Gilbert's comic opera His Excellency opens on October 27th. The music is by Dr Osmond Carr, who was twenty-two years younger than Gilbert. It does not have a long run.

-Extract-
(Enter Erling Sykke, with large unopened official letter in his hand.)

ERLING: At last - the reply to my letter announcing to His Majesty the completion of the statue! Every hope and every fear of my life lies within the four corners of this document. What may it not contain? Perhaps an order on the King's Treasurer for my ten thousand rix- dollars! Perhaps my appointment as Court sculptor! Perhaps even my patent of Countship! I tremble so that I can scarcely open it!

(Nanna Griffenfeld has entered at the back. She creeps up to him with suppressed fun in her face.)

NANNA: Oh, what a big letter! Whom is it from, and what's it all about?
ERLING: Nanna, this letter is to seal your destiny and mine - so, as you are as much concerned with it as I am, I think we ought to open it together. It's - it's from the King's private Secretary!
NANNA: Oh, do be quick and let's see what's in it!
ERLING: You open it - I can't! (Giving her the letter.)
NANNA: I can. Now then - one! two! three! (Nanna opens it.)
ERLING: Read - read!
NANNA: looking at it). Oh! I don't think you'll like it. Oh! I'm sure you won't like it! (Reads.) "Sir - In reply to a letter in which you announce the completion of a statue of His Royal Highness Prince Frederick, alleged by you to have been commissioned by His Majesty, I have to inform you that His Majesty knows nothing about it."
ERLING: (stunned). Knows nothing about it!
NANNA: There seems to be some mistake.
ERLING: Some mistake! Why, what do you mean?
NANNA: Why that, at the first blush, it bears the appearance of being one of dear papa's practical jokes.
ERLING: But it's ruin! Absolute ruin! Why, I spent every penny I possessed on the marble alone!
NANNA: I'm so sorry!
ERLING: Sorry! I can't realize it! It stuns me! It's too cruel - too cruel! And the promise you made me --
NANNA: Oh, the promise! Yes - es - the conditional promise.
ERLING: Don't tell me that was a hoax too! Give me some hope to cling to! I can bear it all if you'll only tell me that you won't discard me!
NANNA: Really, it's extremely awkward; but one must be a little prudent. I'm a very expensive young lady, and as it seems that you have no immediate prospect of being able to maintain an establishment, it would be really criminal on my part to involve you in further embarrassments.

(Erling sinks helplessly on pedestal of statue, and buries his head in his hands.)

To check out the complete 'His Excellency' click here

1894: Sullivan rehashes The Contrabandista under the title The Chieftain. It opens on December 12th and runs for 97 performances at the Savoy. The cast includes Courtice Pounds, Scott Fische, Richard Temple, Rosina Brandram and Florence Perry.

The Chieftain


Continue on to 1895 To the Operas