Gilbert And Sullivan Lyrics For The Beginner

An introduction to Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics and their operettas, for those love sick maidens and Sewell and Cross young men.

The London of Gilbert and Sullivan's time was a grand place, filed with chandeliers, courtiers and the occasional questionable motivation. From this atmosphere and their long partnership, Gilbert and Sullivan drew delightful operettas that will continue to charm the public as long as the public is willing to be charmed.

William Gilbert came from a prosperous family and a background of wit. He spent a great deal of his early years working in the Education Department of the Privy Council in preparation for an education in law. Once this goal was acheived, he spent the money he obtained practicing in the creation of the Gilbert and Sullivan libretti. Arthur Sullivan worked his way from poor and musical beginnings into the Royal Academy of Music, where he rapidly became known as the leading composer of his day in the areas of opera, ballet and hymns. He spent much of this life trying to come to terms with his musical talent; often he felt that Gilbert was the more known of the two because of his caustic tongue and public flair.

Gilbert and Sullivan's association began in 1871, with Gilbert as librettist and Sullivan as composer. It was to last for 25 years, a shock to those who had predicted that their opposing natures would conflict. Their first recorded opera, Thespis, produced in 1871, contained charming lyrics and a forgettable score. The two might never have struck up a strong association if it had not been for Richard D'Oyly McCarthy, eventual creator of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. D'Oyly was a skilled people person, and through his efforts he managed to make Gilbert and Sullivan comfortable around each other and the public that received them as one entity.



With the arrival of their mentor, Gilbert and Sullivan created the opera Trial by Jury, which was a hit. This work is known for lack of dialogue and clever puns. It launched more than 25 years of success for the two. Among their operatic efforts after this piece is Patience (1881), a humorous operetta poking fun at Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic movement entering Europe at the time, The Pirates of Penzance (1880), which premeired outside England and featured swashbuckling pirates and lovesick ladies, H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), which was heavily reproduced against the law in the United States, and Iolanthe (1882), which was especially favored by the English public for its libretto.

Several aspects of Gilbert and Sullivan's librettos are made colorful by their association. Gilbert was fond of unusual words, or words of his own creation. Sullivan was fond of the patter song, or a musical form that is sung so quickly that it appears to be spoken rapidly. While much of their association was punctuated by arguments, their words and humor is perfectly matched.

Not to be forgotten is Richard D'Oyly, whose work made the two famous. Along with others, D'Oyly was insrumental in creating the Comedy Opera Company, which premeired much of their early works. He presented the later works of Gilbert and Sullivan in the self-built Savoy Theater. Upon his death, his son Rupert D'Oyly took over the touring of the company and the production of Gilbert and Sullivan works throughout England.

For the beginner that wishes to tour the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, I would recommend the Pirates of Penzance. Besides being the undoubted favorite of these two, its charming lyrics and music will foster a desire for more. For a look at their early operas, view The Sorcerer, first produced in 1877 at the Opera Comique after Trial by Jury. For a later work, view The Gondoliers, produced in 1889 at the Savoy.

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