One of the best things about YouTube for classical music lovers is the number of complete BBC Proms concerts available for viewing. Watching live performances is always better than merely listening, even to the finest of audio recordings. What follows is my subjective collection of tunes from the 1997 Proms performace of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Gondoliers in a concert version, along with my own potted (and incomplete) narration of the plot. (NOTE: All these clips look to be the same clip repeated, but they're not. TubeChop merely uses the image associated with the "parent" video.)
Uniquely, I believe, among Gilbert & Sullivan's operettas, The Gondoliers opens with about ten full minutes of music with no intervening dialogue, music with a lilting Italianate flavor that's hard to resist.
The curtain opens in Venice, and we are introduced through song to brothers Marco and Giuseppi Palmieri, gondoliers; their sweethearts Tessa and Gianetta; and their fellow gondoliers and peasant girls. This is the end of the opening song sequence. Marco and Giuseppe have just proposed to their gals (and been accepted), and their friends rejoice.
Now enters the Duke of Plaza-Toro, an impoverished but pompous Spanish grandee, his duchess, their daughter Casilda, and the Duke's "private drum," Luis. They have come to Venice to make good on Casilda's marriage as a baby to the heir of the island kingdom of Baritaria, who has apparently been raised incognito in Venice.
The two gondoliers marry their sweethearts, after which the Grand Inquisitor of Spain comes to meet the Duke, Duchess and Casilda, to inform them of the identity of the king of Baritaria, Casilda's husband, who he believes to be either Marco or Giuseppe.
Grand Inquisitor (to Casilda):The Grand Inquisitor is unaware of the brothers' newly married state, and is less than happy when he finds out. He locates the brothers and tells them that both must sail together to Baritaria until the confusion is sorted out. In this number, Marco and Giuseppe proclaim their intention to rule (whichever of them becomes, in fact, the king) on the republican principles to which they are committed.
But which of the two is not quite clear
Is the Royal Prince you married !
Marco and Giuseppe:
For every one who feels inclined,
Some post we undertake to find
Congenial with his frame of mind
And all shall equal be.
The Chancellor in his peruke
The Earl, the Marquis, and the Duke,
The Groom, the Butler, and the Cook
They all shall equal be.
The Aristocrat who banks with Coutts,
The Aristocrat who hunts and shoots,
The Aristocrat who cleans our boots
They all shall equal be!
The Noble Lord who rules the State
The Noble Lord who cleans the plate
The Noble Lord who scrubs the grate
They all shall equal be!
The Lord High Bishop orthodox
The Lord High Coachman on the box
The Lord High Vagabond in the stocks
They all shall equal be!
The two gondoliers must leave their wives behind because, as the Grand Inquisitor informs them, ladies are not allowed until it is determined which brother is the king (don't ask ME, I didn't write the thing!). Here the boys bid farewell to their wives, who admonish them with "Do not forget you've married me."
Act Two opens in Baritaria, where the brothers and their male cohorts are adjusting to a royal lifestyle in their own egalitarian way. Then their wives, impatient and bored back in Venice, arrive with their gaggle of peasant girl friends. The couples are thrilled to be reunited, but the Grand Inquisitor, having found out that the gondoliers are married, has news that adds further confusion to the plot: one of the brothers, the one who is really the king, was the child married in infancy to Casilda, daughter of the Duke of Plaza-Toro, and is thus a bigamist. The two couples try to digest this news, but their "quiet, calm deliberation" devolves into cacaphony:
The Duke and Duchess, Casilda and Luis now appear in Baritaria with considerable pomp and style. The Duke has restored his fortunes by making himself a limited legal corporation, and here he and the Duchess explain how they have pulled it off. (As has become something of a tradition in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, the lyrics of certain songs are sometimes updated to reflect topics of the day. This is one of those numbers.)
For those of you still with me, here is the dénouement and finale, in which confusion is finally laid to rest, thanks to the revelation of Luis' mother that HE is, in fact, the King of Baritaria, who she substituted for one of the drunken gondolier's boys (fans of H.M.S. Pinafore will nod with recognition at this plot development). Luis and Casilda, who are in love with each other, are delighted, as are the two other couples, and everything at last gets sorted out to everyone's satisfaction, with a sprightly Spanish dance that ends the show.
For those with greater than a 21st-century attention span, the entire concert performance of The Gondoliers from which I have extracted these excerpts is here. (In place of dialogue, and to speed the running time, the story in between songs is given a charming and casual narration by the performers.) Enjoy!