Savoy opera

1881 Programme for Patience

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 composer–librettist 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]

Gilbert and Sullivan's early operas played at other London theatres, and 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, referred to all thirteen operas that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote for Richard D'Oyly Carte.

Savoy Theatre, c. 1881

Other definitions

During the years when the Gilbert and Sullivan ("G&S") operas were being written, Richard D'Oyly Carte also produced, at the Savoy Theatre, operas by other composer–librettist teams, either as curtain raisers to the G&S pieces, or to fill the theatre when no G&S piece was available.[4] To his 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 composer–librettist 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. In 1901, she produced Sullivan's last opera, The Emerald Isle (finished after Sullivan's death by Edward German), and during the run of that opera, she hired William Greet as manager of the theatre. Later that year, she leased the theatre to Greet, who then produced Ib and Little Christina, The Willow Pattern, a revival of Iolanthe, Merrie England (1902) and A Princess of Kensington (1903), each with a cast made up largely of Carte's Savoy company. Cyril Rollins and R. John Witts adopt A Princes of Kensington as the last of the Savoy Operas. After A Princess of Kensington closed in May 1903, Mrs. Carte leased the theatre to unrelated parties until late 1906, when she produced the first of her two seasons of G&S revivals in repertory at the Savoy, with Gilbert returning to direct.

In March 1909, Charles H. Workman leased the theatre, producing three new pieces, including one by Gilbert, 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",[5] and S. J. Adair Fitz-Gerald regarded Workman's pieces as the last Savoy Operas.[6]

Fitz-Gerald wrote his book, The Story of the Savoy Opera, in 1924, when these other pieces were still within living memory. But over the ensuing decades, the works produced at the Savoy by composers and librettists other than Gilbert and Sullivan were forgotten or infrequently revived. The term "Savoy Opera" came to be synonymous with the thirteen extant works of Gilbert and Sullivan. The first collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan – the 1871 opera Thespis – was 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. Nevertheless, Rollins & Witts include it in their compendium of the Savoy Operas, as does Geoffrey Smith. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase as: "Designating any of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas originally presented at the Savoy Theatre in London by the D'Oyly Carte company. Also used more generally to designate any of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, including those first presented before the Savoy Theatre opened in 1881, or to designate any comic opera of a similar style which appeared at the theatre".[7]

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.

TitleLibrettist(s)Composer(s)TheatreOpening DateClosing
ThespisW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanGaiety26 December 18718 March 187264
Trial by JuryW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanRoyalty25 March 187518 December 1875131
The SorcererW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanOpera Comique17 November 187724 May 1878178
H.M.S. PinaforeW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanOpera Comique25 May 187820 February 1880571
The Pirates of PenzanceW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanBijou, Paignton30 December 187930 December 18791
Fifth Avenue, NY31 December 18795 June 1880100
Opera Comique3 April 18802 April 1881363
PatienceW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanOpera Comique23 April 18818 October 1881170
Savoy10 October 188122 November 1882408
IolantheW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanSavoy25 November 18821 January 1884398
Princess IdaW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanSavoy5 January 18849 October 1884246
The MikadoW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanSavoy14 March 188519 January 1887672
RuddygoreW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanSavoy22 January 18875 November 1887288
The Yeomen of the GuardW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanSavoy3 October 188830 November 1889423
The GondoliersW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanSavoy7 December 188920 June 1891554
The Nautch GirlGeorge Dance & Frank DesprezEdward SolomonSavoy30 June 189116 January 1892200
The Vicar of BraySydney GrundyEdward SolomonSavoy28 January 189218 June 1892143
Haddon HallSydney GrundyArthur SullivanSavoy24 September 189215 April 1893204
Jane AnnieJ. M. Barrie & Arthur Conan DoyleErnest FordSavoy13 May 18931 July 189350
Utopia LimitedW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanSavoy7 October 18939 June 1894245
MiretteHarry Greenbank & Fred E. Weatherly (revised by Adrian Ross)André MessagerSavoy3 July 189311 August 189441
6 October 18946 December 189461
The ChieftainF. C. BurnandArthur SullivanSavoy12 December 189416 March 189597
The Grand DukeW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanSavoy7 March 189610 July 1896123
His MajestyF. C. Burnand, R. C. Lehmann, & Adrian RossAlexander MackenzieSavoy20 February 189724 April 189761
The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein[n 1]Charles H. Brookfield & Adrian RossJacques OffenbachSavoy4 December 189712 March 1898104
The Beauty StoneA. W. Pinero & J. Comyns CarrArthur SullivanSavoy28 May 189816 July 189850
The Lucky StarCharles H. Brookfield, Adrian Ross, & Aubrey HopwoodIvan CaryllSavoy7 January 189931 May 1899143
The Rose of PersiaBasil HoodArthur SullivanSavoy29 November 189928 June 1900213
The Emerald IsleBasil HoodArthur Sullivan & Edward GermanSavoy27 April 19019 November 1901205
Ib and Little ChristinaBasil HoodFranco LeoniSavoy14 November 190129 November 190116[9]
The Willow PatternBasil HoodCecil Cook
Merrie EnglandBasil HoodEdward GermanSavoy2 April 190230 July 1902120
24 November 190217 January 190356
A Princess of KensingtonBasil HoodEdward GermanSavoy22 January 190316 May 1903115
The MountaineersGuy EdenReginald SomervilleSavoy29 September 190927 November 190961
Fallen FairiesW. S. GilbertEdward GermanSavoy15 December 190929 January 191051
Two Merry MonarchsArthur Anderson, George Levy, & Hartley CarrickOrlando MorganSavoy10 March 191023 April 191043

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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[4]

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.[4]

TitleLibrettist(s)Composer(s)TheatreOpening DateClosing
Played With
Dora's DreamArthur CecilAlfred CellierOpera Comique17 November 18777 February 1878*The Sorcerer
The Spectre KnightJames AlberyAlfred CellierOpera Comique9 February 187823 March 1878The Sorcerer
28 May 187810 August 1878Pinafore
Trial by JuryW. S. GilbertArthur SullivanOpera Comique & Savoy23 March 187824 May 1878The Sorcerer
11 October 188412 March 1885
22 September 189831 December 1898
6 June 189925 November 1899Pinafore
Beauties on the BeachGeorge GrossmithGeorge GrossmithOpera Comique25 May 18785 August 1878Pinafore
14 October 18785 December 1878*
A Silver WeddingGeorge GrossmithGeorge GrossmithOpera Comiquepart of 1878Pinafore
Five HamletsGeorge GrossmithGeorge GrossmithOpera Comique? 187812 October 1878Pinafore
Cups and SaucersGeorge GrossmithGeorge GrossmithOpera Comique5 August 1878*20 February 1880Pinafore
After All!Frank DesprezAlfred CellierOpera Comique16 December 1878*20 February 1880Cups and Saucers
? Feb. 188020 March 1880Children's Pinafore
Savoy23 November 18954 March 1896Mikado & Grand Duke
4 April 18968 August 1896
7 May 189716 June 1897Yeomen
In the SulksFrank DesprezAlfred CellierOpera Comique21 February 1880?Pirates
21 February 188020 March 1880Children's Pinafore
3 April 18802 April 1881Pirates
23 April 1881*2 May 1881Patience
Savoy11 October 188114 October 1881
Uncle SamuelArthur LawGeorge GrossmithOpera Comique3 May 18818 October 1881Patience
Mock TurtlesFrank DesprezEaton FaningSavoy11 October 188122 November 1882Patience
25 November 188230 March 1883Iolanthe
A Private WireFrank DesprezPercy ReeveSavoy31Mar. 18831 January 1884Iolanthe
The CarpFrank Desprez & Arnold FelixAlfred CellierSavoy13 February 188619 January 1887Mikado
21 February 18875 November 1887Ruddigore
Mrs. Jarramie's GenieFrank DesprezAlfred Cellier & François CellierSavoy14 February 1888? Nov. 1889Pinafore, Pirates, Mikado, Yeomen
Captain BillyHarry GreenbankFrançois CellierSavoy24 September 189116 January 1892Nautch Girl
1 February 189218 June 1892Vicar of Bray
Mr. JerichoHarry GreenbankErnest FordSavoy18 March 189315 April 1893Haddon Hall
3 June 18931 July 1893Jane Annie
Quite an AdventureFrank DesprezEdward SolomonSavoy15 December 189429 December 1894The Chieftain
Cox & BoxF. C. BurnandArthur SullivanSavoy31 December 189416 March 1895The Chieftain
Weather or NoAdrian Ross & William BeachBertram Luard-SelbySavoy10 August 189617 February 1897The Mikado
2 March 189724 April 1897His Majesty
Old SarahHarry GreenbankFrançois CellierSavoy17 June 189731 July 1897Yeomen
16 August 189720 November 1897
10 December 189712 March 1898The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein
22 March 1898*21 May 1898Gondoliers
Pretty PollyBasil HoodFrançois CellierSavoy19 May 190028 June 1900The Rose of Persia
8 December 190020 April 1901Patience
The OutpostAlbert O'Donnell BartholeynsHamilton ClarkeSavoy2 July 19003 November 1900Pirates
8 November 1900*7 December 1900Patience
The Willow PatternBasil HoodCecil CookSavoy14 November 190129 November 1901Ib and Little Christina
(revised version)9 December 190129 March 1902Iolanthe
A Welsh SunsetFrederick FennPhilip Michael FaradaySavoy15 July 190817 October 1908Pinafore & Pirates
2 December 190824 February 1909

*Indicates an approximate date.


  1. ^ The production was variously billed as The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein or just The Grand Duchess.[8]


  1. ^ Such as German Reeds, Frederic Clay, Edward Solomon and F. C. Burnand
  2. ^ See, e. g., Crowther, Stedman, Bailey, Bradley, Ainger and Jacobs. Gilbert & Sullivan described 13 of their 14 collaborations as "operas" or "operatic":
    • Thespis: an "Operatic Extravaganza"
    • 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"
    They called the 14th, Trial by Jury, a "Dramatic Cantata".
  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. ^ a b c Walters, Michael and George Low. "Curtain Raisers", The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, 16 August 2011, retrieved 27 February 2017
  5. ^ See, e.g., The Manchester Guardian, 17 September 1910, p. 1, advertising The Mountaineers.
  6. ^ See also Farrell, passim
  7. ^ "Savoy", Oxford English Dictionary", Oxford University Press, June 2017, retrieved 9 December 2017 (subscription required)
  8. ^ "Savoy", The Times, 1 December 1897, p. 8, and "Savoy" (column 5) and "Savoy Theatre" (column 6), The Times 6 December 1897, p. 10
  9. ^ The Willow Pattern continued to run after Ib and Little Christina closed, as a companion piece to Iolanthe, for an original run of 110 performances.
  10. ^ Lee Bernard. "Swash-buckling Savoy curtain-raiser", Sheffield Telegraph, 1 August 2008
  11. ^ MacQueen-Pope, Walter James. Carriages at Eleven (1947), London: Robert Hale and Co., p. 23


  • Farrell, Scott (2009). The C. H. Workman Productions: A Centenary Review of the Final Savoy Operas. Scott Farrell.
  • Fitz-Gerald, S. J. Adair (1924). The Story of the Savoy Opera. London: Stanley Paul & Co.
  • Rollins, Cyril; R. John Witts (1962). The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in Gilbert and Sullivan Operas: A Record of Productions, 1875–1961. London: Michael Joseph. OCLC 504581419.

Further reading

  • Ainger, Michael (2002). Gilbert and Sullivan, a Dual Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Bradley, Ian (1996). The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  • Crowther, Andrew (2000). Contradiction Contradicted – The Plays of W. S. Gilbert. Associated University Presses. ISBN 0-8386-3839-2.
  • Gilbert, W. S. (1994). The Savoy Operas. Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. ISBN 1-85326-313-3.
  • Jacobs, Arthur (1992). Arthur Sullivan – A Victorian Musician (Second ed.). Portland, OR: Amadeus Press.
  • O'Brien, Christopher (2015). Savoy Curtain-Raisers, Musica Britannica series. London: Stainer & Bell.
  • Smith, Geoffrey (1983). The Savoy Operas. London: Robert Hale Limited.
  • Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3.
  • Williams, Carolyn (2010). Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-14804-7.
  • Wolfson, John (1976). Final Curtain – The Last Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. London: Chappell & Company Limited.

External links

Media files used on this page

Author/Creator: unknown, Licence: PD-US
1881 Patience.jpg
1881 Programme for Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience
1881 Savoy Theatre.jpg
The original facade of the Savioy Theatre, facing the Embankment, London, England.