old stager

Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack

Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack, is one of the earliest plays written by W.S. Gilbert. The work is a musical burlesque of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, and the music was arranged by Mr. Van Hamme. It opened at St James's Theatre on December 29 1866, running for a successful 120 nights.


The manager of the St James's Theatre asked Tom Robertson to supply her with a new work for Christmas, 1866. Robertson was unable to produce the work in the two weeks allotted but suggested that Gilbert could do it. The piece was written and rehearsed in ten days, and the roles were filled by the stars of the theatre, including Ellen McDonnell (Nemorino), Frank Matthews (Dulcamara), Carlotta Addison (Adina) and Gaston Murray (Tomaso), with a Mr. Van Hamme as musical director.

Gilbert later wrote that the work met

with more success than it deserved, owing, mainly, to the late Mr. Frank Matthews' excellent impersonation of the title role. In the hurry of production there had been no time to discuss terms, but after it had been successfully launched, Mr. Emden (Miss Herbert's acting manager) asked me how much I wanted.... I modestly hoped that, as the piece was a success, thirty pounds would not be considered an excessive price for the London right. Mr. Emden looked rather surprised, and, as I thought, disappointed. However, he wrote a cheque, asked for a receipt, and when he had got it, said: "Now, take a bit of advice from an old stager who knows what he is talking about: never sell so good a piece as this for thirty pounds again." And I never have.

The libretto is set in rhyming couplets, as are other Gilbert burlesques. The character Tomaso explains this odd convention near the close of Scene 1:

You're in a village during harvest time,
Where all the humblest peasants talk in rhyme,
And sing about their pleasures and cares
In parodies on all the well-known airs.
They earn their bread by going in a crowd,
To sing their humble sentiments aloud,
In choruses of striking unanimity --
(aside) The only rhyme I know to that, is dimity.
(aloud) They never wear umbrellas -- so they get
Their dresses of watered silk -- or else well wet.
Their dresses of drawing rooms is emblematic
Although their mode of life is upper-attic!

This scene is based on one in Gilbert's 1865 Christmas story, The Adventures of Wheeler J. Calamity, with the song following this speech, "If you intend to stay with us, before you've been a day with us", appearing in both.

Dulcamara's success showed that Gilbert could write entertainingly in the burlesque form. Together with his other early burlesques (including several more opera parodies, the most successful of which was Robert the Devil), pantomimes and farces, full of awful puns (traditional in burlesques of the period), they show signs of the satire that would later be a defining part of his work. These led to Gilbert's more mature "fairy comedies", such as The Palace of Truth (1870) and Pygmalion and Galatea (1871), and to his German Reed Entertainments, which in turn led to the famous Gilbert and Sullivan operas. The Sorcerer (1877) is a further development of the Dulcamara tale, and Gilbert's 1892 opera, The Mountebanks, draws heavily on the idea of a magic substance that transforms people.

The songs were likely available only in sheet music form, and because the songs pastiched popular or well-known songs, no vocal score reflecting the show was ever published. Dulcamara was revived twice in the nineteenth century but was absent from the stage for the entire twentieth century. The score of Dulcamara was restored in 2005 with additional lyrics by librettist John Spartan and new music by composer Scott Farrell, and this version is presently the only available performing edition. The chorus "If you intend to stay with us" was performed in 2005, and the "Fantasia on Themes from Dulcamara" (an orchestral piece) was performed in 2006, both at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois. Musical selections from this version of the score are scheduled to be performed on 17 and 18 October 2008 in concert performances by the Rockford Operetta Party.


  • Nemorino (a Neopolitan peasant, of whom you will hear more peasantly) – Miss E. McDonnell
  • Belcore (a sergeant of the Infantry, who is "cut out" for a good soldier by nature – and by Nemorino) – Mr. F. Charles
  • Dr. Dulcamara (a travelling Quack Lecturer, who drives his own trap, and therefore is less of Mary Walker than a Chariotte-Ann Rider) – Mr. Frank Matthews
  • Beppo (his "Jack-pudding" – a mystery, whose real nature is concealed by a mysterious "Pike-crust") – Mr. J. D. Stoyle
  • Tomaso (a Notary, keeping company with Gianetta: "Tomaso, and Tomaso, and Tomaso, creeps with his pretty pay-sanne" – Shakespeare) – Mr. Gaston Murray
  • Adina (the little Duck, who, it is hoped, will nevertheless be found to be very long in the bill) – Miss Carlotta Addison
  • Gianetta (the pretty paysanne, to whom Tomaso "pays an" overwhelming amount of attention) – Miss Eleanor Bufton
  • Catarina (an exquisite villager) – Miss Marion
  • Maria (another) – Miss Gunness
  • Soldiers, Male and Female Peasants, Fisher Girls, etc.


Scene One opens on the exterior of Adina's farm. All the village girls are gathered around Tomaso, who is relating some gossip and village scandal. Tomaso reveals that Adina has made spiteful remarks about the other girls, much to their indignation. Adina promptly appears and sends the girls away. She is quickly pursued by Nemorino, who vainly presses his suit for her, but she will have none of it. Drums and trumpets are heard as Belcore and his regiment enter the village. The corps has come on holiday leave, and Belcore quickly catches Adina's eye, much to Nemorino's annoyance.

Scene Two is set in the interior of Nemorino's home. Belcore is presently Nemorino's lodger, while the soldiers are in town, and Nemorino has done all sorts of misdeeds to irritate his unwelcome houseguest. Belcore has become engaged to Adina in the past week, and Nemorino schemes to be rid of the soldier.

Scene Three opens as Doctor Dulcamara rides into town. Assisted by Beppo, he endeavours to sell his many wares to the public. Nemorino and the men ask the doctor for his help in winning back their sweethearts, since all the girls in town are attracted to the soldiers. Dulcamara sells his far-famed Elixir, titled "Madame Rachel's Beautiful For Ever", and gives the men instructions on its application. When everyone has gone, Beppo reveals that he has a secret and is not the drivelling idiot he pretends to be. Later, Nemorino is caught singing by Adina and Belcore, who continue to chastise him. Nemorino swears that he will reclaim her.

Scene Four begins with Beppo trying to reveal his secret, but Nemorino interrupts him. Nemorino needs more money to buy the potion again, so he asks Beppo for a loan. Beppo lets the mask fall and tells Nemorino he has a secret to tell, but is interrupted yet again when others arrive. Adina and Belcore are on their way to the wedding banquet, and Tomaso hopes to be fed before they sign the papers, though the free meal won't count toward his fee. In a last attempt, Nemorino asks Belcore for a loan and ends up enlisting for the Queen's shilling.

Scene Five begins with the girls bemoaning that their men have all enlisted in the soldiery. The girls would go to them but they are afraid of rejection. The men spend their enlistment money on Dulcamara's potion, which they apply to their faces. Adina enters and wonders if she made the wrong choice in accepting Belcore's engagement. When she sees Nemorino, she attempts to console him, and he (at last) wins her heart. Belcore catches them together, but now it's Nemorino's turn to send the other man away. The potion has worked quite well for everyone, as Dulcamara reveals his potion to everyone. It is eventually discovered that Adina is Dulcamara's daughter and Nemorino's cousin, Belcore is Tomaso's son, Gianetta is Tomaso's granddaughter, and she is Belcore's lost daughter. Beppo finally reveals his secret - he is Dulcamara's long lost mother! They all agree to live together, and the comedy ends happily.

Musical numbers

  1. Duet (Nemorino and Adina) - "Do, do, Pity me" (to the tune of "Hot Corn")
  2. Chorus of Villagers and Soldiers - "Belcore comes marching home again" (to the tune of "When Johnny comes marching home")
  3. Song (Belcore) - "For this welcome, unrivalled in story" (to the tune of "La tremenda ultrice spada" From I Capuleti e i Montecchi by Vincenzo Bellini)
  4. Quintette and Chorus (Nemorino, Gianetta, Adina, Tomaso, and Belcore) - "If you intend to stay with us, before you've been a day with us" (to the tune of "The Sugar Shop")
  5. Trio (Adina, Belcore, Nemorino) - "Marry me, carry me, off we go, my hand Belcore take!" (to the tune of "Harum-Scarum Galop")
  6. Song (Dulcamara and Chorus) - "Dulcamara's come to town!" (to the tune of "Hunkey Dorum")
  7. Song (Dulcamara and Chorus) - "Buy my goods, as I'm advising" (to the tune of "Io son ricco" from L'Elisir d'Amore)
  8. Duet (Nemorino, Dulcamara, and Chorus - "Our lovers all desert us for these military swells" (to the tune of "Champagne Charley is my name")
  9. Song and Chorus (Nemorino) - "Oh, happiness is in our reach" (to the tune of March trio from Ching-Chow-Hi (Ba-ta-clan) by Jacques Offenbach)
  10. Trio (Nemorino, Belcore, and Adina) - "Right away I'll tod-tod-tod-tod-toddle" (to the tune of "Esulti per la barbara" from L'Elisir d'Amore)
  11. Concerted Quartette (Adina, Nemorino, Beppo, and Belcore - The four Airs to be sung together) - "She'll wed today I plainly see" (to the tunes of "Alpen Horn", "Gentil Hussard", "Polly Hopkins", and "Buy–a Broom")
  12. Duet (Nemorino and Beppo) - "My woeful tale will make you quail" (to the tune of "The Nerves")
  13. Quintette (Adina, Belcore, Tomaso, Gianetta, and Dr. Dulcamara) - "We are all to be married today" (to the tune of "I vowed that I never would leave her")
  14. Duet (Belcore and Nemorino) - "Well, thanks to you I've got the tin" (to the tune of "Jog along Boys")
  15. Trio (Tomaso, Gianetta, and Catarina) - "Now maidens all, these youngsters tall" (to the tune of "Lin and Tin")
  16. Quartette (Dulcamara, Nemorino, Beppo, and Tomaso) - "Such a change was never known" (to the tune of "Old Sarah Walker")
  17. Trio (Adina, Belcore, Nemorino) - "Don't it occur that you rather intrude?" (to the tune of "The Mousetrap Man")
  18. Duet (Beppo and Dulcamara) - "I've a secret for to whisper" (to the tune of "The Frog in Yellow")
  19. Finale - "Any man a girl may fix, sir" (to the tune of the Bell Chorus from Alessandro Stradella, an 1837 opera by Friedrich von Flotow)



  • Burgess, A. J. (1997). The Notary and other Lawyers in Gilbert & Sullivan. Hadleigh, Suffolk: Jardine Press.
  • Crowther, Andrew (2000). Contradiction Contradicted – The Plays of W. S. Gilbert. Associated University Presses. ISBN 0-8386-3839-2.
  • Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3.
  • Dulcamara page and links to the libretto at the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive

External links

Search another word or see old stageron Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature