silver wedding

Savoy opera

The Savoy Operas denote 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 one of the seminal influences on the creation of the modern musical.

Gilbert, Sullivan, Carte, and other Victorian era British composers, librettists and producers, 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 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. However, the Penguin Opera Guides and many other general music dictionaries and encyclopedias classify the Gilbert and Sullivan works as operettas.

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 always included the complete set of thirteen operas that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote for Richard D'Oyly Carte:

Trial by Jury (1875)
The Sorcerer (1877)
H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor (1878)
The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty (1880)
Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride (1881)
Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri (1882)
Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant (1884)
The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu (1885)
Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse (1887)
The Yeomen of the Guard, or The Merryman and his Maid (1888)
The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria (1889)
Utopia Limited, or The Flowers of Progress (1893)
The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel (1896)

Other definitions

During the years when the Gilbert and Sullivan (“G&S”) operas were being written, Richard D'Oyly Carte produced 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. To their 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 (October 10 1881) until The Gondoliers closed on June 20 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 April 3 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 November 28 1899June 28 1900.

After Carte's death, his wife Helen Carte assumed management of the theatre. She continued to produce new pieces in the G&S style, along with G&S revivals. Counting the pieces that Mrs. D'Oyly Carte produced, the last Savoy Opera was A Princess of Kensington (music by Edward German, libretto by Basil Hood), which ran for four months in early 1903. This is the point that Cyril Rollins and R. John Witts adopt as the end of the Savoy Operas. After A Princess of Kensington, Mrs. D'Oyly Carte relinquished control of the theatre until December 8 1906, when she produced a series of G&S revivals in repertory, with Gilbert returning to direct. In March 1909, Charles H. Workman assumed control of the theatre, producing three new pieces, including one by Gilbert himself, 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. S. J. Adair Fitz-Gerald regards this piece as the last of the Savoy Operas.

Fitz-Gerald wrote his book, The Story of the Savoy Opera, in 1924, when these other pieces were still within living memory. But over time, anything produced at the Savoy by other composers or librettists was largely forgotten. The term "Savoy Opera" came to be synonymous with the 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. Given its lack of a D'Oyly Carte or Savoy connection, Thespis has a tenuous claim to be a "Savoy Opera." However, Rollins & Witts include it in their compendium of the Savoy Operas, as does Geoffrey Smith.

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.

Title Librettist(s) Composer(s) Theatre Opening Date Closing
Thespis W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Gaiety Dec. 26, 1871 Mar. 8, 1872 64
Trial by Jury W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Royalty Mar. 25, 1875 Dec. 18, 1875 131
The Sorcerer W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Opera Comique Nov. 17, 1877 May 24, 1878 178
H.M.S. Pinafore W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Opera Comique May 25, 1878 Feb. 20, 1880 571
The Pirates of Penzance W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Bijou, Paignton Dec. 30, 1879 Dec. 30, 1879 1
Fifth Avenue, NY Dec. 31, 1879 Jun. 5, 1879 100
Opera Comique Apr. 3, 1880 Apr 2., 1881 363
Patience W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Opera Comique Apr. 23, 1881 Oct. 8, 1881 170
Savoy Oct. 10, 1881 Nov. 22, 1882 408
Iolanthe W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy Nov. 25, 1882 Jan. 1, 1884 398
Princess Ida W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy Jan. 5, 1884 Oct. 9, 1884 246
The Mikado W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy Mar. 14, 1885 Jan. 19, 1887 672
Ruddygore W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy Jan. 22, 1887 Nov. 5, 1887 288
The Yeomen of the Guard W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy Oct. 3, 1888 Nov. 30, 1889 423
The Gondoliers W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy Dec. 7, 1889 Jun. 20, 1891 554
The Nautch Girl George Dance & Frank Desprez Edward Solomon Savoy Jun. 30, 1891 Jan. 16, 1892 200
The Vicar of Bray Sydney Grundy Edward Solomon Savoy Jan. 28, 1892 Jun. 18, 1892 143
Haddon Hall Sydney Grundy Arthur Sullivan Savoy Sep. 24, 1892 Apr. 15, 1893 204
Jane Annie J. M. Barrie & Arthur Conan Doyle Ernest Ford Savoy May 13, 1893 Jul. 1, 1893 50
Utopia Limited W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy Oct. 7, 1893 Jun. 9, 1894 245
Mirette Harry Greenbank & Fred E. Weatherly (revised by Adrian Ross) André Messager Savoy Jul. 3, 1893 Aug. 11, 1894 41
Oct. 6, 1894 Dec. 6, 1894 61
The Chieftain F. C. Burnand Arthur Sullivan Savoy Dec. 12, 1894 Mar. 16, 1895 97
The Grand Duke W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Savoy Mar. 7, 1896 Jul. 10, 1896 123
His Majesty F. C. Burnand, R. C. Lehmann, & Adrian Ross Alexander Mackenzie Savoy Feb. 20, 1897 Apr. 24, 1897 61
The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein Charles H. Brookfield & Adrian Ross Jacques Offenbach Savoy Dec. 4, 1897 Mar. 12, 1898 104
The Beauty Stone A. W. Pinero & J. Comyns Carr Arthur Sullivan Savoy May 28, 1898 Jul. 16, 1898 50
The Lucky Star Charles H. Brookfield, Adrian Ross, & Aubrey Hopwood Ivan Caryll Savoy Jan. 7, 1899 May 31, 1899 143
The Rose of Persia Basil Hood Arthur Sullivan Savoy Nov. 29, 1899 Jun. 28, 1900 213
The Emerald Isle Basil Hood Arthur Sullivan & Edward German Savoy Apr. 26, 1901 Nov. 9, 1901 205
Ib and Little Christina Basil Hood Franco Leoni Savoy Nov. 14, 1901 Nov. 29, 1901 16
The Willow Pattern Basil Hood Cecil Cook
Merrie England Basil Hood Edward German Savoy Apr. 2, 1902 Jul. 30, 1902 120
Nov. 24, 1902 Jan. 17, 1903 56
A Princess of Kensington Basil Hood Edward German Savoy Jan. 22, 1903 May 16, 1903 115
The Mountaineers Guy Eden Reginald Somerville Savoy Sep. 29, 1909 Nov. 27, 1909 61
Fallen Fairies W. S. Gilbert Edward German Savoy Dec. 15, 1909 Jan. 29, 1910 51
Two Merry Monarchs Arthur Anderson, George Levy, & Hartley Carrick Orlando Morgan Savoy Mar. 10, 1910 Apr. 23, 1910 43

Companion pieces

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.

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.

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.

Title Librettist(s) Composer(s) Theatre Opening Date Closing
Played With
Dora's Dream Arthur Cecil Alfred Cellier Opera Comique Nov. 17, 1877 Feb. 7, 1878* The Sorcerer
The Spectre Knight James Albery Alfred Cellier Opera Comique Feb. 9, 1878 Mar. 23, 1878 The Sorcerer
May 28, 1878 Aug. 10, 1878 Pinafore
Trial by Jury W. S. Gilbert Arthur Sullivan Opera Comique & Savoy Mar. 23, 1878 May 24, 1878 The Sorcerer
Oct. 11, 1884 Mar. 12, 1885
Sept. 22, 1898 Dec. 31, 1898
June 6, 1899 Nov. 25, 1899 Pinafore
Beauties on the Beach George Grossmith George Grossmith Opera Comique May 25, 1878 Aug. 5, 1878 Pinafore
Oct. 14, 1878 Dec. 5, 1878*
A Silver Wedding George Grossmith George Grossmith Opera Comique part of 1878 Pinafore
Five Hamlets George Grossmith George Grossmith Opera Comique ? 1878 Oct. 12, 1878 Pinafore
Cups and Saucers George Grossmith George Grossmith Opera Comique Aug. 5, 1878* Feb. 20, 1880 Pinafore
After All! Frank Desprez Alfred Cellier Opera Comique Dec. 16, 1878* Feb. 20, 1880 Cups and Saucers
Feb. ?, 1880 Mar. 20, 1880 Children's Pinafore
Savoy Nov. 23, 1895 Mar. 4, 1896 Mikado & Grand Duke
Apr. 4, 1896 Aug. 8, 1896
May 7, 1897 Jun. 16, 1897 Yeomen
In the Sulks Frank Desprez Alfred Cellier Opera Comique Feb. 21, 1880 ? Pirates
Feb. 21, 1880 Mar. 20, 1880 Children's Pinafore
Apr. 3, 1880 Apr. 2, 1881 Pirates
Apr. 23, 1881* May 2, 1881 Patience
Savoy Oct. 11, 1881 Oct. 14, 1881
Uncle Samuel Arthur Law George Grossmith Opera Comique May 3, 1881 Oct. 8, 1881 Patience
Mock Turtles Frank Desprez Joseph Eaton Faning Savoy Nov. 15, 1881* Nov. 22, 1882 Patience
Nov. 25, 1882 Mar. 30, 1883 Iolanthe
A Private Wire Frank Desprez Percy Reeve Savoy Mar. 31, 1883 Jan. 1, 1884 Iolanthe
The Carp Frank Desprez & Arnold Felix Alfred Cellier Savoy Feb. 11, 1886* Jan. 19, 1887 Mikado
Feb. 21, 1887 Nov. 5, 1887 Ruddigore
Mrs. Jarramie's Genie Frank Desprez Alfred Cellier & François Cellier Savoy Nov. ?, 1887 Nov. ?, 1889 Pinafore, Pirates, Mikado, Yeomen
Captain Billy Harry Greenbank François Cellier Savoy Sep. 23, 1891* Jan. 16, 1892 Nautch Girl
Feb. 1, 1892 Jun. 18, 1892 Vicar of Bray
Mr. Jericho Harry Greenbank Ernest Ford Savoy Mar. 18, 1893 Apr. 15, 1893 Haddon Hall
Jun. 3, 1893 Jul. 1, 1893 Jane Annie
Quite an Adventure Frank Desprez Edward Solomon Savoy Dec. 15, 1894 Dec. 29, 1894 The Chieftain
Cox & Box F. C. Burnand Arthur Sullivan Savoy Dec. ?, 1894 Mar. ?, 1895 The Chieftain
Weather or No Adrian Ross & William Beach Bertram Luard Selby Savoy Aug. 10, 1896 Feb. 17, 1897 The Mikado
Mar. 2, 1897 Apr. 24, 1897 His Majesty
Old Sarah Harry Greenbank François Cellier Savoy Jun. 17, 1897 Jul. 31, 1897 Yeomen
Aug. 16, 1897 Nov. 20, 1897
Dec. 10, 1897 Mar. 12, 1898 The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein
Mar. 22, 1898* May 21, 1898 Gondoliers
Pretty Polly Basil Hood François Cellier Savoy May 19, 1900 Jun. 28, 1900 Rose of Persia
Dec. 8, 1900 Apr. 20, 1901 Patience
The Outpost A. O'D. Bartholeyns Hamilton Clarke Savoy Jul. 2, 1900 Nov. 3, 1900 Pirates
Nov. 8, 1900* Dec. 7, 1900 Patience
The Willow Pattern Basil Hood Cecil Cook Savoy Nov. 14, 1901 Nov. 29, 1901 Ib and Little Christina
(revised version) Dec. 9, 1901 Mar. 29, 1902 Iolanthe
A Welsh Sunset Frederick Fenn Philip Michael Faraday Savoy Jul. 15, 1908 Oct. 17, 1908 Pinafore & Pirates
Dec. 2, 1908 Feb. 24, 1909

*Indicates an approximate date.



  • 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. London: Michael Joseph Ltd.

Further reading

  • Ainger, Michael (2002). Gilbert and Sullivan, a Dual Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Ayre, Leslie (1972). The Gilbert & Sullivan Companion. London: Pan Books Ltd. Foreword by Martyn Green.
  • Baily, Leslie (1966). The Gilbert and Sullivan Book. new ed., London: Spring Books.
  • Baily, Leslie (1973). Gilbert & Sullivan and Their World. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
  • 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.
  • Ffinch, Michael (1993). Gilbert and Sullivan. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Gilbert, W. S. (1976). The Complete Plays of Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc..
  • Gilbert, W. S. (1994). The Savoy Operas. Hertfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.
  • Green, Martyn (1961). Treasury of Gilbert & Sullivan. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc..
  • Hibbert, Christopher (1976). Gilbert & Sullivan and Their Victorian World. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc.
  • James, Alan (1989). Gilbert & Sullivan. Wiltshire, England: Omnibus Press.
  • Jacobs, Arthur (1992). Arthur Sullivan – A Victorian Musician. Second Edition, Portland, OR: Amadeus Press.
  • 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.
  • Williamson, Audrey (1953). Gilbert and Sullivan Opera. London: Marion Boyars.
  • Wilson, Robin; Frederic Lloyd (1984). Gilbert & Sullivan – The Official D'Oyly Carte Picture History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc..
  • Wolfson, John (1976). Final Curtain – The Last Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. London: Chappell & Company Limited.

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