The Contrabandista

The Contrabandista, or The Law of the Ladrones, is a two-act comic opera by Arthur Sullivan and F. C. Burnand. It premiered at St. George's Hall, in London, on December 18 1867 under the management of Thomas German Reed, for a run of 74 performances. There were brief revivals in London in 1874 and America in 1880.


In 1866, F. C. Burnand and Arthur Sullivan wrote the one-act comic opera Cox and Box for a private performance at Moray Lodge, where a group of friends called the "Moray Minstrels" gathered regularly. The success of the performance led to productions for charity at the Adelphi Theatre, Thomas German Reed's Gallery of Illustration, and elsewhere.

Buoyed by this success, Reed commissioned a two-act opera from Burnand and Sullivan, The Contrabandista. This opera did not enjoy its predecessor's popularity, and there was no suggestion of any further Burnand–Sullivan collaborations. The Contrabandista was Sullivan's first full-length opera. Although it was not successful, it initially received some favorable notices. The Musical Times wrote: "The excellent vein of humor so apparent in [Cox and Box], as well as in the more important Contrabandista, justifies us in the hope that Mr. Sullivan may give us, at no distant date, a real comic opera of native manufacture."

The piece, however, was hardly ever performed in the 20th century. Fulham Light Operatic Society produced the piece in 1972. A professional concert of the opera in 2002 and a professional recording by Hyperion Records in 2004 revived some interest in the work. Reviewing the 2004 Hyperion recording, Raymond Walker wrote: "Despite a mundane book about Spanish brigands by Frances Burnand (who would later become Editor of Punch) there are good musical ideas in The Contrabandista. These anticipate the more mature Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan fame. In The Contrabandista, Sullivan attempts a good variety of musical styles. At times these are more reminiscent of Offenbach than the German and Italian operatic masters that Sullivan is likened to."

In 1894, when Richard D'Oyly Carte was desperate for a successor to Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia Limited, he commissioned Burnand and Sullivan to revise The Contrabandista. The result was The Chieftain, consisting of a slightly revised first act and a brand new second act. This was not successful, and The Chieftain closed after just three months.


  • Sancho the Lion (1st Lieutenant of the Ladrones) bass-baritone
  • José the Wolf (2nd Lieutenant of the Ladrones) baritone
  • Inez de Roxas (Chieftainess of the Ladrones) contralto
  • Rita (an English lady engaged to Count Vasquez) soprano
  • Count Vasquez de Gonzago (Captain of the Guard) tenor
  • Mr. Peter Adolphus Grigg (a British tourist in search of the picturesque) baritone
  • A Spanish Officer baritone


Act I

The action takes place in the mountains of Spain. Inez de Roxas is queen of a gang of bandits, the Ladrones. Their Captain, Ferdinand de Roxas, has been dead for three weeks, and the band cannot agree whether José or Sancho should replace him. The Law of the Ladrones holds that the first stranger who comes along will become their leader and Inez's new husband.

The Ladrones have abducted Rita, an English lady, in retaliation for the murder of their late captain by her betrothed, Count Vasquez. Inez orders a shepherd boy to take a ransom note to Vasquez. The boy mentions that he has seen a stranger that day. The Ladrones wonder if this could be their new captain.

Peter Adolphus Grigg, an English tourist and amateur photographer, enters in search of pretty scenery. Sancho and José inform him that he is the new Captain of the Ladrones and that he will have to marry Inez. Grigg, who is already married, attempts to leave, but they threaten him with death if he does not comply with the Law. The act ends with Grigg's ritual installation as Captain of the Ladrones.

Act II

Inez is unhappy at the prospect of marrying Grigg. José conspires with her to force Grigg to kill Sancho. They predict that the angry Ladrones would then murder Grigg, leaving her free to marry José. Grigg objects to this assignment, but Inez and José insist that it is the Law of the Ladrones.

Sancho, who has overheard the conversation, conspires with Grigg to fake his death whilst he goes to notify the authorities. When Inez and José learn of Sancho's escape, they light a slow fuse leading to a store of dynamite, as it is the Law of the Ladrones that they must all perish together. They prepare to kill Rita to avenge the late Captain's death.

Vasquez, now in military dress, bursts in with a Spanish officer. All of the Ladrones have been pardoned, aside from their Captain. The officer moves to seize Grigg, but Vasquez assures him that Grigg is innocent. All the Ladrones decide to join the army, and Rita is free to marry Vasquez.

List of Numbers

Act I

  • 1. "Hush! Not a Step" (Sancho, Jose & Chorus)
  • 1a. "Let others seek the peaceful plain! (Inez)
  • 2. "Hand of fate!" (Jose, Vasquez, Sancho, Inez & Rita)
  • 3. "Only the night-wind sighs alone" (Rita)
  • 4. "A guard by night" (Vasquez & Rita)
  • 5. "From rock to rock" (Mr. Grigg)
  • 6. "Hullo! What's that?" (Trio)
  • 7. Bolero (Grigg, Sancho & Jose)
  • 8. Finale Act I: "Hail to the ancient hat!"Act II
  • 9. "Wake, gentle maiden" (Vasquez)
  • 10. "Let Hidalgos be proud of their breed" (Inez & Jose)
  • 11. "My Love, we'll meet again" (Rita)
  • 12. "Who'd to be robber-chief aspire?" (Inez, Jose & Mr. Grigg)
  • 13. "I fired each barrel" (Mr. Grigg)
  • 14. Finale Act II: "Have pity, Sir!"


External links

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