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or, The Law of the Ladrones





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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon

Written by F C Burnand

Composed by Arthur Sullivan

Being a revised and expanded version The Contrabandista

First produced at the Savoy Theatre, London on 12th December 1894


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    1910  —  Bath Operatic and Dramatic Society

    1972  —  Kingsbury Amateur Operatic Society

    1978  —  Sawston

    1994  —  Generally G & S, Retford

    1995  —  Buxton

    1995  —  Dagger Lane Operatic Society, Hull

    1999  —  Denmead Operatic Society

    2000  —  Newcastle University G & S Society

    2006  —  Valley Light Opera Concert version with Orchestra


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      Vocal score of The Chieftain, newly typeset by
    Paul Howarth and including the lost song ‘A lady peers from a tower’.
    Available for purchase from Lulu


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    Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not necessarily represent the views of St David’s Players

    By 1894, the fortunes of the Savoy Theatre had reached something of a low. The quarrel between W. S. Gilbert on one side and Richard D’Oyly Carte and Sullivan on the other side had resulted not just in bitterness, but also in the near ending of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership. The Gondoliers (1889) would be the last great success of the G & S partnership. Utopia, (Limited)  (1893) would only achieve 245 performances and The Grand Duke (1896) just 123.

    D’Oyly Carte had been forced into staging a number of comic operas by other composers. The first of these, The Nautch Girl (written by George Dance, Frank Desprez and with music by Edward Solomon) clocked up a respectable 200 performances during 1891/2 and was popular well into the 1950’s with amateur companies. But from here on the rot began to set in. Grundy and Solomon’s Vicar of Bray achieved only 143 performances, whilst even the combination of Grundy and Sullivan (Haddon Hall (1892)) could only muster 202.

    But there was worse - J. M. Barrie and Arthur Conan Doyle (libretto) and Ernest Ford (music) only reached 50 with Jane Annie - and worse still André Messager’s Mirette in a new English translation only scored 41 - forcing the Savoy to close it’s doors for 2 months.

    In something like desperation D’Oyly Carte turned to Sullivan and suggested a revision and expansion of his 1867 piece, The Contrabandista, written with librettist F. C. Burnand. The piece,
    re-titled The Chieftain, eventually appeared on 12th December 1894 and ran for 97 performances.

    To the audiences of 1894 this rehash must have seemed already old fashioned. Musically, however, it is brilliant early Sullivan and the composer easily matches his musical style of 27 years earlier in the new numbers provided for the piece. The Chieftain certainly maintained a life on the amateur stage up until the 2nd world war, but in recent years it’s fortunes have (unjustly) declined.

    The first post-war indication that there might be ‘life in the old dog yet’ came from Sawston Light Opera Group (Cambridge) in 1978 when they staged a ‘revised version’ by David Eden. Uncharacteristically for Mr Eden, this revision did nothing to improve on Burnand’s original; indeed many claimed that the revision and the poor production by Sawston actually harmed the opera. Certainly Rare Recorded Editions who issued a 2 LP recording seemed to have regretted doing so.

    Mr Eden redeemed himself some years later when in concert with Martin Yates and Generally G & S (Retford UK), they produced a new revised version. This left most of the lyrics intact and the musical numbers in their original order, but rewrote the dialogue and (partially) the plot. What this production did do however, was to prove that there was a charming work in there trying to get out and I personally have always felt that a good period production of Burnand & Sullivan’s original would make for a very enjoyable evenings entertainment.

    The performances at Retford in the mid 1990’s were, however, pre-dated by concert performances in 1986 by the Prince Consort in Edinburgh and recorded by PEARL. The directors of Prince Consort were unhappy with some aspects of the performance and the Contrabandista recording made at the same time, and decided not to offer them for issue. However, some thirteen years later Prince Consort agreed that Chris Webster (Sounds On CD) could issue the recordings on a limited basis.

    The criticism that I often level at other Prince Consort recordings, (pace and mis-casting), do not apply here. My one gripe with both Contrabandista and Chieftain is that the lengthy introduction to Grigg’s first song is absent. At the Savoy, the number of items retained in Chieftain from the earlier work (all from Act One) varied as the run progressed. In the case of this recording, five of the original seven numbers are retained, but as the remaining two can be heard on the Contrabandista recording, that is really of no consequence.

    Of the missing numbers, Rita’s ‘Only the night wind’ is replaced by the enigmatic ‘A lady peers from a tower’, a number which, if it was actually performed at all, never made it into the published vocal score, despite the fact that there were two editions. The existence of the piece was known through the fact that the text appeared in print. The music only existed in an orchestral fantasia on themes from the opera and is here reconstructed. Inez’ ‘Let others seek’ is replaced by the alternative ‘My parents were of great gentility’.

    Of other numbers written specifically for The Chieftain, ‘There’s no one, I’m certain’ and ‘We quite understand’ are definite highlights from Act Two, and an Act One highlight being the trio ‘’Tis very hard to choose’.

    Of the principals all the Contrabandista forces retain their equivalent parts in the later work, with the exception of Ian Lawson who plays the Spanish Officer in the earlier work. That part is not present in Chieftain and Ian therefore acquits himself excellently as Pedro Gomez, the Ladrone’s Notary.

    Dolly, Mr Grigg’s wife, is well played by Jane Borthwick and the Orchestra under the direction of David Lyle, is excellent.

      Hear ‘’Tis very hard to choose’

      Hear ‘A lady peers from a tower’

      Hear ‘There’s no one, I’m certain’

      Hear ‘We quite understand’

    The Sounds On CD issue has the catalogue number VGS 204 and it is worth contacting some to the distributors on the links page if you wish to obtain a copy.