Musical partnerships are pretty common. Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Simon and Garfunkel are just a few that come to mind easily. It is undeniable that the musical partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan is just as much a household name as the rock and roll duos we’ve mentioned.
Composing more than a dozen operas together this team collaborated on songs and scores for twenty-five years. In our list of operas today we thought focusing on Gilbert and Sullivan. Both were born in London, six years apart, and met when John Hollingshead introduced them to work on Thespis for a Christmas performance.
From then on the two worked to produce operas that have been loved by millions. Here we go with a list of a few operas penned by Gilbert and Sullivan.
1. The Pirates of Penzance
One of their most popular operas this musical score tells the story of Frederic who is a pirate apprentice. His commitment is going to be completed on his twenty-first birthday and he informs the king of the pirates that he will be on his way shortly afterward. Frederic was not meant to be a pirate and was only in their care because of a misunderstanding by his nurse maid.
Ruth also lies to Frederic and tells him that for women, which he has seen no other besides her, she is in fact beautiful. At first he believes her but then Ruth is rejected when Frederic finds younger, more attractive women. He implores that one of them marry him and Mabel, the youngest consents.
Before they can wed the girls’ father, Major-General Stanley arrives and puts his foot down that he will not take on pirates as husbands for his daughters. He also tells the pirates that he is an orphan, knowing that they have a vow to never rob another orphan since they are all orphans themselves. The concede to their vow and let Stanley take his daughters home.
Frederic joins the girls and their father and helps the local police attempt to attack the pirates. He also learns that the Major-General is not an orphan. Yet, before any of this can take place Ruth and the pirate king return to let Frederic know that he hasn’t fulfilled his obligation to the pirates and must return.
When Frederic goes back to the pirates to fulfill his duties once promised he reveals to the gang that the Major-General is not an orphan. After learning of his lie the pirate king decides to get revenge. The police strike at the pirates but are taken over by the crew. It is revealed in the end by the nurse maid Ruth that the pirates are indeed men of nobility and they are all set free.
Frederic and Mabel are reunited and the other lasses pair off with the group of former pirates.
This opera surrounds a fairy by the same name. She married a human, which under the law of fairies, is a capital offense. Iolanthe is first sentenced to death but the Queen intervenes and instead she is exiled but will only be so if she leaves her husband and never speaks with him again.
Still, twenty-five years later Iolanthe has not returned. The other fairies beg their Queen to pardon her because they miss her terribly. Iolanthe is released from the dark frog-infested stream where she had been banished.
Iolanthe is pardoned by the Queen. Once she is set free Iolanthe reveals that she has a son who is half fairy and half human. They all laugh when meeting him because she looks too young to have a son that has aged so much. Fairies never age while humans do.
Stephon, Iolanthe’s son, falls in love with Phyllis, a ward of Lord Chancellor’s court. Phyllis is unaware that Stephon is half fairy. Lord Chancellor denies because he has a secret desire to marry her himself and doesn’t believe Stephon, a shepherd, is good enough for her.
He calls upon his mother to help him win his love but when Phyllis and other members of the community see Stephon hug Iolanthe they think he is being unfaithful. Stephon tries to explain that Iolanthe is his mother but they don’t believe him and Phyllis vows to marry anyone but him.
It comes down to a choice between Lord Tolloller or Lord Mount Ararat to marry Phyllis because Lord Chancellor does not believe it moral that he takes her for himself since she is his ward. Phyllis cannot decide and leaves it up to them. At first the Lords plan to duel but then they realize that they rather be friends then waste one of their lives for Phyllis’ hand.
Eventually Phyllis learns that Iolanthe is, in fact, Stephon’s mother and the two lovers reconcile. They beg her to speak to Lord Chancellor on their behalf but she reveals that she can’t. Chancellor was her husband back in the day and if she even speaks to him she breaks fairy law again and will be sentenced to death.
3. The Mikado
This Gilbert and Sullivan opera is set in the town of Titipu, where a man named Nanki-Poo is searching for Yum-Yum, who is a ward of Ko-Ko. Nanki-Poo loves Yum-Yum but she has been promised to her guardian Ko-Ko.
Ko-Ko has been sentenced to death for flirting, which has been outlawed by the Mikado. Yet Ko-Ko has also been given the position of Lord High Executioner and cannot decree his own execution. So he is released from prison and the wedding is set for that day to marry Ko-Ko and Yum-Yum.
When they are finally together Yum-Yum reveals to Nanki-Poo that she does not want to marry Ko-Ko while he divulges that he, Nanki-Poo, is the son of the Mikado. The couple comes to the conclusion that their love is in vain and Yum-Yum leaves, which causes Nanki-Poo to attempt suicide.
The Mikado informs Ko-Ko that if a beheading isn’t executed within a month he will lose his title as Lord High Executioner and Titipu will lose its prestige. When Ko-Ko learns that Nanki-Poo tried to commit suicide he sentences him to a beheading since by doing this he committed a capital crime.
Nanki-Poo begs to marry Yum-Yum for one month before he is executed. When he is Ko-Ko can marry her because she will be a widow. The Lord High Executioner agrees and the wedding between Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo is set.
As the wedding being prepared Yum-Yum learns that the widow of a beheaded man must be put to death my being buried alive. Unable to commit his love to such a tragic death he decides to call off the wedding. Ko-Ko has the documents drawn up to execute Nanki-Poo.
The Mikado pulls into town and when realizing his son was set for execution, sentences Ko-Ko and the other noblemen to death unless they can bring Nanki-Poo to him alive. When found Nanki-Poo does not want to see his father because he is already married to Yum-Yum and has been promised to Katisha.
Ko-Ko agrees to marry Katisha and soon the Mikado stops all executions.
4. M.S. Pinafore
A ship with the same named is docked in Portsmouth, while the sailors are doing their duties. A vendor who sells on the docks, Little Buttercup, boards the ship to attempt sales. She eludes to a deep dark secret while she appears happy on the outside.
This is when Ralph, who is the smartest of the fleet, proclaims his love for Josephine, the daughter of the Captain. All the crew sympathize at his unrequited love except for Dick Deadeye, who is typically unattractive and dark.
The Captain comes out and speaks with the crew. He gives them accolades for their respect. Then, when they leave, Captain Corcoran tells Little Buttercup that his daughter is not happy with his choice in marriage partners for her. This is when Josephine enters and tells her father she doesn’t love Sir Joseph, whom the Captain prefers.
The Captains daughter confesses to him that she loves a lowly sailor from his crew. Still, she realizes it is her duty as his daughter to do as he wishes, so despite her despair she will never let the sailor know that she loves him.
Sir Joseph arrive to claim his bride with a slew of sisters, cousins, and aunts. Meanwhile, Ralph decides to pronounce his love to Josephine, which he does. Josephine hides her feelings for Ralph even though she loathes Sir Joseph but will keep her word to her father.
Feeling rejected Ralph plans to shoot himself in the head. Just as he is about to pull the trigger comes back and confesses her love for him. The couple plans to elope but Dick Deadeye, who hears their plan, cautions the decision.
Sir Joseph grows weary of waiting for Josephine to agree to marry him. The Captain suggests to Sir Joseph that he explain to Josephine that “love levels all ranks,” which he does and Josephine agrees. The men leave happy while Josephine becomes resolves to elope right away.
Dick Deadeye tells the Captain of the elopement plans and when learning of it the Captain confronts them before they can leave the ship. Ralph and Josephine declare their love for each other. Meanwhile Little Buttercup reveals the secret she has been keeping, which throws positions on the ship upside down.