Gilbert & Sullivan Revised
The members of the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company have a tremendous respect and appreciation for the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. We even refer to their body of work as “The Canon!”
That is why many of us find it disappointing to see a Gilbert and Sullivan production in which the words and even the music have been changed, as it almost always seems that the changes were made in order to simplify the works, on assumption that Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are too complex or erudite for modern audiences. On other occasions, one wonders if the changes were made because the director or others responsible for the production believed that they were better librettists that Gilbert or more talented composers than Sullivan! They are, of course, almost always wrong … very wrong!
The members of the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company believe that the works of Gilbert and Sullivan can and should stand on their own. We respect our audience and see no need to “dumb down” the operettas for them. In addition, none of us are under the delusion that we are wittier than Gilbert or more brilliant than Sullivan and feel no need to rewrite the operettas simply to demonstrate how clever we are!
We do believe, however, that there are situations in which revisions to Gilbert and Sullivan’s works can be appropriate and even necessary.
The first situation in which revisions may be appropriate is when there is an established tradition of changing Gilbert’s words of a song to make it more topical. One of the best examples of this would be the tradition of writing more current lyrics to Ko-Ko’s, “I’ve Got a Little List” song in The Mikado.
The second situation where revisions may be appropriate is to restore something that was original to the work, but which was later changed, when we believe that restoration will make the operetta a better piece. An example of this would be restoring a second verse to “The Soldiers of Our Queen” in Patience.
The third situation is when changes are necessary and that is when a company decides to produce Utopia, Limited or The Grand Duke. Many years ago, the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company decided that it wanted to perform Gilbert and Sullivan’s final two operettas as legitimate, entertaining pieces. In their original forms, however, these two operettas are all but impossible to stage. The dialogue in both is overwritten, they include some poor music, they contain unfinished plot lines and both are simply too long. In order to produce them successfully, our company understood that it was necessary for both operettas to be substantially edited, rewritten and revised. We did so, on two separate occasions for the two operettas, and subsequently staged both operettas in very successful productions.
The following pages include the most significant revisions that we have made and then staged in our productions. We invite you to review them and welcome you to adopt them for your own Gilbert and Sullivan productions, if you would like to do so.
In particular, we invite you to review our very successful revised versions of Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke, if you are considering the possibility of producing one of those works. We believe that you would find producing these operettas, as revised, to be a delightful experience for both your audience and your company, as it was for us.
“The pain that is all but a pleasure will change
For the pleasure that’s all but pain”