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 when we  see a Gilbert and Sullivan production in which the words and even the music have been changed. It often seems that the changes were made either in order to simplify the works, on the assumption that Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are too complex or erudite for modern audiences or because the director or others responsible for the production believed that they were better librettists than 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 may be appropriate or are actually 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 in which revisions may be appropriate is to restore something that was original to the work, but which was later changed, when there is a reasonable belief that the 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.

A third situation is one in which revisions actually become necessary.  This is when Gilbert’s nineteenth century, Victorian sensibilities are significantly at odds with our modern sensibilities.  Overall, we grant Gilbert a great deal of latitude, understanding that his occasional problematic representations are an acceptable reflection of the world of his day.  An example of this would be Lord Mountararat’s chauvinistic pronouncement in Iolanthe, “This comes of women interfering in politics,” which may have been a matter-of-fact statement in Gilbert’s day, but now is heard as comic and always draws good natured “boos and hisses” from modern audiences.  There are, however, other situations in which revisions are essential due to an aspect of Gilbert’s works which was acceptable in his day, but is now unacceptable to modern audiences.  A longstanding example of this would be the practice of eliminating a particularly offensive racial reference that Gilbert uses in both Princess Ida and The Mikado.  The need for more comprehensive revisions is the case for Princess Ida, with its overt sexism and The Mikado, with its implicit racism.  As a socially conscious, progressive arts organization, the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company has chosen to respond to both of these concerns with the revisions that are detailed in the revision pages for these two operettas.

The fourth and final situation in which revisions are necessary 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 with both operettas, on two separate occasions, and subsequently staged very successful productions.  

We invite you to use of our revised versions of Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke, if you are considering the possibility of producing one of those works.  As it was for us, we believe that you would find producing these operettas, as revised, to be a delightful experience for both your audience and your company.

The following pages include the most significant revisions that we have made and staged in our productions or will do so in the future.  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.

“The pain that is all but a pleasure will change
For the pleasure that’s all but pain”

—The Full Company
Patience