“For the merriest fellows are we, tra la,
that ply on the emerald sea, tra la;
with loving and laughing,
and quipping and quaffing,
we’re happy as happy can be, tra la!”
The Gondoliers or The King of Barataria
April 8 to 24, 1994
While W.S. Gilbert enjoyed poking fun at the institutions of his day, he loved even more to aim his darts at idealists who tried to improve them. If Utopianism is the idea that man can create a perfect social order if he tinkers long enough, then the Savoy operas reflect Gilbert’s poor opinion of man as tinkerer. Royalty, the House of Lords, the Courts of Chancery (or dare I say Congress?) all have frailties work mocking, but Gilbert saw man as the source of those frailties rather than the institutions themselves. Reform only replaces one kind of silliness with another.
In The Gondoliers, Marco and Guiseppe use their sudden advancement to make Barataria a republic where all departments are equal and everyone is the head of his department. The only way the two can justify their privileges as kings is to work harder than anyone else at court – which means setting the table and taking turn as palace guards along with more traditional duties. Gilbert contrasts their work ethic with that of the “shady” Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro who, though penniless, would rather cash in on their rank then an honest day’s labor. However, the Grand Inquisitor is on hand to ensure that the rightful heir to the throne is found, no matter who he is or how he has been raised. The real king, when revealed, has no more obvious leadership ability than anyone else on stage, true love notwithstanding. But in Barataria, as in any other of the G&S worlds, it really doesn’t matter.
Two excellent internet resources for information about The Gondoliers: