The G&S Canon

Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on 14 operettas in the 25-year period from 1871 to 1896. These 14 operettas constitute the most frequently performed series of operettas in history. They are still being performed regularly throughout the English-speaking world. The dates and performances shown are for the initial run.


Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old (December 26, 1871; Gaiety Theatre; 64 performances)

The Gods on Mount Olympus are old and tired, so decide to take a vacation to earth while a group of travelling actors take their place. Most of the music for this opera has been lost, so it is played today only in reconstructions using either other Sullivan music, or original music. A rare exception is “Climbing Over Rocky Mountains” which was used in The Pirates of Penzance. The general theme was used again in The Grand Duke.


Trial by Jury, (March 25, 1875; Royalty Theatre; 131 performances)

Hijinks in a courtroom, as a jilted woman sues her wayward fiancé for breach of promise to marry.

Written to accompany the presentation of an Offenbach piece at London’s Royalty Theatre, it is the only operetta with no spoken dialogue and is only 40 minutes long. The first production featured Sullivan’s brother Fred as the Learned Judge.

The Society staged Trial By Jury as its first full production in 1946.


The Sorcerer, (November 7, 1877; Opera Comique; 178 performances)

With the help of a love potion, everyone in the village is in love — with the wrong person.

This operetta saw the casting of a young performer named George Grossmith in the “patter” role of John Wellington Wells, the first of nine such characters that he created for Gilbert and Sullivan.

The Society staged The Sorcerer for the first time in 1977.


H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass That Loved a Sailor (May 28, 1878; Opera Comique; 571 performances)

The captain’s daughter and a common sailor on his ship fall in love. The first smash hit G&S opera, and one of the Big Three today.

Due to the then licensing arrangements in Australia by JC Williamson, the Society could not stage this production until 1968.


The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty (April 2, 1880; Opera Comique; 363 performances)

A young pirate just out of his “indentures” in love with Mabel, Major General Stanley’s ward, while the rest of the pirate crew want to marry the general’s other wards. Also one of the Big Three G&S operas.

Another JC Williamson favourite, the Society’s first production was in 1971.


Patience, or Bunthorne’s Bride (April 23, 1881; Opera Comique; 578 performances at both Opera Comique and Savoy Theatre)

A satire of the Aesthetic movement. The county girls are in love with two poets while the poets are both in love with Patience, the village milkmaid. The men of the Royal Dragoon Guards don’t see the point to aestheticism, but decide they had better give it a try to win the women’s love.

This was the first of the operettas to be performed in the purpose built Savoy Theatre.

First performed by the Society in 1950, its last production in 2006 starred Society Patron Dennis Olsen as Bunthorne.


Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri (November 25, 1882; Savoy Theatre, 400 performances)

Strephon, an Arcadian shepherd, wants to marry Phyllis, a ward in Chancery, as do most of the House of Lords and the Lord Chancellor. Strephon, who is half fairy — down to the waist, calls upon his magical relatives for help and they wreak havoc in the Houses of Parliament. Stephon’s mother, Iolanthe, pleads his cause but at a terrible cost to her.

Taking advantage of the Savoy Theatre being a pioneer in the use of electricity, the fairies in the original cast all sported illuminated wings.

A perennial favourite of the Society, it was first staged in 1959.


Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant (January 5, 1884; Savoy Theatre; 246 performances)

Princess Ida prefers the pursuit of knowledge to marriage and retreats to Castle Adamant to run a women’s college. The men first infiltrate, then invade, the castle. The only three act G&S operetta and the only operetta written in blank verse .

Another early production of the Society, staged in 1957.


The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu (March 14, 1885; Savoy Theatre; 672 performances)

Opera Japanese. Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, becomes the Lord High Executioner for Titipu, while Pooh-Bah is Lord High Everything Else. A wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo, (the Mikado’s son in disguise to avoid marriage to the hideous Katisha), is in love with Yum-Yum, Ko-Ko’s ward. The situation gets complicated when Ko-Ko executes Nanki-Poo. The most popular G&S Operetta, and perhaps the most popular operetta ever.

The second most staged operetta by the Society, it was first staged in 1948.


Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse (January 21, 1887; Savoy Theatre; 288 performances)

None of the village girls stand a chance at marriage because all the village lads love Rose Maybud, but are too shy to court her. Robin Oakapple also loves Rose, but when he becomes the Baronet of Ruddigore, the family curse requires him to commit one major crime a day or die in agony. The ghosts of his ancestors step from their picture frames to confront him for not conscientiously carrying out this duty.

Another early Society production, first performed in 1953.


The Yeomen of the Guard, (October 3, 1888; Savoy Theatre; 423 performances)

Set in Tudor times at the Tower of London and featuring a male chorus of Tower Warders in their red uniform. Colonel Fairfax, sentenced to die in an hour on a false charge of sorcery, marries Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer. But then he escapes, causing complications. At the end Elsie’s boyfriend, Jack Point, dies of a broken heart. The most serious of the repertoire and the nearest that G&S came to grand opera.

A Society favourite, staged 12 times since 1949.


The Gondoliers, or The King of Barataria (December 7, 1889; Savoy Theatre; 554 performances)

One of two just-married Republican gondoliers is the King of Barataria, but no one knows which one. As Barataria needs a king to put down unrest in the country, they travel there to reign jointly, leaving their wives behind. Meanwhile a family of impoverished Spanish nobles travel to Venice so that their daughter can claim her husband, the King. A fine romp, with lots of bright music and dancing.

Written by Gilbert and Sullivan at the height of their powers, equality is very much the theme, both in terms of the characters and the partnership between the two collaborators.

The most popular Society operetta, it has been performed 14 times since 1951.


Utopia, Limited, or The Flowers of Progress (October 7, 1893; Savoy Theatre; 245 performances)

Having a rather idealistic view of England and the English people, King Paramount of the south sea island of Utopia decides that his people should adopt all English customs and fashions, and that the kingdom should become a “company limited.”

The most extravagantly staged and costumed of the operettas when mounted by the Savoy, Utopia features a very large cast and includes characters from other G&S operettas such as the Lord Chancellor (Iolanthe) and Captain Corcoran (HMS Pinafore).

Utopia has only been staged twice by the Society, once in 1978 and most recently in 1989.


The Grand Duke, or The Statutory Duel (March 7, 1896; Savoy Theatre; 123 performances)

Ludwig, an actor, replaces Rudolph, the miserly Grand Duke of Pfennig Halbfennig, after “killing” Rudolph by drawing the Ace in a statutory duel. By assuming all of Rudolph’s obligations, he soon finds himself with far more wives, and prospective wives, than he knows what to do with. The least successful (some say underrated) of the G&S operettas.

Famous for a running joke requiring the eating of a sausage roll as a password, the operetta has only rarely been staged and is the only performable operetta not yet tackled by the Society. But who knows what the future might bring?


With reference from