I’d like to be able to report that I now know the plot of The Gondoliers, which is the last big Gilbert & Sullivan I have yet to see. But I can’t. The Kennington & District United Church Choirs Gilbert & Sullivan society has become a victim of its own success. Its performances are unticketed, free and, in the case of last Friday’s, full up. Memo to selves – get there sooner next time.
The gist of the plot I know simply from one song. A young prince, in his infancy, was wed to a young princess. Later the same prince was abducted by the Grand Inquisitor – the latest in a line of G&S officials with far too much power and self-importance and far too little ability – to save the kingdom from falling into the hands of fundamentalist Wesleyan Methodism. The child was fostered with a highly respectable gondolier who raised the boy side by side with his own son. However-
Owing, I’m much disposed to fear,
To his terrible taste for tippling,
That highly respectable gondolier
Could never declare with a mind sincere
Which of the two was his offspring dear
And which the Royal stripling.
The highly respectable gondolier then goes and dies with the identity of the child still unresolved. The Inquisitor goes on to explain to the now grown-up princess:
The children followed his old career
(This statement can’t be parried)
Of a highly respectable gondolier.
Well, one of the two who will soon be here
— But which of the two is not quite clear —
Is the Royal Prince you married!
I only blog this non-achievement now because the chance to play with W.S. Gilbert’s lyrics is always too good to resist. Somewhere in the story Giuseppe and Marco, the two gondolieri (but that’s a vagary, it’s quite honorary) are taught how to deport themselves as befits a (possible) member of the royalty:
I am a courtier grave and serious
Who is about to kiss your hand,
Try to combine a pose imperious
With a demeanour nobly bland …
And somewhere we meet that renowned warrior the Duke of Plaza-Toro:
In enterprise of martial kind
When there was any fighting
He led his regiment from behind,
He found it less exciting.
But when away his regiment ran
His place was at the fore-oh,
That celebrated cultivated underrated nobleman
The Duke of Plaza-Toro!
So there you have it, and there I must leave it until finally I get to see the show. One day I’ll know how it all works out. Or just look it up on Wikipedia, but where’s the fun in that?