Synopsis: The Gondoliers


The Piazetta, Venice (Date, 1750)

The two Gondoliers, Marco and Giuseppe, are so handsome and have such winning ways that they have completely turned the heads of the pretty contadine. Marco and Giuseppe are nonplussed as to whom to choose as their brides. They decide to solve the problem by allowing themselves to be blindfolded, whilst the contadine and their superfluous gondolier admirers dance round Marco and Giuseppe. In the ensuing game Marco catches Gianetta, and Giuseppe, Tessa. The remaining contadine accept their fate and pair off with the previously ignored gondolieri. They all run off merrily to get married.

As they disappear a gondola stops before the steps of the Piazetta. From it emerge the Duke and Duchess of PlazaToro, their daughter Casilda and their suite, consisting of “His Grace’s private drum,” Luiz. They are dressed as befits their noble station, but their clothes are a little the worse for wear. They have brought their daughter Casilda from Spain. The Duke demands an audience with Don Alhambra, the Grand Inquisitor.

While Luiz is on the errand the Duke reveals to Casilda that when she was a six months old babe she was married by proxy to the infant son of the wealthy King of Barataria. The King of Barataria subsequently became a Wesleyan Methodist of a most bigoted and persecuting type. The Grand Inquisitor, determined that such an innovation should not be perpetuated in Barataria, stole the youthful heir to the throne and conveyed him to Venice. A fortnight later the Barataria King and his Court were all killed in an insurrection.

Casilda, therefore, is now Queen of Barataria. But the whereabouts of the new King is not definitely known. Casilda, unfortunately, is in love with someone else-her father’s “private drum,” Luiz-and they are both despondent at the sad thought of what the future must bring.

Don Alhambra, the Grand Inquisitor, who now approaches and is introduced to Casilda, explains that when he stole the youthful Prince of Barataria, he brought him to Venice and placed him in the family of a highly respectable Gondolier, who had a son of the same age. The Gondolier, through a fondness for drinking, muddled up the two children, and when the Inquisitor went to fetch the Royal Child he found it impossible to tell which was which. This news is received rather philosophically The only person who can possibly tell is the foster mother of the Prince, Inez (who is Luiz’ mother) . Luiz is sent to fetch her.

Giuseppe and Marco now return with their newly-wed wives. Don Alhambra (whom at first they mistake for an undertaker) informs them that either Giuseppe or Marco is the King of Barataria, and that until the mystery is unravelled they must take up the reins of government as one individual. They may take all their friends with them-all, that is, except the ladies, who must stay behind. This is rather a blow, but they are assured that the separation will be only for a short period. A boat is then brought, and the Gondoliers clamber aboard with Giuseppe and Marco, whilst the contadine wave a tearful farewell.


A Pavilion in the Court of Barataria
(three months later)

Both Marco and Giuseppe, when they were Gondoliers, had ideas on Republican government, and they have reorganized the state on their idealistic principles. The result is somewhat chaotic, but they seem to enjoy it, and as the act opens they are seen cleaning the royal crown and sceptre whilst they sit, clad in magnificent robes, on the royal throne. If they want anything done they have to do it themselves. In a delightful little song, “Of happiness the very pith,” Giuseppe outlines his day’s work as a monarch about the palace. Only one thing is missing, they feel-it is dull without female society.

Scarcely have they confessed the fact when the contadine run in, led by Fiametta and Vittoria. Curiosity is the cause of the invasion, though they know they were strictly forbidden to come. They are all very excited. Tessa and Gianetta are anxious to know if their husbands have anyone to mend the royal socks, and if it is known yet which of them is to be queen.

In honour of their arrival Giuseppe and Marco announce a grand banquet and dance. In the middle of a brilliant cachucha there is an unexpected interruption. Don Alhambra enters. He is astonished at the scene, and tries, by quoting an example, to explain where their theories of government are wrong.

He announces the arrival of Casilda. One of them, he says, Marco or Giuseppe (whichever is the real King of Barataria), is married to the beautiful Casilda, and is, of course, an unintentional bigamist if he has married one of the contadine in the meantime. Poor Tessa and Gianetta are very upset. By the light of this new exposure, one of them is married and one of them is not. But they cannot tell which it is. They burst into tears.

Meanwhile Casilda is afraid that she will never learn to love her husband. The Duchess is firm. “I loved your father,” she says, and proceeds to explain how she married and “tamed” him. The Duke has turned his social prestige to account and has become a limited company. His daughter feels that there is hope that when the King sees what a shady family he has married into he will refuse to recognize the alliance. Both the Duke and the Duchess repudiate the statement that their transactions are shady in a delightful duet, “To help unhappy commoners”.

Marco and Giuseppe explain the state of the country and the attitude of their subjects towards them. The Duke, in the famous Gavotte, “I am a courtier,” instructs them on the correct demeanour of a king, which they try, very awkwardly, to adopt. Marco and Giuseppe are tactfully left alone with Casilda, but Gianetta and Tessa come in, and they all discuss the highly complicated problem of exactly who is married and who is not.

They are interrupted by Don Alhambra, who enters, accompanied by the Duke and Duchess and all the court of Barataria. Inez, the foster-mother of the Prince has been found. She alone can unravel the mystery. Inez is brought forward. She confesses that when she took care of the royal prince, and there was an attempt to steal the child, she substituted her own little boy. The traitorous bands never knew the difference, and the child she slyly called her “son” is none other than the King of Barataria.

Luiz is, therefore, the King. Casilda and Luiz are reunited, and everything ends happily, much to the secret relief of Marco and Giuseppe.

Plot summary from The Victor Book of the Opera, RCA Manufacturing Co., Camden, NJ, 1936
[found at the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive]

Next appearance

Your next chance to see the Society on stage at Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline will be on 13–15 February 2025 for the première run of The Jury’s Out.

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