Savoy opera was a style of comic opera that developed in Victorian England in the late 19th century, with W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan as the original and most successful practitioners. The name is derived from the Savoy Theatre, which impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte built to house the Gilbert and Sullivan pieces, and later those by other composer–librettist teams. The great bulk of the non-G&S Savoy Operas either failed to achieve a foothold in the standard repertory, or have faded over the years, leaving the term "Savoy Opera" as practically synonymous with Gilbert and Sullivan. The Savoy operas (in both senses) were seminal influences on the creation of the modern musical.
Gilbert, Sullivan, Carte and other Victorian era British composers, librettists and producers, as well as the contemporary British press and literature, called works of this kind "comic operas" to distinguish their content and style from that of the often risqué continental European operettas that they wished to displace. Most of the published literature on Gilbert and Sullivan since that time refers to these works as "Savoy Operas", "comic operas", or both. However, the Penguin Opera Guides and many other general music dictionaries and encyclopedias classify the Gilbert and Sullivan works as operettas.
Gilbert and Sullivan's early operas played at other London theatres, and Patience (1881) was the first opera to appear at the Savoy Theatre, and thus, in a strict sense, the first true "Savoy Opera", although the term "Savoy Opera" has, for over a century, referred to all thirteen operas that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote for Richard D'Oyly Carte.
During the years when the Gilbert and Sullivan ("G&S") operas were being written, Richard D'Oyly Carte also produced, at the Savoy Theatre, operas by other composer–librettist teams, either as curtain raisers to the G&S pieces, or to fill the theatre when no G&S piece was available. To his contemporaries, the term "Savoy Opera" referred to any opera that appeared at that theatre, regardless of who wrote it.
Aside from curtain raisers (which are listed in the second table below), the G&S operas were the only works produced at the Savoy Theatre from the date it opened (10 October 1881) until The Gondoliers closed on 20 June 1891. Over the next decade, there were only two new G&S pieces (Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke), both of which had comparatively brief runs. To fill the gap, Carte mounted G&S revivals, Sullivan operas with different librettists, and works by other composer–librettist teams. Richard D'Oyly Carte died on 3 April 1901. If the nexus of Carte and the Savoy Theatre is used to define "Savoy Opera," then the last new Savoy Opera was The Rose of Persia (music by Sullivan, libretto by Basil Hood), which ran from 28 November 1899 – 28 June 1900.
After Carte's death, his wife Helen Carte assumed management of the theatre. In 1901, she produced Sullivan's last opera, The Emerald Isle (finished after Sullivan's death by Edward German), and during the run of that opera, she hired William Greet as manager of the theatre. Later that year, she leased the theatre to Greet, who then produced Ib and Little Christina, The Willow Pattern, a revival of Iolanthe, Merrie England (1902) and A Princess of Kensington (1903), each with a cast made up largely of Carte's Savoy company. Cyril Rollins and R. John Witts adopt A Princes of Kensington as the last of the Savoy Operas. After A Princess of Kensington closed in May 1903, Mrs. Carte leased the theatre to unrelated parties until late 1906, when she produced the first of her two seasons of G&S revivals in repertory at the Savoy, with Gilbert returning to direct.
In March 1909, Charles H. Workman leased the theatre, producing three new pieces, including one by Gilbert, Fallen Fairies (music by Edward German). The last of these Workman-produced works came in early 1910, Two Merry Monarchs, by Arthur Anderson, George Levy, and Hartley Carrick, with music by Orlando Morgan. The contemporary press referred to these works as "Savoy Operas", and S. J. Adair Fitz-Gerald regarded Workman's pieces as the last Savoy Operas.
Fitz-Gerald wrote his book, The Story of the Savoy Opera, in 1924, when these other pieces were still within living memory. But over the ensuing decades, the works produced at the Savoy by composers and librettists other than Gilbert and Sullivan were forgotten or infrequently revived. The term "Savoy Opera" came to be synonymous with the thirteen extant works of Gilbert and Sullivan. The first collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan – the 1871 opera Thespis – was not a Savoy Opera under any of the definitions mentioned to this point, as Richard D'Oyly Carte did not produce it, nor was it ever performed at the Savoy Theatre. Nevertheless, Rollins & Witts include it in their compendium of the Savoy Operas, as does Geoffrey Smith. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase as: "Designating any of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas originally presented at the Savoy Theatre in London by the D'Oyly Carte company. Also used more generally to designate any of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, including those first presented before the Savoy Theatre opened in 1881, or to designate any comic opera of a similar style which appeared at the theatre".
The following table shows all of the full-length operas that could be considered "Savoy Operas" under any of the definitions mentioned above. Only first runs are shown. Curtain-raisers and afterpieces that played with the Savoy Operas are included in the next table below.
|Thespis||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Gaiety||26 December 1871||8 March 1872||64|
|Trial by Jury||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Royalty||25 March 1875||18 December 1875||131|
|The Sorcerer||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Opera Comique||17 November 1877||24 May 1878||178|
|H.M.S. Pinafore||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Opera Comique||25 May 1878||20 February 1880||571|
|The Pirates of Penzance||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Bijou, Paignton||30 December 1879||30 December 1879||1|
|Fifth Avenue, NY||31 December 1879||5 June 1880||100|
|Opera Comique||3 April 1880||2 April 1881||363|
|Patience||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Opera Comique||23 April 1881||8 October 1881||170|
|Savoy||10 October 1881||22 November 1882||408|
|Iolanthe||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||25 November 1882||1 January 1884||398|
|Princess Ida||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||5 January 1884||9 October 1884||246|
|The Mikado||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||14 March 1885||19 January 1887||672|
|Ruddygore||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||22 January 1887||5 November 1887||288|
|The Yeomen of the Guard||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||3 October 1888||30 November 1889||423|
|The Gondoliers||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||7 December 1889||20 June 1891||554|
|The Nautch Girl||George Dance & Frank Desprez||Edward Solomon||Savoy||30 June 1891||16 January 1892||200|
|The Vicar of Bray||Sydney Grundy||Edward Solomon||Savoy||28 January 1892||18 June 1892||143|
|Haddon Hall||Sydney Grundy||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||24 September 1892||15 April 1893||204|
|Jane Annie||J. M. Barrie & Arthur Conan Doyle||Ernest Ford||Savoy||13 May 1893||1 July 1893||50|
|Utopia Limited||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||7 October 1893||9 June 1894||245|
|Mirette||Harry Greenbank & Fred E. Weatherly (revised by Adrian Ross)||André Messager||Savoy||3 July 1893||11 August 1894||41|
|6 October 1894||6 December 1894||61|
|The Chieftain||F. C. Burnand||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||12 December 1894||16 March 1895||97|
|The Grand Duke||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||7 March 1896||10 July 1896||123|
|His Majesty||F. C. Burnand, R. C. Lehmann, & Adrian Ross||Alexander Mackenzie||Savoy||20 February 1897||24 April 1897||61|
|The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein[n 1]||Charles H. Brookfield & Adrian Ross||Jacques Offenbach||Savoy||4 December 1897||12 March 1898||104|
|The Beauty Stone||A. W. Pinero & J. Comyns Carr||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||28 May 1898||16 July 1898||50|
|The Lucky Star||Charles H. Brookfield, Adrian Ross, & Aubrey Hopwood||Ivan Caryll||Savoy||7 January 1899||31 May 1899||143|
|The Rose of Persia||Basil Hood||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||29 November 1899||28 June 1900||213|
|The Emerald Isle||Basil Hood||Arthur Sullivan & Edward German||Savoy||27 April 1901||9 November 1901||205|
|Ib and Little Christina||Basil Hood||Franco Leoni||Savoy||14 November 1901||29 November 1901||16|
|The Willow Pattern||Basil Hood||Cecil Cook|
|Merrie England||Basil Hood||Edward German||Savoy||2 April 1902||30 July 1902||120|
|24 November 1902||17 January 1903||56|
|A Princess of Kensington||Basil Hood||Edward German||Savoy||22 January 1903||16 May 1903||115|
|The Mountaineers||Guy Eden||Reginald Somerville||Savoy||29 September 1909||27 November 1909||61|
|Fallen Fairies||W. S. Gilbert||Edward German||Savoy||15 December 1909||29 January 1910||51|
|Two Merry Monarchs||Arthur Anderson, George Levy, & Hartley Carrick||Orlando Morgan||Savoy||10 March 1910||23 April 1910||43|
The fashion in the late Victorian era and Edwardian era was to present long evenings in the theatre, and so full-length pieces were often presented together with companion pieces. During the original runs of the Savoy Operas, each full-length work was normally accompanied by one or two short companion pieces. A piece that began the performance was called a curtain raiser, and one that ended the performance was called an afterpiece. W. J. MacQueen-Pope commented, concerning the curtain raisers:
This was a one-act play, seen only by the early comers. It would play to empty boxes, half-empty upper circle, to a gradually filling stalls and dress circle, but to an attentive, grateful and appreciative pit and gallery. Often these plays were little gems. They deserved much better treatment than they got, but those who saw them delighted in them. …[They] served to give young actors and actresses a chance to win their spurs…the stalls and the boxes lost much by missing the curtain-raiser, but to them dinner was more important.
The following table lists the known companion pieces that appeared at the Opera Comique or the Savoy Theatre during the original runs and principal revivals of the Savoy Operas through 1909. There may have been more such pieces that have not yet been identified. In a number of cases, the exact opening and closing dates are not known. Date ranges overlap, since it was common to rotate two or more companion pieces at performances during the same period to be played with the main piece.
Many of these pieces also played elsewhere (and often on tour by D'Oyly Carte touring companies). Only the runs at the Opera Comique and the Savoy are shown here.
|Dora's Dream||Arthur Cecil||Alfred Cellier||Opera Comique||17 November 1877||7 February 1878*||The Sorcerer|
|The Spectre Knight||James Albery||Alfred Cellier||Opera Comique||9 February 1878||23 March 1878||The Sorcerer|
|28 May 1878||10 August 1878||Pinafore|
|Trial by Jury||W. S. Gilbert||Arthur Sullivan||Opera Comique & Savoy||23 March 1878||24 May 1878||The Sorcerer|
|11 October 1884||12 March 1885|
|22 September 1898||31 December 1898|
|6 June 1899||25 November 1899||Pinafore|
|Beauties on the Beach||George Grossmith||George Grossmith||Opera Comique||25 May 1878||5 August 1878||Pinafore|
|14 October 1878||5 December 1878*|
|A Silver Wedding||George Grossmith||George Grossmith||Opera Comique||part of 1878||Pinafore|
|Five Hamlets||George Grossmith||George Grossmith||Opera Comique||? 1878||12 October 1878||Pinafore|
|Cups and Saucers||George Grossmith||George Grossmith||Opera Comique||5 August 1878*||20 February 1880||Pinafore|
|After All!||Frank Desprez||Alfred Cellier||Opera Comique||16 December 1878*||20 February 1880||Cups and Saucers|
|? Feb. 1880||20 March 1880||Children's Pinafore|
|Savoy||23 November 1895||4 March 1896||Mikado & Grand Duke|
|4 April 1896||8 August 1896|
|7 May 1897||16 June 1897||Yeomen|
|In the Sulks||Frank Desprez||Alfred Cellier||Opera Comique||21 February 1880||?||Pirates|
|21 February 1880||20 March 1880||Children's Pinafore|
|3 April 1880||2 April 1881||Pirates|
|23 April 1881*||2 May 1881||Patience|
|Savoy||11 October 1881||14 October 1881|
|Uncle Samuel||Arthur Law||George Grossmith||Opera Comique||3 May 1881||8 October 1881||Patience|
|Mock Turtles||Frank Desprez||Eaton Faning||Savoy||11 October 1881||22 November 1882||Patience|
|25 November 1882||30 March 1883||Iolanthe|
|A Private Wire||Frank Desprez||Percy Reeve||Savoy||31Mar. 1883||1 January 1884||Iolanthe|
|The Carp||Frank Desprez & Arnold Felix||Alfred Cellier||Savoy||13 February 1886||19 January 1887||Mikado|
|21 February 1887||5 November 1887||Ruddigore|
|Mrs. Jarramie's Genie||Frank Desprez||Alfred Cellier & François Cellier||Savoy||14 February 1888||? Nov. 1889||Pinafore, Pirates, Mikado, Yeomen|
|Captain Billy||Harry Greenbank||François Cellier||Savoy||24 September 1891||16 January 1892||Nautch Girl|
|1 February 1892||18 June 1892||Vicar of Bray|
|Mr. Jericho||Harry Greenbank||Ernest Ford||Savoy||18 March 1893||15 April 1893||Haddon Hall|
|3 June 1893||1 July 1893||Jane Annie|
|Quite an Adventure||Frank Desprez||Edward Solomon||Savoy||15 December 1894||29 December 1894||The Chieftain|
|Cox & Box||F. C. Burnand||Arthur Sullivan||Savoy||31 December 1894||16 March 1895||The Chieftain|
|Weather or No||Adrian Ross & William Beach||Bertram Luard-Selby||Savoy||10 August 1896||17 February 1897||The Mikado|
|2 March 1897||24 April 1897||His Majesty|
|Old Sarah||Harry Greenbank||François Cellier||Savoy||17 June 1897||31 July 1897||Yeomen|
|16 August 1897||20 November 1897|
|10 December 1897||12 March 1898||The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein|
|22 March 1898*||21 May 1898||Gondoliers|
|Pretty Polly||Basil Hood||François Cellier||Savoy||19 May 1900||28 June 1900||The Rose of Persia|
|8 December 1900||20 April 1901||Patience|
|The Outpost||Albert O'Donnell Bartholeyns||Hamilton Clarke||Savoy||2 July 1900||3 November 1900||Pirates|
|8 November 1900*||7 December 1900||Patience|
|The Willow Pattern||Basil Hood||Cecil Cook||Savoy||14 November 1901||29 November 1901||Ib and Little Christina|
|(revised version)||9 December 1901||29 March 1902||Iolanthe|
|A Welsh Sunset||Frederick Fenn||Philip Michael Faraday||Savoy||15 July 1908||17 October 1908||Pinafore & Pirates|
|2 December 1908||24 February 1909|
*Indicates an approximate date.