The Gondoliers involves a pair of handsome Venetian gondola oarsmen and a mix up of identities at birth. Along the way to resolving the confusion, Gilbert skewers issues of social equality and the class system with his usual brilliant wit and groundbreaking lyrics. When The Gondoliers premiered in London in 1889, it was given the highest critical acclaim from local media and from England’s Queen Victoria herself, who was so moved that she wrote extensively in her personal diary of the show’s inescapable charm. One journalist reviewing the production wrote, plainly, “it is not opera or play. It is simply entertainment – the most exquisite entertainment we have ever seen.”
While most Gilbert & Sullivan operettas are strictly set within the confines of the composer’s home country of England, The Gondoliers score was widely influenced by a visit Sullivan made to Italy in 1888. Italian folk dances such as the tarantella and saltarello jostle with other vivacious national dances such as the cachucha (a fast gypsy dance from Spain) and operatic influences including Bellini, Bizet, Handel and Mozart.