Grand Inquisitor

“The presiding officer of a court of inquisition” (250). The famous Spanish Inquisition was formed by Ferdinand and Isabella at the request of the Pope. Although dedicated to strengthening the Catholic faith, it was under the control of the state rather than of the Pope, whose influence was limited to naming the presiding officer (called the “Grand Inquisitor” in some countries, the “Inquisitor General” in others). The tribunal had a permanent staff of state employees with its head office at the capital; its influence was felt and dreaded until well into the nineteenth century (54, 77, 105, 229, 250).

Here the Grand Inquisitor takes one name, “Alhambra,” from the Moorish palace at Granada; and the other, “Bolero,” from a Spanish dance in triple time. He may well be modeled after Tomás de Torqemada (1420-1498), the Spanish Inquisition’s infamous first Grand Inquisitor (34). The fact that he was selected by the Pope may explain why Don Alhambra was residing in Venice rather than somewhere in Spain. More to the point, however, is the fact that when Gilbert set out to write the words Sullivan was vacationing in Venice and both realized that there was a perfect setting for a comic opera (27).