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The Contrabandista, or, The Law of the Ladrones, with libretto by Francis Cowley Burnand and music by Arthur Sullivan was first performed at St. George's Hall, London, under the management of the German Reeds on 18 December 1867. Sullivan and Burnand revised the piece in 1894 and it was produced at the Savoy Theatre that year as The Chieftain.

The Contrabandista Web Opera
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  • Review of the first night from The Era, 22 December 1867.

Introduction

Sullivan's one act opera Cox and Box (1866), with libretto by Frank Burnand, had been enough of a success that both Burnand and Sullivan saw the advantage of continuing their collaboration with a longer work. Sullivan was 25 years old at this time, and Cox and Box was his first operetta. Burnand was an experienced punster on the staff of Punch and the author of dozens of burlesques.

St George's Hall
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St George's Hall

The Contrabandista is a two-act comic opera which was commissioned by German Reed for his newly leased St. George's Hall, where it was first performed on 18 December 1867.

Sullivan followed the Italian comic-opera pattern in writing the finale of the first act as an unbroken chain of numbers with solos, ensembles, and choruses. Also in the first act, a bolero and a cachucha served to indicate the Spanish location of the opera.

Sullivan used a cachucha again in The Gondoliers. In addition, it is interesting to speculate on the identification of the Inez who appears briefly at the end of the second act of The Gondoliers. The Grand Inquisitor, Don Alhambra, described her to Casilda as follows:

His [Luiz's] mother is at present the wife of a highly respectable and old-established brigand, who carries on an extensive practice in the mountains around Cordova. Accompanied by two of my emissaries, he will set off at once for his mother's address. She will return with them, and if she finds any difficulty in making up her mind, the persuasive influence of the torture chamber will jog her memory. If nothing more, it is at least an interesting coincidence.

The Contrabandista was not successful, although it did initially receive some favorable press. The Musical Times stated: "The excellent vein of humor so apparent in this little piece of extravagance [Cox and Box], as well as in the more important Contrabandista, justifies us in the hope that Mr. Sullivan may give us, at no distant date, a real comic opera of native manufacture." Twenty-seven years later Sullivan again joined Burnand in a reworking of this opera called The Chieftain, which ran for 97 performances.

This opera is primarily of interest to us as Sullivan's first two-act comic opera, written four years before Thespis, his first collaboration with Gilbert. The vocal score was published by Boosey & Co. in about 1870. A libretto has not been generally available until now. Doug Whaley produced this libretto from a vocal score in the Cincinatti Public Library combined with dialogue copied by hand at the Library of Congress.


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