powered by FreeFind


The Mountebanks

click to enlarge

A comic opera in 2 acts by W.S. Gilbert. Music by Alfred Cellier.

Musical Director: Ivan Caryll; choreography: John D'Auban; scenery: T. E. Ryan; costumes: Percy Anderson

Lyric Theatre, London - 4 January, 1892 (229 perfs)
Garden Theatre, New York - 11 January, 1893 (47 perfs)

Original London Cast included:

Frank Wyatt, Arthur Playfair, John Moore, Charles Gilbert, J. G. Robertson, Harry Monkhouse, Lionel Brough, Cairns James, J. Furneaux Cook, Cecil Burt, Gilbert Porteous, Frank Walsh, Geraldine Ulmar, Jessie Moore, Lucille Saunders, Marjorie Field-Fisher, Aida Jenoure, Emmeline Orford, Eva Moore, Marie Studholme


The story is set in the banditti land.

Tthe first act is spent establishing the characters and their situations before the ending of the act presents them with the potion which will change their characters and relationships. In this case the potion which makes everyone be what they are pretending to be.

The principal characters include Arrostino, a brigand chief, and his band who have come down from their Sicilian mountains to take wives at the rate of one per day from amongst the village maidens. The first, Risotto, has just brought home his Minestra. News arrives that a Duke and Duchess are about to pass by and the inefficient band plot how they may relieve the nobles of their money.

The bandits decide to disguise themselves as monks and the Duke is to be lured to their abbey by Minestra posing as a wounded old woman.

We now meet Alfredo, a handsome villager, who is in love with Teresa who is in love with no-one but herself. Alfredo in his turn is adored by Ultrice, the innkeeper's plain niece, who follows him around everywhere. When the innkeeper decides that he needs to practise his etiquette before the arrival of his noble guests, Ultrice jumps at the chance to impersonate a Duchess with Alfredo as her Duke.

A band of mountebanks arrive amongst the locals. Pietro and his performers Nita and Bartolo have a pair of automata, Hamlet and Ophelia, which they hope to sell to the Duke who is an aficionado of such things, but the dolls have been held up at Customs because they have no passports. Pietro encourages his artistes to take the place of the dolls until they can be hurried to the spot.

Suddenly there is an explosion. The old alchemist who lives on the first floor has finally succeeded in blowing himself up irretrievably and all he leaves behind, apart from the copper ha'pence he has been trying to turn into the rent money, is a bottle of 'magic' potion. Pietro persuades Nita and Bartolo into taking some of it in order effectively to become the missing dolls. He dilutes it in his winesack and is horrified to see the rest of the company cheerily partaking of the drink. Everyone becomes what he pretends to be. The bandits are now monks, Minestra an old woman, Alfredo and Ultrice are nobles, Nita and Bartolo are clockwork dolls and Teresa, who had sarcastically fainted with love at the 'Duke's' feet, becomes besotted with Alfredo.

The second act presents everyone in his new guise. Pietro can restore all by simply burning the label of the bottle, and he is anxious to do so as he pretended the potion was poison to stop the others taking it and he is now dying of the 'poison'. But Ultrice has stolen the label so that she may retain Alfredo and she is only made to relent when Teresa who has gradually gone mad threatens to throw herself off a mountain. The label is burned and all returns to normal as the curtain falls.


Musical numbers

Overture: Cellier's Suite Symphonique

Act I

  1. Chaunt of the Monks and We are members of a secret society (Men's Chorus and Giorgio)
  2. Come, all the Maidens (Chorus)
  3. If you please (Minestra and Risotto)
  4. Only think, a Duke and Duchess! (Chorus and Minestra)
  5. High Jerry Ho! (Arrostino and Male Chorus)
  6. Teresa, Little Word and Bedecked in Fashion Trim (Alfredo)
  7. It's my Opinion (Teresa)
  8. Upon my word, Miss (Ultrice, Teresa, Alfredo, and Elvino)
  9. Fair maid, take pity (Alfredo, Teresa, Ultrice, and Elvino)
  10. Tabor and Drum (Female Chorus, Pietro, Bartolo, and Nita)
  11. Those days of old and Allow that the plan I devise(Nita, with Bartolo and Pietro)
  12. Oh luck unequalled ... I'm only joking .... Oh, whither, whither, whither, do you speed you? (Ultrice, Teresa, and Alfredo)
  13. Finale Act I (Ensemble)

Act II

  1. Entr'acte (By Ivan Caryll)
  2. I'd be a young girl if I could (Minestra and Risotto)
  3. All alone to my eerie (Teresa)
  4. If I can catch this jolly Jack-Patch (Teresa and Minestra)
  5. If our action's stiff and crude (Bartolo and Nita)
  6. Where gentlemen are eaten up with jealousy (Bartolo, Nita, and Pietro)
  7. Time there was when earthly joy (Chorus (with Soprano and Contralto solo), Arrostino, and Pietro)
    20a. OPTIONAL SONG: When your clothes, from your hat to your socks (Pietro) (By Ivan Caryll)1
  8. The Duke and Duchess hither wend their way (Luigi, Arrostino, Alfredo and Chorus)
  9. Willow, willow, where's my love? (Teresa)
  10. In days gone by (Alfredo, Teresa, and Ultrice)
  11. An hour? Nay, nay. (Ultrice)
  12. Oh, please you not to go away (Chorus, Pietro, Elvino, Alfredo, Ultrice, Bartolo, Nita)
  13. Ophelia was a dainty little maid (Pietro, Bartolo, and Nita)
  14. Finale (Ensemble)