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Art Isn't Easy

February 2, 2023

by Mary Donofrio

Despite their fruitful collaboration, Gilbert and Sullivan often quarreled when developing a new piece. Sullivan often found Gilbert’s plots to be repetitive and unrealistic, and felt his artistic growth as a composer was being stifled. Sullivan requested to leave their partnership several times, and produced extensive solo work. During their feuds, their producer, Richard D’Oyly Carte, was able to keep the public interest by running revivals of their earlier works.

But their most famous dispute was not over their creative work at all. In 1890, after the run of The Gondoliers, Gilbert took issue with D’Oyly Carte when he used the production’s money to replace the carpeting in the entire theatre. Carte and Gilbert got into an argument, and Gilbert later wrote to Sullivan about his concerns over Carte’s management of the theatre. Sullivan was hesitant to pursue the issue because Carte was in the process of building a new theatre that would house English Grand Opera, and the premiere work was Sullivan’s operatic adaptation of Ivanhoe. This dispute dragged on throughout the year, with Gilbert breaking off his association with both Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte, and a court case, which ruled that Carte owed Gilbert an additional 1,000 pounds. Once the case was settled, Gilbert and Sullivan went on to write two more operas together, with D’Oyly Carte producing, but their working partnership was strained for the remainder of their collaboration.