His Excellency

(Gilbert and Osmond Carr, 1893)

Background | Recordings


After Utopia, Limited, Gilbert and Sullivan went their separate ways once again. Gilbert offered the libretto that was to become His Excellency to Sullivan, but the collaboration unravelled when Gilbert insisted that Nancy McIntosh play the heroine. Sullivan had blamed her for many of Utopia Limited's problems and was simply unwilling to set another opera with her as leading lady.

On the merits, Sullivan was probably right: Miss McIntosh seems to have been a singularly ungifted actress. But, posterity was denied what might have been a great opera. I have not heard the score by F. Osmond Carr, but others tell me it is terrible. The merits of Gilbert's libretto, which are considerable, could not overcome Carr's score.

His Excellency tells the story of one Governor Griffenfeld, who has a propensity for practical joking but winds up the butt of one of his own pranks in the end. It is a most clever story, and with a Sullivan score, it might well have ranked among their better operas. Osmond Carr, however, was no Sullivan, and the opera closed after a disappointing run of six months, despite the presence of George Grossmith, Rutland Barrington and Jessie Bond in the cast.


*** 2001 Terry Hawes Version Dig CD

The only complete recording features Gilbert's libretto (heavily rewritten) and an original score by Terry Hawes, who also conducts. It's a fun if not memorable recording, though so changed as to be practically a new work.

The only recorded excerpts of the Osmond Carr score are two performances of the patter song, "Quixotic is his enterprise." Lloyd Harris sings it on An Evening with W. S. Gilbert: A Musical Biography, and Leon Berger sings on Mr. George Grossmith's Humorous & Musical Recital.