(Arthur Sullivan and Julian Sturgis, 1891)

Background | Recordings


Contemporary Drawing
Contemporary Drawing of the Original Production

For most of his career, Arthur Sullivan was exhorted by his contemporaries to turn his attentions to Grand Opera. This he finally did only in 1890, when his collaboration with Gilbert and his most creative years were all but behind him. Richard D'Oyly Carte took the unprecedented step of building a brand new theater to give Sullivan's opera a home.

Ivanhoe opened at the Royal English Opera House on 31 January 1891. It enjoyed a run of 155 nights — an unqualified success for a work of this type. Carte's plans evidently were to create a new school of English opera, much as the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership had created a new school of English operetta, but he was unable to find a worthy successor to Ivanhoe. Soon after, the Royal English Opera House was in liquidation.

There is no consensus about where Ivanhoe stands in the composer's output. Some consider it an unjustly neglected masterpiece, while others find the work tedious and uninspired. Julian Sturgis's prosaic libretto must certainly bear some of the blame, but in agreeing to set it, Sullivan must have thought it worthy of his time and his talents. Regardless of what the scholars think, posterity has practically ignored Ivanhoe. The work has not had a fully-staged production in living memory. With the publication of an excellent professional recording in early 2010, curious listeners can at least judge the work for themselves..


* 1970s Beaufort Opera Mono LPCass
** 1989 Prince Consort Ster CD
***** 2009 Chandos Dig CD

Two selections from the opera, "O moon art thou clad" and "Ho! Jolly Jenkin," are included on the 1998 CD Sullivan & Co.: The Operas that Got Away.