Cover to cast recordingThe Contabandista

or The Law of the Ladrones

2-act Comic Opera. Libretto by F.C. Burnand. Music by Arthur Sullivan.

St George's Opera House, London - 18th December, 1867 (72 perfs)

Produced in a revised form as The Chieften - Savoy Theatre, London 12 December, 1894


Act I

The scene is set in the wildest part of the mountainous country between Compostello and Seville. A band of brigands has kidnapped Rita, the English fiancée of Count Vasquez, who, in retaliation for the kidnapping has killed Ferdinand de Roxas, the leader of the brigand band. Since Ferdinand is now dead, the band must choose a new leader. According to the Law of the Ladrones, this leader must be the first stranger who passes by. The scene opens with two of the brigands, José and Sancho, on the look-out for that unsuspecting stranger. The same person must also marry the brigand queen, Inez de Roxas, who sings a song of courage and fortitude. The brigands now despatch a shepherd's boy to fetch a ransom for Rita: the shepherd with him turns out to be none other than Count Vasquez (Rita's separated lover) in disguise, who has come into the mountains to rescue her. The shepherd informs the Company that he has just seen the longed-for stranger — a foreigner — approaching. José, Sancho, Rita, Inez and the shepherd (Vasquez, we remember, still in his disguise) sing a powerful quintet, each musing on the likely course of events.

Rita is left alone and sings a song contrasting the shepherd's happiness with her own loneliness. But the old shepherd now approaches, and reassures Rita; finally he reveals himself, and he (Vasquez) and Rita sing a rapturous duet of love and restored hope.

Adolphus Cimabue Grigg, an English traveller, now enters. He has come with his camera to capture the local scenery. But he himself is captured — by Sancho and José, the brigand lieutenants — as the first stranger to pass. José and Sancho celebrate with a call to dance the bolero, a request which mystifies Mr Grigg. He is informed by the brigands that he must become leader of the band, and husband to Inez.

The ancient rites of the Ladrones now commence with a flamboyant Dance. Mr Grigg is duly invested with the Sacred Hat of office, and the Company sing and dance in celebration.

Act II

The second act opens with a song from Count Vasquez, who, in his capacity as an old shepherd, is acting as guard to Rita. His place is taken by Sancho, who promptly falls asleep. José and Inez now enter. They have formed a plot to kill Sancho, so that they are free to marry each other. According to their scheme, the new captain (Mr Grigg himself) will kill Sancho, and then be killed in his turn in retaliation by the rest of the band. The two sing a stirring duet.

Rita, alone, sings of her increasing concern, and of her hope that Vasquez will come to the rescue.

Sancho, however, has overheard the plot while ostensibly asleep, and now warns Grigg of what is planned. Fulfilling his fears, in a blood-curdling trio, Inez and José inform Grigg that he must provide them with Sancho's head. Overwhelmed, Grigg now also falls asleep.

Sancho now decides to desert his comrades, leaving Grigg to the mercy of Inez and José. On Inez and José re-entering, Grigg describes to them his desperate but unavailing attempts to despatch Sancho. Rita now seeks his aid which he gallantly offers, but the situation is saved by Count Vasquez, who enters with a group of soldiers. The brigands decide to join the army, Count Vasquez and Rita are reunited, and Mr Grigg returns with relief to London. The opera ends in high spirits as all join in a general dance.

Musical Numbers

Act 1

  1. Introduction
  2. Duct and Chorus … Hush! Not a step … Sancho, José
  3. Song … Let others seek the peaceful plain … Inez
  4. Quintet … Hand of Fate! … José, Vasquez, Sancho, Inez, Rita
  5. Song … Only the night wind sighs alone … Rita
  6. Duet … A guard by night … Vasquez, Rita
  7. Song … From rock to rock … Mr Grigg
  8. Trio … Hullo! What's that? … José, Sancho, Mr Grigg
  9. Dance
  10. Finale Act 1 … Hail to the ancient Hat! … All

Act II

  1. Song … Wake, gentle maiden … Vasquez
  2. Duet … Let Hidalgos be proud of their breed … Inez, José
  3. Song … He will return … Rita
  4. Trio … Who'd to be Robber-Chief aspire … Inez, José, Mr Grigg
  5. Song … I fired each barrel … Mr Grigg
  6. Finale Act 2 … Have pity, sir! … All


  • Rita (Soprano)
  • Inez (Alto)
  • Vasquez (Tenor)
  • José (Baritone)
  • Mr. Grigg (Baritone)
  • Sancho (Bass)
  • Officer (Tenor)