Many Gilbert and Sullivan fans have never heard of their first collaboration, Thespis. The reason is that Sullivan's music is lost except for two songs: "Little Maid of Arcadee" (published as sheet music) and "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain" (reused in The Pirates of Penzance). Since Gilbert's libretto survived, there have been multiple efforts to "reconstruct" Thespis with "Sullivan-style" music. Isaac Asimov even wrote a time travel story in 1978 ("Fair Exchange?") which focused on a character travelling back to 1871 to rescue the score.
Almost half of the plays of William Shakespeare, including Macbeth and The Tempest, might have been lost forever if his friends had not decided to publish a memorial volume after his death. Still, some of Shakespeare's work has probably been lost forever:
There are various references in contemporary documents to a play co-written by William Shakespeare titled Cardenio, which is generally accepted to have been completely lost.
This also applies somewhat to the play Pericles, Prince of Tyre, which only exists in a corrupt, pirated copy. note However, his supposed collaborator George Wilkins wrote a novelization entitled The Painful Adventures of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, which some scholars have attempted to use as a source for reconstructing some of the play's dialogue.
Countless ancient Greek plays have been lost to the historical ether. Of all the ancient Greek playwrights, most are not even represented by a single surviving play, and even of the four best-preserved dramatists, we possess only a meagre portion of their complete bodies of works:
Aeschylus, regarded as the father of dramatic tragedy, is known to have written seventy plays; today, we possess only six or seven (a landmark study by Mark Griffith in 1977 has left the authorship of Prometheus Bound in doubt). Among the lost plays are the second and third plays in the Prometheia trilogy, Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, of which only fragments survive.
Sophocles, the second great Greek tragedian, is credited with 120 plays, but only seven have survived in their entirety. Fragments of a previously lost play of his, The Progeny, were discovered in 2005. The play is part of the Oedipus cycle, and is apparently about the Seven Against Thebes.
The third great Greek tragedian, Euripides, fares only slightly better, with eighteen or nineteen (at least one play's authorship is debated) of over ninety plays surviving. Notably, he is the only Greek tragedian represented by a complete surviving "satyr play" (a burlesque tragicomedy performed in the middle or at the end of a group of tragic plays), The Cyclops.
Aristophanes, the greatest of the Greek comedians, has eleven surviving plays out of around forty.
Menander's Dyskolos ("Grouch") was recovered by archaeologists a few decades since with only thirty-nine lines missing, but is the only specimen of the Athenian New Comedy for enough to survive to make performance theoretically possible.
Claudio Monteverdi completed at least eight operas and may have written as many as eighteen, but only three survive in complete score (the earliest, L'Orfeo, and the last two, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea). Of the remaining operas, we have only a single fragment from two of them (one being the famous "Lament of Arianna" from the otherwise lost L'Arianna, the other being a trio from Proserpina rapita), while the rest are completely missing.note It is speculated that, since the lost operas date from the 1610s and 1620s, the scores were lost in the wars that engulfed Mantua in the 1630s. These fragments only survived because they were published separately.
In a rather strange case, the musical RENT by Johnathan Larson survives in text form and recorded performances. However, what's been heavily sought after is a recording with the full original cast. While the movie survives, it omits several songs and has two alternate cast members. On top of that, the live setting is considered to be far superior and the original performers were acclaimed for their skills. In 2006, a low quality camera recording was recovered of the opening night performance, but it's hard to tell what's going on and everything is distorted beyond all belief. It's believed that a full performance with the original cast exists somewhere, but for some reason nobody will release the full version.