You are here: Archive Home > HMS Pinafore > Reviews > First Night Review from
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Title

27 May 1878.


After a long career of success, the comic opera, The Sorcerer, written by Mr. W. S. Gilbert and composed by Mr. Arthur Sullivan, was displaced on Saturday by a new work by the same author and composer. The piece — which is in two acts — is entitled H.M.S. Pinafore; or, The Lass that Loved a Sailor.

A very slight plot serves as a vehicle for that pungent satire and burlesque humour in which Mr. Gilbert especially excels. The first scene introduces us to the quarter-deck of H.M.S. Pinafore, commanded by Captain Corcoran (Mr. Rutland Barrington) whose daughter Josephine (Miss E. Howson) is secretly beloved by Ralph Rackstraw (Mr. Power), one of the captain's sailors. The First Lord of the Admiralty, the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B. (Mr. G. Grossmith, jun.), pays a visit to the ship and harangues the sailors on the subject of the equality of men, encouraging "independence of thought and action in the lower branches of the service," and inculcating the principle that "a British sailor is any man's equal excepting mine" (i.e., the speaker's). This emboldens the humble foremast-man to declare his love to Josephine, whose father had intended her to marry Sir Joseph. Ralph, being at first rejected, avows his determination to shoot himself, when Josephine relents, and an elopement is decided on, the preparations for which close the first act.

The character of a bumboat woman, nicknamed "Little Buttercup" (Miss Everard) — introduced in the first act — appears more prominently in the second, throwing out hints that "things are seldom what they seem," and indicating some hidden mystery to be soon disclosed. Josephine's rejection of the First Lord is attributed by him to her sense of her inferiority in rank, and he gives her his "official opinion" that "love is a platform on which all ranks meet," a statement that confirms the young lady in her choice of Ralph. One of the sailors, Dick Deadeye (Mr. R. Temple), a caricature misanthrope, who has been prognosticating evil throughout the first act, now discloses to the captain the intended elopement, which is frustrated, and Ralph is seized for punishment. This is suspended by a disclosure from Little Buttercup to the effect that, when formerly following the profession of baby-farming, the then infants, now Captain Corcoran and the sailor Ralph, were confided to her care, and she "mixed those children up," Ralph being really the patrician, and the other "of low condition." This avowal is followed by the entry of both, in reversed costume, and all ends happily. Ralph is united to Josephine; the ci-devant captain takes the bumboat woman; and Sir Joseph is accepted by his cousin, Hebe (Miss J. Bond), one of the many lady relations who accompany him in his boating visit to the ship.

The piece abounds in sly strokes of satire and quaint humour, as, for instance, where the First Lord of the Admiralty narrates how he rose to his position, closing with the advice:

Stick close to your desks, and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's navee.

Another of his avowals being:

  But when the breezes blow,
I generally go below.
And seek the seclusion that a cabin grants.

Which is followed by a refrain from his female relatives:

And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts.

A similar response being frequently introduced elsewhere with ludicrous effect.

Among other telling points was the caricature of the old style of nautical ballad in the lines sung by Bill Bobstay, the boatswain, in defence of Ralph:

He is an Englishman!
For he himself has said it;
And it's greatly to his credit
That he is an Englishman;
For he might have been a Roosian,
A French, or Turk, or Proosian,
Or perhaps Itali-an!
But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman.

As in the Sorcerer, there are some sly hits at the conventional opera style, in the use of recitative, and in the choral reiterations of solo phrases, with change of pronoun from the singular to the plural. Mr. Sullivan's music is written in a congenial tone, being full of vivacity and impulse, with occasional passages of sentiment and expression, strongly marked melody prevailing throughout. Among the most effective pieces may be specified:– Josephine's ballad, "Sorry her lot;" her scena, "The hours creep on;" the duet for her and Ralph, "Refrain, audacious tar;” his ballad, "A maiden fair;" the very spirited ensemble at the close of the first act, (the latter part encored); the captain's sentimental song, "Fair Moon;" the sprightly trio, "Never mind the why and wherefore" (the concluding portion encored); the Boatswain's solo already referred to (forcibly declaimed by Mr. Clifton, and encored); a well-written octet, "Farewell, my own," for the principal characters; and a bright (final) duet, "Oh, joy," for Josephine, and Ralph.

Miss Howson's clear and pure soprano voice and refined and unaffected style rendered full effect to the music of her part. Miss Everard gave a very clever interpretation of the character assigned her, and was especially successful in the duet with the captain in the first act (sic), and her song in the second act, in which the disclosure is made. Mr. Grossmith displayed much quiet humour, and due appreciation of the caricature of his part, and gave his narrative song with much effect; having had to repeat the latter portion. Mr. Power, in his ballad and in concerted pieces, displayed a light tenor voice of very agreeable quality; and acted the part of the sentimental lover well; and Mr. Barrington was a capital representative of the captain; and although suffering from a severe cold, for which an apology was made he went through the music creditably, having been encored in the song in which the captain addresses his crew.

The piece is well placed on the stage with a beautiful scene of the quarter deck of the ship and Portsmouth the distance (painted by Messrs. Gordon and Harford), the costumes are good, and the orchestra and chorus well selected and thoroughly efficient. Mr. Sullivan conducted, and he and the author were called on, as were the principal performers. Judging from its reception, the piece seems likely to have a long run.

Archive Home  |  HMS Pinafore | Reviews

    Page modified 29 March 2010 Copyright © 2010 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive All Rights Reserved.