|HMS Pinafore > Reviews > Review of the 1880 Tour at Sheffield
"H.M.S. PINFORE" AT THE THEATRE ROYAL.
The droll compositions which have made the names of Gilbert and Sullivan famous possess a mirth-provoking power which even the most aesthetic must acknowledge, and those who care for comic opera will be delighted with the return of D'Oyly Carte's Company to Sheffield, especially as they intend to produce both "Pinafore'' and "The Sorcerer" at the Theatre. Perhaps it is rather disappointing that lovers of Gilbert's libretto and Sullivan's music in the provinces, should have to wait so long before they can enjoy the new opera "The Pirates of Penzance; or Love and Duty” which is creating such a sensation both in New York, and at the Opera Comique in London; but in "Pinafore” and "The Sorcerer" they have two admirable antidotes for their impatience.
Not since the autumn of 1878 has "The Sorcerer" been presented here, but it is still fresh in the minds of many people. In fact, after once making the acquaintance of the grotesque "John Wellington Wells,” it is neither easy to forget him, nor "the charms and spells" in which he so freely deals. That a city firm should send out a traveller in sorcery to force blessings and curses and love philtres upon unsuspecting villagers is a novel idea even in the days of 19th century commercial enterprise, but this is the foundation on which the "Sorcerer" is based, and the characters and incidents that spring out of it are full of humour, whilst the music is alternately weird and sparkling.
Of "Pinafore" it is not necessary to say much. The comic opera, given with such success by D'Oyly Carte's company last night at the Theatre, was here in October last, and must be well remembered, for it is a simple and amusing story – a clever burlesque of naval manners and discipline, with a merry charm difficult to efface from one's mind. No matter how often "Pinafore is repeated, "time does not wither nor custom stale its excellent variety." It is always new, always pleasing, full of bright, joyous life and action, with its remarkable crew, its extraordinary officers, its grotesque tars, its wonderful ruler of the Queen's “navee," Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., and his amusing sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts.
In the United States its popularity was even greater than at home, probably because the Americans rejoiced in the clever burlesque upon our Admiralty; anyhow the enthusiasm in New York was so boundless that nothing would satisfy them but a real ship "Pinafore"upon the stage, with the shores of a lake for scenery. It is indeed hard to believe that they did not wall in and roof the Atlantic, so as to have a little ocean of their own.
The favour with which the opera has been received in England, although not so frenzied, has been almost as great, and one remarkable evidence of its popularity was the production of the "Children's Pinafore'' at the Opera Comique, last Christmas. London has never – well, hardly ever – seen anything better than this baby "Pinafore," and parents who had hitherto looked with horror upon the theatre, took their children gladly to see the juvenile First Lord and sweet Little Buttercup, and to laugh at the fresh and spontaneous humour of the youngsters commanded by Captain Corcoran.
The opera was first produced in London in May, 1878. It is based upon the romantic passion of Ralph Rackstraw, a common sailor, who "loves a lass above his station," and is never tired of distributing the intelligence:–
The lady for whom he has dared to pine is Josephine, the captain's daughter, but her father is anxious that she should wed Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., who is probably the kneeling world of wealth spoken of in the ballad. Both suitors woo the maiden, but she favours the common sailor, "so peerless in his manly beauty," and Jack [sic] Rackstraw finally becomes, not only Josephine's husband, but the captain of the Pinafore, and a right good captain too.
The opera was presented to a large house last night by Mr. D'Oyly Carte's Company, and created quite as much amusement as heretofore. Mr. Richard Mansfield's severely dignified manner as Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., the talented First Lord, "who has stuck to his desk and never gone to sea," was ridiculously comic, and his extraordinary advice to the sailors was enough to make "laughter hold both his sides." Ralph Rackstraw, the sailor in love with the captain's daughter, had a manly and accomplished exponent in Mr. James Sydney, who has a very pleasing voice, and sang admirably, especially in the charming ballad, "A maiden fair to see." Mr. Lithgow James made a stately and impressive commander of the Pinafore; and Mr. Arthur Rousbey as Dick Deadeye, the ugly, croaking seaman, had a peculiar talent for making himself dramatically repulsive; whilst Mr. Fitzaltamont, Junior, who took the character – the very little character – of Tom Tucker, the midshipmite, was wonderfully amusing.
To Miss Ethel M'Alpine great praise must be given, for as Josephine, the captain's daughter, she sang with intelligence, and acted with modesty and grace. Miss Madge Stavart was a very "sweet Little Buttercup.” A vivacious, merry girl, she threw her whole heart into the character, and seemed to enjoy the romp on the deck of the "Pinafore" even more than the little middy. The aria, "For I'm called Little Buttercup," she gave very sweetly, and her singing throughout was characterised by clearness of enunciation. As Sir Joseph’s First Cousin, Hebe, Miss Duggan took her part gracefully, and very cleverly led the remarkable refrain, “And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts."
The humour for which "Pinafore" is distinguished was well interpreted, and the music and scenery were bright and attractive.
The opera was preceded by an entertaining vaudeville in one act, written by Mr. Frank Desprez, and composed by Mr. Alfred Cellier, entitled "In the Sulks.” Miss M. Duggan sustained the principal character, Mrs. Liverby, and manoeuvred her husband into a good temper by means of that wit which is supposed to be the special attribute of woman. "Pinafore" will be repeated to-night and to-morrow, and the "Sorcerer" on Thursday.
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