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12 November 1878


Last evening was produced at the Gaiety Theatre the new comic opera by Messrs. Sullivan and Gilbert, entitled "H.M.S. Pinafore; or, the Lass that Loved a Sailor." It has only been within very recent years that works of this peculiar character have been attempted with any success. Indeed, as in the case of "The Sorcerer" and “Trial by Jury," it may be said that it is of a newly-invented school, in which the joint authors have the field all to themselves. It is, therefore undoubtedly an original school in this, that there has been nothing quite like it before. No doubt, there have been burlesques with comic songs of all sorts, there have been musical extravaganzas of the opera bouffe class, and many sketches in which music and words are contributed simply with a view to fun; but in the three pieces mentioned, and perhaps more especially in the one under notice, the plot and text reach the climax of eccentricity and humorous absurdity of that peculiar, almost indescribable kind in which Mr. Gilbert seems to revel, whilst Mr. Sullivan has caught up the notion marvellously, and made music that illustrates his subject with all befitting appropriateness.

Before going further it may be well to mention here that the house was well filled, and that the audience seemed highly pleased with the opera — to give it its most dignified name. The truth is, it is an irresistibly entertaining production.

If we mistake not, the author of the libretto has already treated the subject, or something very like it, in a Bab Ballad where a certain “Captain Reece of the Mantelpiece," in order to please and gratify his crew," married his lovely daughter to them, and wound up by marrying the widowed mother of the boatswain. In H.M.S. Pinafore the vessel is supposed to be lying off Portsmouth, and Josephine (Miss Douglas [sic] Gordon), the daughter of the noble-minded and polite Captain Corcoran (Mr. Michael Dwyer), "who never swears a big, big D," has fallen in love with Ralph Rackstraw (Mr. C. Campbell). The noble minded captain becomes indignant at this, and orders his daughter to renounce her lover. Josephine finds out that her lover is prepared to commit suicide for her sake; she avows her lover, and an elopement is arranged.

The scheme, however, is frustrated by one Dick Deadeye, who tells the proud but courteous parent, and the latter, overcome by the excitement of the moment forgets his habitual caution and employs language so strong that he is ordered to a dungeon on board by his superior officer, Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B. (Mr. J. H. Ryley), who from the humble position of attorney's errand boy has risen to be First Lord of the Admiralty. This K.C.B. is a most comical character, who expresses very peculiar views as to discipline, self-respect, and independence of thought and action in the lower branches of the service, and sings a song illustrating his peculiar theories, of which the sailors learn the sentiment. Just at this point a bumboat woman (Miss Fanny Edwards), whose looks and accents are very deeply mysterious, comes on the scene and announces that she has gipsy blood in her veins, that she can read destinies, and is altogether a very remarkable person.

She foretells a change in store for the captain; states, or rather sings, that in times gone by she was a baby-farmer, and that she changed certain children left in her care, “mixed those children up," that they grew up, and one became Captain Corcoran and the other Ralph Rackstraw. Thereupon, without further reasoning or delaying for any legal proof or other formality, the two change positions, dress; and dignities. Ralph marries Josephine; the captain weds the bumboat woman, his old nurse; and the First Lord of the Admiralty takes his cousin Hebe (Miss Cummins).

The music is remarkably clever. It is not, generally speaking, quite so catching as that of the "Sorcerer," nor is there the same approach to originality. The overture is extremely well written. In the first act there is a very pretty ballad for Ralph — "A maiden fair to see," very carefully and effectively sung by Mr. Charles J. Campbell, who possesses a good tenor voice, and has the merit of always singing in tune. There is also a good song for the Captain — "I am the captain of the Pinafore." But perhaps the best thing in the piece is the song for Sir Joseph — "When I was a lad." It is modelled upon the judge's song in "Trial by Jury" and explains, among other matters, how, when an office boy in an attorney's office, he polished up the handle of the big front door and

Polished up the handle so carefulee
That now he is the ruler of the Queen's navee.

Mr. Ryley suits it capitally, and received a very warm encore. An indescribably comical effect was produced by a party of marines stationed on board presenting arms and going through other military manoeuvres, keeping time with the air.

There are several well-constructed passages throughout the work, and many of the concerted passages are most effectively scored. The trio for "the First Lord," the Captain, and Josephine, "Never mind the why and wherefore," for instance, is very skilful, and was right well sung. Mr. Michael Dwyer made a very good captain, and sang all his music tastefully, especially the air, "Fair moon, to thee I sing.” Miss Douglas Gordon and Miss Fanny Edwards, as Josephine and the bumboat woman respectively, were very good. The choruses were all well sung, notably the finale of the first act, which closely resembles the chorus beginning, "Now for the tea of our host," in the "Sorcerer."

In conclusion, it may be, confidently predicted that the new comic opera will be one of the greatest successes of the season. It is splendidly put on the stage. The scene, the quarterdeck of H.M.S. Pinafore is complete in every detail; the dresses are most appropriate and effective, and the orchestra, under the direction of M. Van Biene, extremely good.

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