Arthur Sullivan

H. M. S. Pinafore (The Lass that Loved a Sailor), operetta

    Description by John Palmer

    In April 1878, Gilbert and Sullivan toured the deck of H.M.S. Victory, taking copious notes and making drawings of everything from the riggings to the sailors' uniforms. The librettist and composer wanted the visual aspect of their new operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore, to be as accurate as possible. Gilbert even ordered the costumes from a naval supplier. Such attention to detail, and the procedures Gilbert used to create the scenery and rehearse the actors, would become typical of the team's working method from H.M.S. Pinafore on.

    It was H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor that established Gilbert and Sullivan as a creative force to be reckoned with in British comic theater. The operetta opened at the Opéra Comique Theatre in London on May 25, 1878. The first performance in the United States took place at the Boston Museum on November 25, 1878. This was pirated and modified from the British production. The vogue for H.M.S. Pinafore in the U.S. was unprecedented, and by March 1879, eight different theaters were running the operetta, while in Philadelphia another six houses staged the piece simultaneously; one of these was the first version translated into German. Producer Richard D'Oyly Carte brought the original, British version of H.M.S. Pinafore to New York in the summer of 1879. He felt the great success of pirated versions in the U.S. would prompt audiences there to attend the original production; plus, he was annoyed that he and the authors received no royalties for the American performances. Gilbert, too, was unhappy with the situation: "I will not have another libretto of mine produced if the Americans are going to steal it. It's not that I need the money so much, but it upsets my digestion." On December 1, 1879, the D'Oyly Carte production of H.M.S. Pinafore opened in New York to great acclaim.

    Gilbert's libretto has everything necessary to create a comedy. The captain's daughter, Josephine, is being courted by two men, one a sailor (Ralph Rackstraw) and the other the Admiral of the British Navy (Sir Joseph Porter). To make things more complicated, a former nurse, Little Buttercup, exchanged two babies many years earlier.

    Sullivan's music, however, was responsible for the long-term success of H.M.S. Pinafore. After a great first night, attendance dwindled drastically. In August, Sullivan assembled a few numbers from the show into a medley for a concert at Covent Garden that rekindled interest in the stage work. Eventually, H.M.S. Pinafore would run nearly 700 performances. Sullivan's melodies are what make the show memorable. From the opening sailors' chorus to Little Buttercup's simple aria, H.M.S. Pinafore abounds with unforgettable tunes. Sir Joseph's "When I Was Lad" is a patented Sullivan patter song that looks ahead to the Major-General's song in The Pirates of Penzance. In the stirring chorus, "A British Tar Is a Soaring Soul," we hear Handelian ornamental passages, and Sullivan parodies contemporary patriotic songs in "He is an Englishman." The most popular number from the show is the second-act Trio, "Never Mind the Why and Wherefore."

    Gilbert's leading comic figure in H.M.S. Pinafore, Sir Joseph Porter, is based on Gilbert's contemporary, W.H. Smith, whom Disreali appointed First Lord of the Admiralty although Smith had never been on a ship. As Gilbert explained in 1908: "You would naturally think that the person who commanded the entire Navy would be the most accomplished sailor...but that is not the way in which such things are managed in England."

    Parts/Movements

    1. Overture
    2. No. 2, We sail the ocean blue
    3. No. 3a, Hail, men-o'-war's men
    4. No. 3b, I'm called little Buttercup
    5. No. 4a, But, tell me
    6. No. 4b, The Nightingale
    7. No. 4c, A maiden fair to see
    8. No. 5a, My gallant crew
    9. No. 5b, I am the Captain of the Pinafore
    10. No. 6a, Sir you are sad
    11. No. 6b, Sorry her lot who loves too well
    12. No. 7, Over the bright blue sea
    13. No. 8a, Sir Joseph's barge is seen
    14. No. 8b, Gaily tripping, lightly skipping
    15. No. 9, I am the monarch of the sea
    16. No. 10, When I was a lad I served a term
    17. No. 11, A British tar is a soaring soul'
    18. No. 12, Refrain, audacious tar
    19. No. 13a, Can I survive this overbearing
    20. No. 13b, Oh joy, oh rapture unforseen
    21. No. 13c, Let's give three cheers for a sailor's bride
    22. No. 14a, Entr'acte
    23. No. 14b, Fair moon, to thee I sing
    24. No. 15, Things are seldom what they seem
    25. No. 16, The hours creep on apace
    26. No. 17, Never mind the why and wherefore
    27. No. 18, Kind Captain, I've important information
    28. No. 19a, Carefully on the tiptoe stealing
    29. No. 19b, He is an Englishman
    30. No. 19c, Did you hear him?
    31. No. 20, Farewell my own
    32. No. 21, A many years ago
    33. No. 22, Oh joy, oh rapture unforseen

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2016
    Linn Records
    CKD 522
    2015
    Warner Classics
    550572
    2014
    Jay Records
    JAY 1412
    2013
    Albany Music Distribution
    TROY 1459/60
    2011
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099909508
    2011
    Decca
    2011
    Decca
    4782748
    2008
    EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    5099921343
    2007
    Decca
    2004
    Avid / Avid Entertainment
    138
    2003
    Decca
    473639
    2003
    Castle Pulse
    PBXCD468
    2003
    Ter Records
    1259
    2003
    Decca
    473 631-2DX24
    2001
    EMI Music Distribution
    74468
    2001
    Symposium
    SYMPCD1293
    2001
    Naxos
    8 110175
    2000
    Pearl
    GEMMCD0096
    1999
    Jay Records
    1324
    1999
    Telarc / Teldec
    80500
    1997
    London / Polygram/London
    455160
    1996
    Romophone
    89002-2
    1994
    Telarc Distribution
    80374
    1993
    EMI Music Distribution
    64397
    1989
    London
    414283
    MCA
    11012
    That's Entertainment Records
    1150
    Happy Days/Conifer
    253