PROGRAM NOTES FOR GILBERT AND SULLIVAN SHOW
Opera Roanoke, April 26, 1998
This afternoon we are presenting excerpts from two of Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular operettas, Patience and H.M.S. Pinafore. In the first of these, Patience, the village milkmaid, is loved by the poet Reginald Bunthorne, who is in turn loved by twenty lovesick maidens. The maidens are, however, loved by the members of the 35th Dragoon Guards, led by Col. Calverly. Eventually everybody finds a mate except for Bunthorne (which is rather strange since the subtitle of the operetta is Bunthornes's Bride).
Patience actually contains more direct contemporary satire than any other of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Its target was the aesthetic movement which flourished in Britain between 1870 and the mid-1880's, and introduced the new religion of beauty as a reaction against the ugliness of the Victorian age.
The principal male cast members are parodies of Victorian poets. Reginald Bunthorne, the Fleshly Poet, is a thinly-disguised portrait of Oscar Wilde, while it is believed that Archibald Grosvenor, the Idyllic Poet, represents Algernon Swineburne.
Certainly, the aesthetic movement was more affected than most, and lent itself naturally to ridicule and satire. In 1878, Oscar Wilde, who personified more than any other person the excesses of aestheticism, arrived in London from Oxford, clutching his sacred lily, waxing enthusiastic about blue and white china and the paintings of the pre-Raphaelites and describing Henry Irving's legs as "distinctly precious."
Shortly after, Wilde made a lecture tour of the United States, always walking to the podium dressed in aesthetic, velvety clothes and clutching a lily in his hand. This tour, of course, was promoted by Rupert D'Oyly Carte, the Gilbert and Sullivan impresario, as a promotion for the operetta's upcoming tour in the U.S.
Gilbert's original sketch for Patience involved two curates (assistant pastors of the Church of England); this sketch actually was published as a Bab Ballad entitled "The Rival Curates." Being persuaded that this subject matter might be considered offensive by the Victorian public, Gilbert changed the protagonists to poets. A vestige of the original version remains in the first act finale, when Bunthorne proposes to raffle himself off "in aid of a deserving charity."
Patience had its premiere on April 23, 1881, and was an instant success. Among the eight numbers which were encored that night were the lovely madrigal "I hear the soft note;" the duet "Prithee pretty maiden;" and other numbers which are on this afternoon's agenda.
H.M.S. Pinafore or The Lass that Loved a Sailor has a plot more akin to that of the typical Italian Opera. The soprano, Josephine (Captain Corcoran's daughter) and the tenor, Ralph Rackstraw (a sailor on the Captain's ship) are in love and want to get married. Three baritones--the Captain, Sir Joseph (the Ruler of the Queens Navee) and the hideously ugly sailor Dick Deadeye--do their worst to prevent the match. But omnia vincit amor, with a little help from the bumboat woman, Little Buttercup.
H.M.S. Pinafore was Gilbert and Sullivan's fourth opera, and their first great success. It opened on May 25, 1878, and ran for a total of 571 performances. Early on in its run , it seemed that Pinafore might be a flop. But Sullivan conducted some of the music at the summer promenade concerts at the Royal Opera House, whereupon the public took to Pinafore's tuneful melodies and immediately started coming to hear it at the Opera Comique.
The character of Sir Joseph Porter was drawn from W.H. Smith, First Lord of the Admiralty in Disraeli's government. Smith had been appointed to his Admiralty post with no previous naval experience whatsoever. Ever thereafter he was, to his great discomfiture, universally known as "Pinafore Smith." "When I was a lad" was even played by a Royal Marine band when Smith went down to launch a ship at Devonport, even though the Port Admiral had given strict orders that no music from Pinafore was to be performed.
Much of the material given here is paraphrased from The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, Ian Bradley, ed. (Oxford Univ. Press, 1996)
The Cast: (P)=Patience; (HMS)=H.M.S. Pinafore
Nancy McDuffie. Patience and Lady Ella (P); Josephine (HMS).
Clarity James: Lady Jane (P); Little Buttercup (HMS).
Scott Williamson. Archibald Grosvenor and the Duke of
Dunstable (P); Ralph Rackstraw (HMS).
Allen Huzsti. Col. Calverly (P). Capt. Corcoran and the
Bosun's Mate (HMS).
Paul Zweifel. Reginald Bunthorne (P).Sir Joseph Porter (HMS).
Clare Fischer-Davies. Lady Saphir (P); Cousin Hebe (HMS).
Bud Brown. Major Murgatroyd (P); Dick Deadeye (HMS). Chorus
Megan Weinstein. Lady Angela (P). Chorus.
Amelia Ball. Chorus.
Joe Ball. Chorus.
Wade Fortin. Chorus.
Dan Foster. Chorus.
Colleen Hawkins. Chorus.
Sarah Piper. Chorus
Narrator: Craig Fields
James Bryant. Piano.
Bud Brown. Percussion.
Michelene Morin. Cello
Jason Price. Trumpet.
Costumes and props: Marylou; Judy Crowgy
Musical Direction: James Bryant.
Produced by Paul Zweifel