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INTRODUCTION

Visitors to the archive might benefit from a fuller history of the role of Hebe. H.M.S. Pinafore was originally intended to have two contralto parts, as had been the case in the prior opera, The Sorcerer. Harriet Everard (formerly Mrs. Partlet) was to play Little Buttercup, and Mrs. Howard Paul (formerly Lady Sangazure) was to play Hebe. There is an obvious parallelism here, as Mrs. Partlet and Buttercup are both lower class roles, while Lady Sangazure and Hebe are both snobbish upper class roles. (Properly speaking, Hebe is an arriviste — not upper class by birth.)

Mrs. Paul's vocal capabilities were in decline at this point, and she may not have been a great singer to begin with. So, they decided to bring in a new character, the First Relative, who would sing all of the musical passages. Jessie Bond was hired to play this part. Mrs. Paul was to remain in what was now the speaking role of Hebe.

Gilbert remained unhappy with Mrs. Paul, and it seems she bristled at the idea of a younger actress coming in to assume part of her role. In any event, Mrs. Paul was dropped from the opera. The parts of Hebe and First Relative were coalesced, with Hebe being the surviving part (sans dialogue).

Many factors may have contributed to the decision to cut Hebe's dialogue. It is true that Jessie Bond, who was trained primarily as a singer, might have had difficulty with a speaking role. It is also true, as the archive page points out, that the dialogue as written really was not suitable for the young, vivacious, pretty Miss Bond. It had been written for one of Gilbert's elderly ladies — which Mrs. Paul was, and Miss Bond was not.

Mrs. Paul also was an established "star," and the dialogue for her was apparently designed to highlight her unique comic talents. Gilbert may have had second thoughts about the material itself. Companies that restore the Hebe dialogue often justify their actions with the belief that, if only Jessie Bond had had more acting experience at this stage of her career, Gilbert would have left the lines in. There is no proof that this is the case, and it seems doubtful.

It is debatable whether the extra lines improve the opera — even assuming that one has an actress who can interpret them skillfully. Many observers, I think, have concluded that these lines detract from the opera's otherwise tight construction. It should also be pointed out that Gilbert reused some of the same ideas for Lady Jane in Patience. To those who know the other opera, it is somewhat jarring to hear the lines out of context.

Marc Shepherd


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