Two manuscript libretti of The Pirates of Penzance survive. The first is the license copy (LC) that Helen Lenoir (Richard D'Oyly Carte's secretary and future wife) submitted to the Lord Chamberlain's office for licensing on December 27, 1879. The second is a manuscript draft of Act I, in Gilbert's hand, that was found amongst Sullivan's papers. I'll refer to this copy as "MD".
Neither LC nor MD has ever been published. Michael Walters transcribed LC some years ago and was kind enough to send me a copy. Large portions of it also appear in Ian Bradley's "Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan," though Bradley does not begin fully to describe all the variants between LC and the definitive opera.
Of MD, all I know is what Reginald Allen says about it in the Second Edition of "The First Night Gilbert and Sullivan"; one page of it reproduced in Allen's "Sir Arthur Sullivan: Composer and Personage" (co-written with Gale R. D'Luhy), published for a 1975 exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library; and, a few other snippets reproduced in Leslie Bailey's "The Gilbert and Sullivan Book."
These two texts are highly significant in the present inquiry, so I will now take a diversion to describe them in some detail.
The license copy is hand-written and is obviously a "fair copy," which someone would have made from a working draft. As I recall, it is not in Gilbert's hand. The sequence of the opera in this text runs as described below. (Where no differences are indicated, the LC text is as given in Allen's "The First Night Gilbert and Sullivan.")
1. The opening chorus: the same, except "Pour, O King," and "Fill, O King" instead of "Pour, O Pour" and "Fill, O Fill." The words "Pour, O King" survived in the first few editions of the vocal score, even though they clearly pertained to a very different treatment of the Pirate King (see below) that had long since been abandoned.
2. A precursor to the Pirate King's song, though vastly different. Here, the King is subservient to the pirates and does chores for them, much as Gilbert would later have Marco and Giuseppe do in Act II of The Gondoliers.
3. Frederic's statement that he intends to leave the Pirates, but here given as an extended recitative for him and the chorus, rather than as dialogue.
4. A precursor to Ruth's song, but here a duet for Frederic and Ruth, with numerous interjections from the King, Samuel and James (an additional piratical character dropped in the final version of the opera).
5. Dialogue, fairly close to the dialogue that follows Ruth's song today.
6. Recitative in which Samuel and James propose to leave, the King objects, but changes his mind after the pirates all draw their knives. (Sighing, the King sings, "the cares of government are overpowering.") As they exit, the Pirates load him with kegs, anchors, etc.
7. Dialogue between Frederic and Ruth, with a number of differences, but the same outline as today.
8. Duet for Frederic and Ruth, the same as today, except Frederic sings, "Upon my ignorance you play."
9. Recitative for Frederic ("What shall I do?"), fairly close to the definitive version.
10. An eight-line chorus for the women, "With timid step and watchful eye." Interestingly, this chorus has the same meter, and could be sung to the same tune, as the final version of Ruth's song, which could be why it was dropped. Proponents of the Happy Accident story may assume that "this" is the chorus whose music Sullivan could not remember, prompting the substitution of "Climbing over rocky mountain." But, if so, what are both this chorus AND "Climbing over" doing in the license copy?
11. "Climbing over," the text as we know it today, except that "lads & lasses" is still there (clearly an error), and the solos are split amongst four girls (Mabel, Edith, Kate, and Isabel), not two.
12. Dialogue after "Climbing over....," the same as today except that Mabel is allocated some of the lines.
13. Recitative and aria for Frederic, basically the same as today, but the recitative is four lines longer, and Mabel has Edith's two lines. (Bradley reproduces an additional verse of "Oh, is there not one maiden breast," which seems to come from MD.)
14. After "Yes, 'tis Mabel," an ensemble leading up to "How beautifully blue...," but very different. Among other things, Mabel acknowledges that she has poor complexion, and Edith observes that "it is extremely clear / Her homely face & bad complexion / Have caused all hope to disappear / Of ever winning man's affection." There is no "Poor wand'ring one."
15. "How beautifully blue," the longer version given in Allen's "The First Night Gilbert and Sullivan."
16. "Stay, we must not lose our senses," but a longer version, in which a jealous Edith asks if there are "any others nearly out of their indentures."
17. From this point, the text through the end of the Major-General's song is as given in Allen.
18. Dialogue with the Major-General, Pirate King, et al; same outline as today, but longer.
19. Act I Finale, as follows:
20. Opening chorus of Act II, as usual
21. An additional number for the M-G, Mabel, and the chorus, in which the M-G further laments the falsehood that he told.
22. Longer version of the dialogue following the opening chorus.
23. "Then Frederic...When the foeman" as in Allen, except that it ends with a reprise of "Go & do your best endeavour," during which the Police sing "Such expressions don't appear..." and Fred. & Mabel sing a short duet.
24. "Now for the pirates' lair...," as usual.
25. Paradox trio, considerably different from what we know today.
26. Dialogue for Ruth, Frederic, and King, with some differences.
27. Through the end of the love duet basically as given in Allen
28. Aria for Mabel, "When conquering William's legions came / To spoil our island dear." In the song, Mabel claims to be descended of Norman blood, and this leads directly into "Yes, I am brave...." There is no evidence that this aria was ever set, but the words "Yes, I am brave" are retained, erroneously, in numerous versions of the libretto. Without the aria, this makes no sense, and in the vocal score it was altered to "No, I am brave." Note that Mabel's claim is parallel to the librettist's own unsubstantiated claim that he was a descendant of the explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert
29. "Though in body and in mind," sung by all the police
30. Only one verse of the "When a felon...."
31. "A rollicking band...." through to "Away with them, and place them at the bar," basically as given in Allen. (E.g., "Let us vary piracy," not "Let's vary piracy.")
32. The Pirates sing, "One moment, let me tell you who we are....," with the variant "What all noblemen?" "Yes all noblemen!" "What all?" "Well, nearly all."
33. After "with all their faults they love their House of Peers" comes a Hymn to the Nobility. The opera ends with this.
Although both acts have considerable differences from the opera as we know it today, the greater differences are in Act I. This is understandable, since Sullivan's loss of his Act I sketches evidently provided Gilbert with the impetus to rethink much of what he had first written. Some authors have even suggested that Gilbert, like Sullivan, had to recreate from scratch all that he had done, but there is no evidence of this, and I have to assume the librettist would have retained his own draft copies.
LC has often been assumed to be the text of the Paignton performance; Ian Bradley repeatedly makes this assumption in his book, "The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan." In fact, this is quite unlikely. LC was deposited at the Lord Chamberlain's office two days before a ship carrying materials for the Paignton performance arrived in England.
It is my premise that LC, which contains "Climbing over rocky mountain," was left in England before the partners departed for America. Even without any other evidence, LC seems too distant from the final version of the opera to have been actively worked on in the days immediately preceding the New York premiere.
The other possibility is that LC was shipped earlier, separate from the Paignton materials. I shall show below that this is unlikely, but admittedly it is possible. In either event, however, the version that arrived on the BOTHNIA on December 29 almost certainly differed from the version deposited with the Lord Chamberlain on December 27.
LC is the only known text to contain the extra pirate character James. Bruce Miller says that at some points in the autograph score, a character's name is crossed out and replaced, and some of these instances may have been parts formerly assigned to James, but since we can't read what has been crossed out, this is only a guess.
Bruce speculates that James would have been a tenor and would have taken the high line on the words "take your file" in "With cat-like tread." (In the definitive version of the opera, the high line is heard only in the orchestra.) A James is credited in the Paignton program, but no one knows what he did; the character remained listed in Pirates vocal scores through the 1960s(!), but clearly his part in the opera had not survived beyond an early stage. It could be that the Paignton programme was printed in advance, but when the music arrived, there was nothing for him to do.
It is doubtful that James was present in any version of the opera during its New York rehearsal period. Casts for Sorcerer, Pinafore and Pirates were selected before the Company left London, but no one was assigned the role of James. This suggests very strongly that James had already been deleted from the opera before the company left England. Any text containing this character, as LC does, would therefore have been a text prepared before G&S left for America.
In the New York production, the Pirate King and Sergeant of Police had Christian names (Richard and Edward respectively). These do not appear in the LC text, which refers to the King as Thomas. This is another distinction which argues, albeit without proving absolutely, the license copy was not sent from New York.
In the LC version of "Climbing over rocky mountain," the solos are split amongst four girls (Mabel, Edith, Kate, and Isabel), which parallels the Thespis arrangement, in which the solos also were split amongst four characters. LC, in fact, gives Mabel quite a bit to do in the early going, for Gilbert at that point hadn't yet hit on the idea of deferring Mabel's entrance until after "Oh, is there not one maiden breast."
Unlike LC, the MD text was very clearly a working draft. The one page reproduced in "Sir Arthur Sullivan: Composer and Personage" has lineouts and corrections, as if Gilbert is revising on the fly. This was found amongst "Sullivan's" papers, and notes about the musical setting appear in the margins. For example, above "I'm telling a terrible story," Sullivan has written a "D" in pencil. Next to "Although our dark careers," he has written "g minor/Bb"; next to "Hail, Poetry," "Eb"
"I'm telling a terrible story" is indeed in D Major, but "Although our dark careers" is not in g minor or B-Flat Major, and "Hail, Poetry" is in D, not E-flat. A staff and several notes are scribbled next to "Although our dark careers." The notes do not resemble the eventual setting of that section of music. So, Sullivan's thoughts at this point were still preliminary.
Bruce Miller has observed that the "Hymn to the Nobility," which survives in Sullivan's autograph, is in E-flat, so perhaps Sullivan thought of this initially as his "anthem" key. As now written, "Hail, Poetry" would lie uncomfortably high for the tenors if set in E-flat.
That MD is a New York draft cannot be doubted. It lists the Fifth Avenue Theatre cast and resembles the first American Edition in a number of critical points. It is also clearly a "later" version than LC. I have not seen it, but Allen says that it follows the text of the first American Edition fairly closely, which the license copy does not. I described above numerous other variants from the definitive version which are found in LC, but not in MD. I hope to look at this text myself in the next few months and make a detailed comparison. On the one full page reproduced in Allen/D'Luhy, we find that "I'm telling a terrible story" "precedes" "Hail, Poetry" (as it would in the final version of the opera), whereas in LC it "follows" "Hail, Poetry."
Allen speculates that Gilbert wrote out this version for Sullivan after the composer left his Act I sketches at home. This seems likely, given that it doesn't include Act II, refers to the New York cast, and that Sullivan used it to make notes about the prospective musical setting. Sullivan must have worked on this libretto very shortly after he discovered his sketches were found missing, since the thoughts scribbled in the margins do not reflect his eventual setting of each number. Gilbert, too, could have been reconstructing some numbers from memory, as there are a number of strikethroughs as if the librettist is revising as he goes. (I do not, however, conclude from this evidence that Gilbert had to rewrite the "entire" act from memory, as others have inferred.)
Page created 26 April 1998