Derrick McClure wrote: Right some random thoughts! Pirates is not in my top three, but not far off it I know I rate it much more highly than some folk do. Its outstanding strength (to my mind) is the music Gilbert's share in this one is good, but Sullivan really excelled himself. The virile, rumbunctious atmosphere of the Pirates can be credited squarely to Sullivan. (How can anybody ever have said that Pinafore and the Pirates are similar? The first is dominated by 4/4 rhythms, suggesting the smart-as-paint sailors going about their drill with clockwork precision; the second by 6/8 and 9/8 rhythms, suggesting a rowdy, undisciplined bunch of exuberant desperadoes.)
Incidentally, I've seen it suggested that our modern "image" of pirates is derived, not (or hardly) from actual history, but from two main literary sources Treasure Island and Peter Pan. Given that G'n'S's Pirates pre-dated both of these, and was certainly well known to both their creators, could it be that the opera is seminal to a whole sub-genre of adventure fiction?? Andrew Crowther replied to this: I don't know the literature, but I understand Gilbert was trading on the convention of the pirate of melodrama the kind of thing that was illustrated in the cardboard cut-outs of the Skelt toy theatres, which was one of Stevenson's inspirations to write Treasure Island. Goldberg quotes Sullivan as saying in an interview that it was the story of a modern Zampa - "of pirates and escapades of 200 years ago, which, if dressed up in our modern clothes, must seem very absurd." [The Story of G&S, p228].
Derrick McClure continued: Other strengths: a ladies' chorus which has not only provoked some stimulating controversy (I heartily second Michael's congratulations to Marc for his magnificent exposition!) but is in itself one of the best in the canon; an astonishingly moving duet in Act II, showing how G'n'S can evoke heart-touching pathos in the middle of a wildly preposterous dramatic situation -; Andrew Crowther observed of this: I used to think this rather boring, but I'm absolutely converted to it now. I saw an excellent production a few years ago, which got the second act flying off to an absolutely rip-roaring start, and had the audience rolling; and then the Frederic/Mabel scene just at the moment when I became aware that I was tired of laughing and needed something quieter. I don't suppose this will be news to anyone, but those Gilbert and Sullivan fellows really knew what they were doing, you know.
Derrick McClure continued: - the finest dramatic creation among the bass-baritone parts except (possibly) for Pooh-Bah, a comic number (the Sergeant's song, of course) which, when you achieve the difficult task of thinking past all the daft renderings of it you've seen, remains a brilliant inspiration. Weaknesses a patter song which, though Gilbert produced one of his cleverest lyrics, Sullivan didn't even try to make musically interesting; and a very undistinguished contralto song. I'll reserve comment on Frederic till next time!
Biff Florescu observed: Regarding the comments about Pirates. From a musician's standpoint the Patter Song may not be that interesting, for instance, I much enjoy singing John Wellington Wells, Private Buffoon or the Nightmare Song but the public loves I am the Very Model, perhaps because of its simplicity. Our production, which is running now, has been a good yardstick of that - they just love the tune. By the way, this Pirates has become our all-time biggest selling show - 5 sell-outs out of six performances!!
Louis Wernick wrote: As the Pirate King, I enjoy singing "Away, Away", especially when coming after the show-stopping and much longer "Paradox" number, it makes the Pirate King more of a full role, since he often exits after one number rather than staying on stage for many numbers in a row. Regarding the Frederick-Mabel sequence, I have found that it is one of the few cases in G&S where the QUALITY of the performers makes it happen - e.g. where a Frederick and Mabel of "star" quality can bring something to it that a good voice, good acting ability, and careful coaching does not alone. A really fine Frederick and Mabel can make this sequence exciting, whereas a typical run-of-the-mill Frederick and Mabel can indeed make the latter part of the sequence a bit slow.
Mary Finn wrote: I am one of "those people" the ones who don't much care for Pirates , but to be fair, I must say that I've never been in a production. (There isn't a decent part for a person of my "talent," which may be one reason I dislike the show.) I have only seen Pirates, and middling-to-poor productions at that!
Nevertheless, I will advance the opinion that "Sighing Softly To The River" should be cut. It is long, and slow. It holds up the action and puts the audience to sleep. It has NOTHING to do with the plot or the characters, and director's never seem to know what to do with it. In one production I saw, the director had Major Stanley taking pulls on a hookah, and the whole song was staged as a sort of opium dream, with pirates and daughters wafting ballet-like about the stage. That actually almost worked for me, because it emphasized how completely disconnected SSTTR is from the rest of the show, but I thought the concept was in dubious taste. [Mary did add - consider the pot stirred!]
Michael Walters commented: Surely the point about the song is the utter absurdity of singing a song like THAT at such a moment. The only comparable situation I can bring immediately to mind is Offenbach's "Robinson Crusoe" where the heroine sings a florid waltz-song just before she is to be popped into the cooking pot by the cannibals. And Ellen Spear observed: I must comment that I always look forward to this silly song (and perhaps the fact that it is slow and long and stops the action is a good reason DOC cuts, or used to cut, the second verse) and most especially to a deliciously silly toe dance by MGS (does anyone know if this business dates to Gilbert?). I think it is a delightfully comic interlude in a show that's not overlong on the whole.
Gwyn Aubrey replied: In Chicago, a couple of years ago, during the rehearsals for "Pirates", it could always be counted on to stop dead the rehearsal when the men had to rehearse "Sighing Softly". Several of the ladies brought large books, which were finished halfway through the rehearsal period. We all expressed our doubts about the interest of this "dreadful" song, that appeared to be from another show. However, once we started staging, it seemed to make more sense. "Sighing Softly" is there to give the audience and the chorus a breather in between "Come Friends Who Plow The Seas" and the Finale, and if it is imaginatively done, it can be very funny. Our Major-General Stanley (The FABULOUS Henry Odum) came out, and accompanied himself for the first verse on some bizarre musical instrument, which, while he was waltzing around, overcome with summer night-ness, the pirates stole. So he borrowed a cello from the orchestra and accompanied himself for the second verse. And from a logical standpoint, Pirates makes no sense anyway, so they might as well have a ballad.
AS did Biff Florescu: I would have agreed with you before, but we are doing Pirates right now (I'm the Major General), and our director has turned it into a sleep- walking ballet for the MG and the Pirates and Police, and it is the high point of the show I don't say this because I'm doing it.- the reviewer for the local paper called it the production's coup de grace...The audience went absolutely nuts! The last time I did the role, the director had me stage center, and the Pirates waved branches, very pretty, but indeed holding up the action....in any case, Pirates is so short, I doubt one has to worry about holding up the action.- (we cut nothing, and came in at 2:10 with an intermission .. To which Michael Rice replied: When FCSOW in Connecticut did Pirates several years ago, We also made it into a "Pirate/Police ballet." We had the Sergeant and Samuel hiding together behind a coffin, forgetting the fact that they were enemies, and being swept away by the beauty of the moment. Complete with leaps and pirates diving into the arms of the policeman.
John Shea observed: Incongruity, on which much of Pirates thrives, also provides the reason for "Sighing softly to the river." In the productions I've performed in, the Pirates and Police are hiding from one another during the major-general's verses, stick their heads out for the choral responses, and then go back into hiding, General Stanley blissfully unaware of their presence throughout. It has never failed to be funny. Let's not be too hasty to assume that Gilbert and Sullivan didn't know what they were doing. Aaron Hunt wrote: I must echo John Shea, who is simply the BEST Major General in my memory, I won't even sing it in the shower because we live in the same city, that Sighing Softly is there because it needs to be. As was mentioned before by some pleasing person, we do need a break in all of the forte at that point in the score, and the comic effect of the pirates and the policemen joining in song behind a soliloquizing MG never fails to amuse. It seems that there are always those among us who want to cut a ballad or two...ah, if only the world had more ballads!
Mary Finn replied: For the nonce, my opinion of SSTTR remains unchanged. Even the descriptions of "show-stopping" renditions which have been posted to Savoynet only serve (in my opinion) to reinforce my suspicion that directors never know what to do with this number. And in my admittedly limited experience, it has never failed to be a real snoozer.
Mike Nash volunteered: It looks as if I'm finally going to be doing Pirates next Spring, at Woodhouses, and there's a fair chance I'll end up doing the MG. I'd be very miffed if Sighing Softly To The River was cut, because, like Tit Willow in Mikado, it gives the patter baritone a chance to sing properly! Seriously, there does seem to be a bit of a stigma associated with being a "patter man" people assume you can't sing, and won't take you seriously when you say you'd like to do Cpt. Corcoran next year (or whatever). The last thing I want to be is the local G&S community's answer to Norman Wisdom (for non-UK Netters, he's a bit like Jim Carrey only about five times as old and two feet shorter).
Ian Hollamby waded in: "Sighing Softly" described as a snooze making, narcoleptic, manifestation of the wiles of Morpheus? WHAT? When we've already been forced to sit through the sleep-inducing "When Frederic was a little lad"? A number which is surely near the top of everybody's list of insomnia cures! This narcotic song demonstrates that Gilbert had decided that an important element of the plot should be established at this point, but realised that some music was expected at the same time. Sullivan obviously saw through this, and thought to himself, "Ho-hum Gilbert's doing his plot stuff, don't subordinate your best tunes to this drivel, Arthur my boy, the words are already more important than the music so only do something carpenter-like." Ergo, we have the repetitive, mundane, nay boring, "When Frederic was a little lad".
And Biff Florescu: Regarding Mary Finn's suggestion that "director's" never know what to do with the number: I think if a director comes up with a bit that works, -and I can tell you our director did (she's a dancer herself).last night it literally stopped the show, people applauded during it!! s well a as howled! -i n any case, if they come up with a bit that works, I think it shows that they DO KNOW what to do with it! So, I'm afraid I don't follow Ms. Finn's logic on this one.
Robert Jones also waded in: I whole-heartedly disagree with the original post. Apart from its beautiful music, I find the song delightful because it is so outrageously silly! Here, the intellectual, precise military man is waxing poetical in a ridiculously uncharacteristic way. It doesn't exactly broaden his character, except to reinforce the notion that he's completely batty. As for slowing down the piece, I think it's dramatically important that it does. Without this song, the plot development and climax would be too sudden. As it stands, I think the pacing is perfect. An opium-dream does seem in keeping with the mood, though no doubt some would be offended by a hookah.
And Barclay Gordon: Here is one more reason to retain "Sighing softly". For the mens' chorus it is great fun to sing. As I recall, it is one of the few passages---and perhaps the only really extended passage---that is harmonized for four-part male chorus. For us old glee-clubbers, who cut our teeth on "Annie Laurie" and "In the gloaming", the harmonies though simple are wonderfully satisfying. But why does Sullivan fold the MG back into the ensemble with the 1st tenors? Aren't those high Fs and a G? Is that what a patter baritone wants to sing when he is slightly winded from dancing and finds himself center stage front and under a spotlight?
Ken Chambers added: At least in the production in which I participated, it wasn't all that much "fun" because we police, and the pirates, were tippy-toeing rapidly around the stage, waving our arms overhead. It was all too breathless. This scene is certainly one of the most ridiculous in the G&S operas, as both pieces of the male chorus lose their identities and "become one," either traipsing around in plain sight or poorly "hidden" behind (the few available) large rocks on stage. Bruce Miller twitted: When did this ever become an epithet when applied to G & S? Certainly it's ridiculous, which is why it's so amusing.
Ken Chambers continued: No one has yet commented, by the way, on the parallel between the MG's "lying upon a sleepless bed" and the later (in Iolanthe) Lord Chancellor's "lying awake with a dismal headache," etc. Gilbert, that is, twice used the concept of a character describing an uncomfortable nightime experience, filled either with dream-like meteorological imaginings or a nightmare journey by boat and bicycle. The two songs are so different that I hadn't previously thought of the connection.
Page created 28 April 1998