Andrew Crowther wrote: Gilbert's "heroes" always were problematical figures. Alexis, we know, is a pretty nasty piece of work, and the same goes for Fairfax. Even Nanki-Poo can be cast as a villain.... But what do we think of Frederic? This is a man who pursues the life of a pirate for no better reason than the deafness of his nurse, and can be forced to devote his life to crime when it is pointed out that his birthday fell on the 29th of February. He ascribes all this to his Sense of Duty, but is this a mere excuse? Does he, after all, hanker after the "comparatively honest" life of the pirate? In short, is he a fool or a knave?
Myself, I think he is nothing more than monumentally misguided. Duty, that most Victorian of ideas, always sends him wrong. His instincts are basically good; he loathes the Pirates' infamous calling and yearns for respectability, and is genuinely in love with Mabel. But the morality he has been taught (by Ruth or by his absent parents?) has ruined him, and made him the Victim of Duty. He's no dashing hero: Charles Hayter has pointed out that his last words in the opera are the rather feeble: "I would if I could, but I am not able." It is not he, but the Policemen, who save the day, and all he can do is stand round waiting to be saved.
Well, what do you think? Jeff DeMarco quipped: I think this is a man in need of the services of "an old equity draftsman"!
Gwyn Aubrey replied: Frederic can be described best as a goop. An earnest, well-meaning goop, but a goop nonetheless. He has a very strong sense of duty, which is carried to ridiculous lengths. Mabel herself points out, "They have no legal claim, no shadow of a shame will fall upon thy name", but he carries on, irresolute. Nick Sales wrote: I'm sorry, but Frederic is the way he is because that's the way Gilbert wanted him to be. I think the epithet "a Goop" just about sums him up (tho this is my first encounter with the word). But what a Goop to play! My 2nd favourite role, and possibly the best sing - especially if you're blessed with a wonderful Mabel!
David Craven wrote: Even though I am one of the prime proponents of the "tenor as a villain" school, I cannot make Frederic out as a villain. Rather, he seems to come out of the more traditional school of "hero"... Good hearted, loyal and not very bright. In fact, in many ways he is one of the most "heroic" of all of the Gilbert and Sullivan characters and certainly is the most true to his principals. And most important, unlike that cad Nanki-Poo, he recognizes that when one has a legal obligation, one should follow it, even if it is not fair.
While this makes Frederic one of the most boring characters in all of G&S, he is also one of the most "heroic".... proving once again, that villainy is more interesting...
Andrew Crowther replied: I agree more or less with this and I love Gwyn's description of him as an "earnest, well-meaning goop" but boring? Not necessarily, I think. He's nicer than Alexis, but they do have this in common, that they're zealots. They belong to that strange group of people who go through the world without a trace of self-doubt: they have no sense of irony. I see Frederic as an absolutely humourless, self-important buffoon. Done correctly and without any suggestion that he knows how ridiculous he is, this could be very funny indeed. Jeff DeMarco observed: I agree that Frederic must be played absolutely straight to be effective. The first production of PP that I saw had a Frederic who looked more like a Strephon, played very camp, bordering on the effeminate. It ruined the whole production for me he was not at all believable, so the real comedy crumbled.
Barclay Gordon replied: Try as I may, I am as yet unable to see ANY G&S characters as villains! Grand opera certainly has its share of villains. The Count di Luna is one. Iago is another. But comic opera?? The closest I can come to a villain in our repertoire is Sgt. Bouncer. At least he has committed a deliberate fraud. But fraud is a staple of comic opera. You might argue that comic opera is addicted to fraud. Pooh-Bah and Ko-Ko sign a fraudulent affidavit. Hilarion, Cyril and Florian pass themselves off fraudulently as women. Even Sergeant Meryll, in claiming Fairfax as his son, is committing fraud. Are they all villains? Not to me at least.
Fraud, of course, is only one measure of villainy, but whether I use bloodlust or betrayal or something else, I keep coming up short. Alexis is somewhat tiresome and unlikeable because he is a zealot, but he is not a villain. Some S'Netters described Nanki-Poo as a villain because his sense of duty was underdeveloped (he should have married Katisha). Will they say the same of Frederic because his sense of duty is overdeveloped? Can they have it both ways?
I have come to the tentative conclusion that comic opera has no villains precisely because it is comic opera. Instead of villains, it has itinerant quacks who sell elixirs, fat (but loveable) old knights who delude themselves into thinking they are still attractive to women, and rich old misers who hope to marry their pretty, young wards. Each and every one the butt of humor. When, at the edges of this repertoire, we run into real, honest-to-God villains like the composite Coppelius/Dapertutto/Dr. Miracle character in Tales of Hoffmann, I think it is a sign certain that we have stepped across a boundary into another musical genre.
John Shea commented: Frederic's addiction to duty is shared by the Pirates, the Policemen, General Stanley's daughters and their father (repentant after his terrible story). Mabel tries to talk Frederick out of his pledge, of course, but when he is firm she supports him. So the primacy of duty is a given in "Pirates," and to criticize Frederick for having too much of it is to deny Gilbert the comic premise that so much of the incongruity of the opera depends on.
Gordon Pascoe wrote: Re: Frederic's being "not too smart" this is patently unfair. Unlike some modern mathematicians, replete with degrees from an institution of Higher Learning, HE gets the math right! And it only takes Frederic a few moments! AND he is not too smug about this accomplishment being openly prepared to check his mental arithmetic on the closest humanoid calculator. Of course, it is unlikely that he had made an error because he has had the Best Possible Private School education, having had his own tutor Ruth - since he was a little lad, and the Learned Company of a boatload of Peers-Who-Have-Gone-Wrong (who undoubtedly attended Eton, Harrow, or some-such). And despite being of the tender age of five (and a little over) he somehow doubts that Ruth is telling the truth about her beauty and goes so far as to say so. (author's libretto can be SUCH a help in determining these important things!)
Page created 29 April 1998