David Duffey wrote: Pirates was the very first opera I directed. At the auditions there was an outstanding Sergeant far and away the best actor/singer in the company. I was warned by those with longer heads than me not to choose him, as he could be unreliable. I heeded the warnings not. (This person was the brother of a now forgotten but then famous British comedy film actor called Ronald Shiner.) As I say, he was outstanding. All through rehearsals he raised morale and was utterly dependable. On the first night he literally stopped the show three times. On the final night, however, he was not to be found when the curtain went up. He still had not showed up when the Act I curtain went down. I had to make a decision: the chorus business was very tightly choreographed, so I put on the Sergeant costume. I was in the wings following "Oh Dry", when he turned up. He had vine leaves in his hair. He took it amiss that someone else was in his costume, and proceeded to try to take it off me by force. A six or seven of nearby Pirate managed to hold him down, but could not prevent him singing along from the wings while I made my one and only appearance as the Sergeant of Police.
David Duffey asked: Has there ever been a production in which the Pirates have acted genteelly and used cut-glass voices, or even been dressed in tattered Iolanthe robes? Perhaps better still, has the Iolanthe chorus ever marched on dressed as pirates? I can actually remember an occasion (DOC) with The Pirate King and Lord Tolloller acting together in the same opera. Michael Walters replied: There have certainly been productions where the Pirates donned Iolanthe robes (not tattered) at the end, when Ruth makes her announcement. I think they wore large raincoats which they flung off to reveal robes underneath. Judith Weis wrote: Last fall's VLOG Pirates used that idea - a number of the Pirates were valets to the rest of the crew. Samuel was the head valet.
Steve Sullivan wrote: While we are on the OOTW Pirates, I would like to add a note to the archive about the most important consonant in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Maybe some director will read this and point out to the Women's chorus the importance of clear diction. The important consonant is at the end of the line:
For oh, they cannot bear To see their father weep!
Rebecca Consentino replied: I cannot agree more! The Methuen Young People's Theater (Massachusetts) did Pirates 3 or 4 summers ago. The group is comprised of students grades 4 12, and the director and I spent some time emphazizing that Stanley's daughters would be a "quite" upset about seeing their father "wee"! (But, how about the Mikado last summer? Two friends who came to the dress rehearsal reported hearing the following line in the act 1 finale: "Away, away, dill-flavored one!") Clive Woods observed: A Musical Director I once worked with did just this, with the words "Don't forget the 'P'!". <Blush>
Chris Webster wrote THE most important consonant is indeed in Pirates, but it is the 'T' in Frederic's line 'I saw at heart', otherwise we hear 'I saw a tart' which is very apt for the position in the show. To which Philip Sternenberg observed drily: Apparently an R in "I, sore at heart" must also be fairly important. Chris Webster replied: Well spotted, Philip. How stupid of me. I was obviously trying to deliver the tag before the gag! Ted Rice wrote: Thank you, Phil, for the correct words ! I always heard it as, "Eyesore, attar." It never made sense !
Andrew Crowther wrote: David Duffey [Section 6.2 above] mentioned the idea of having the Pirates speak in upper-class accents throughout, thus lending artistic verisimilitude to the final revelation. I think this is a very intriguing idea, but I can think of arguments both for and against it.
FOR: The Pirates always were genteel fellows. When the curtain goes up for Act 1, they're seen sipping sherry from glasses rather than quaffing rum in the approved manner. (Terry Pratchett says that quaffing is like drinking, only you spill more.) Similarly, when they abduct a bevy of beautiful maidens, their thoughts turn immediately to matrimony - an obvious sign of noble blood.
AGAINST: These things are supposed to be enjoyed for their own sake - the simple idea of well-mannered pirates is the big joke, and making it a plot point takes the bloom off it, it may be argued. Also, the final revelation that they are peers who have gone wrong is supposed to be a big surprise - the audience isn't supposed to think, "Well, that explains a lot," but, "What a daft plot twist!" If you make it too obvious from the start that they're peers, the final revelation may seem (horror of horrors!) perfectly reasonable, and the joke may be killed.
I suppose the answer, as always, is not to overdo it. Make the Pirates well-mannered in speech - after all, that's the Gilbertian manner. But don't make a big point of it, and preserve the surprise. I don't think the Savoy Operas were ever very concerned with self-consistency - the main thing is the effect of the moment regardless of whether it fits in with another moment elsewhere.
Paul McShane replied: I my days in the Pirates chorus, a few of us used to get a great kick out of spouting a Robert Newton-like "arrrruh" whenever the occasion called for it on stage. We thought we were being clever and appropriately piratical, but now I'm not so sure. Would modern directors like their pirate chorus to go stomping around with gruff Somerset accents, wishing they had parrots on their shoulders, I wonder? Simon Hardy observed: It always makes us laugh too. Derby G&S Co. regularly have Pirates numbers in our yearly concert and it is the most acted out chorus area and generally have the audiences rolling.
Philip Walsh wrote: When I produced Pirates a few years ago, my Pirate King was really a Bishop who had gone wrong". My subtle introduction in the opening of Act I, had the Pirate King sitting on a Bishop's Throne with crook attached to it.. Yes, he could have stolen it from the Cathedral! A couple of Pirates were looking at old Peers' robes in a chest. The Pirate King's costume was a la Papp version. His shirt was really a Bishop's Alb, tucked into his breeches (no you couldn't see it) It was complete with the frilly cuffs and had maroon wrist bands. He wore a cross round his neck as well. In the finale for Act II, Ruth brought on the Bishop's Cope and Mitre as she sung "One moment! let me tell you they are". Assisted by the ladies in the chorus, he took the full Alb out of his breeches, the Cope was placed over his shoulders and the Mitre on his head. He was then given the Crook. And what a splendid Diocesan Bishop he looked as the line was sung "I pray you pardon me, ex Pirate King". Meanwhile the Pirates had put on peer's robes and coronets which were handed to them by the ladies. The scene raised a few eyebrows and proved to be an excellent Finale. Even the real Bishop laughed. No, you don't have to overdo changes which are away from tradition. When planning a show, I ask myself, "Would Gilbert approve?" And the answer is always, "Yes, I think he would" I can then sleep safely in my bed without nightmares.
Page created 29 April 1998