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The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   Pirate King The Pirates of Penzance Major General


From Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, April 4, 1880

LAST NIGHT'S THEATRICALS.
OPERA COMIQUE

The representation in London of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan’s new comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance, has been prefaced by incidents decidedly out of the common where an article of thoroughly British manufacture is concerned. It was the intention of the two parents of The Pinafore and The Sorcerer to try their latest work in New York before playing it at the Opera Comique in the Strand, but, in order to secure their copyright, they were compelled to first produce it in England. As may be imagined, the most out-of-the-way place where a theatrical representation was permissible was selected for the necessary formality, and on one of the last days of the old year The Pirates of Penzance was brought out at the Bijou theatre, in Paignton, Devonshire. Since then the opera has enjoyed a great success in New York, where its performance has been superintended by the authors.

The piece is in two acts, and the plot is a humorous skit upon the melodramatic buccaneer familiar to a bygone age, the dialogue being full of those grotesque verbal exaggerations having an air of earnestness, in the writing of which Mr. Gilbert has proved himself such an adept. The lover of the story, Frederick [sic], has been apprenticed, through a mistake, by his nurse, Ruth, to a pirate king instead of to a pilot. He detests the calling, and on the last day of his apprenticeship (when the opera commences) informs the pirate that he intends to devote the remainder of his life to the destruction of the band. During an expedition the cave of the pirates is visited by a certain major-general and a number of his daughters, one of whom falls in love with Frederick. The pirates discover the party and pay court to the young ladies, but their father pleads for them, saying that he is an orphan, and as these pirates never injure orphans, he and the ladies are allowed to go free. The orphan plea was, however, an ingenious fabrication of the old soldier.

The nurse Ruth loves the youth entrusted to her care, and after her that he has told her that the difference in their ages, she being nearly 50 and he just past 20, makes her affections hopeless, it transpires that owing to his being born in a leap year on the 29th of February, he is not 21 years of age but only five, so that he is in duty bound to return to the pirate and further serve his articles which will not expire until the middle of the next century. Recognising his fealty to his lawless companions, he makes known the deception practised by the major-general. The pirate king resolves to be avenged, but a body of police appears, and after a scuffle the sergeant calls upon the pirates to surrender in the name of Queen Victoria. The pirates at this feel that they can resist no longer, and it is then discovered that they are nearly all noblemen, who have "gone wrong,” the curtain descending to a joyous finale.

Mr. Sullivan in musically illustrating this amusing story shows that the vein of bright, fresh fancy, which was so conspicuously brought to view in Pinafore, is far from exhausted, most of the solos, as well as the majority of the leading passages of the concerted music, being exceedingly tuneful and sparkling.

Mr. G. Grossmith, jun., last night played the major-general with his usual unobtrusive comicality and Miss Marion Hood scored a success as the general's daughter Mabel. The other prominent parts were efficiently sustained by Mr. Richard Temple (the Pirate King), Mr. Rutland Barrington (the Serjeant of Police), Mr. G. Power (Frederick), and Miss Emily Cross (who as Ruth appeared at short notice in lieu of Miss Everard, indisposed).

Among the chief musical features may be named the song of the Pirate King, a gossiping chorus of Mabel's sisters playfully suggested, in order to distract attention while the lovers are conversing, the air of the Major-general in which he describes his proficiency in various branches of study, the tripping finale to the first act, a couple of choruses of policemen, and a charming duet for Mabel and Frederick. Each of these was last night encored, and in one instance a double repetition was insisted upon. This special distinction was awarded to an air sung by the Police serjeant, quaintly dwelling upon the unsympathetic nature of the policeman's lot, having a catching choral refrain, a number which promises to become very popular.

Mr. Sullivan (who conducted his opera) and Mr. Gilbert were enthusiastically called before the curtain at the close of both acts. If The Pirates of Penzance is less brisk in action than The Pinafore, the music is certainly not inferior either in tunefulness or spirit to its celebrated predecessor.


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