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From The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Tuesday, October 12, 1880.


Last night, the company formed by Mr. D’Oyly Carte for the production in the provinces of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera of “The Pirates of Penzance” made their first start, and commenced their brief twelve nights’ engagement at our New Theatre Royal. A more perfect and satisfying representation of any piece has never, we venture to say, been witnessed in any theatre out of the metropolis. It is not only that the principal artistes are of generally excellent quality and recognised attainments, but the chorus and orchestra are more than ordinarily large and good, the scenery is beautiful, the dresses and appointments as perfect and characteristic as art could make them; whilst, thanks to the careful training which has been given to the work by Mr. R. Barker, under whose direction it has been produced, the action works smoothly.

We noticed the plot of the piece so much at length in our yesterday’s issue that little on that score need be added. It is, as we then said of it, full of droll incidents and mirth-provoking absurdities. Nothing could be more ridiculous than are the situations into which Major-General Stanley and his long line of daughters are thrown in both acts; quite as absurd is the idea of the old officer, simply because he has misrepresented himself to the pirates as an orphan, wandering and weeping night and day amidst the ruins of an old chapel. Very laughable, too, is the introduction of the police force (with the grotesque music allotted them) and their conflict with the pirates, whilst a crowning absurdity is that of the lawless buccaneers surrendering themselves to the “Bobbies” when called upon to do so in the name of Queen Victoria. The spectators find it impossible to resist laughter, so that the opera is as mirthful as it is musically charming.

The overture, which was played under Mr. Stanislaus’s direction with great precision and spirit, is a masterly example of musical writing. Those who are at all familiar with Mr. Sullivan’s compositions must know how great a master he is of orchestral effect. Even his accompaniments are not mere supports to the vocalisation, but boast a higher and more illustrative quality; whilst his symphonies are full of force and character. The overture to “The Pirates of Penzance” falls little short of anything he has written. Its melodies are graceful and flowing, its harmonies rich, whilst it boasts the rich and varied colouring which always affords so much value to compositions of the class.

The opera, especially considering that it was a first representation, went capitally. We mention the fact of its being the first night of performance because a certain amount of nervousness attacks the most practised artists when they find themselves for the first time vis-à-vis with a large and new audience, and because, moreover, it takes some little time to ascertain the pitch of a large auditorium like that of our New Theatre. That the vast audience was highly gratified was made evident by the hearty laughter and the reiterated plaudits and encores.

The principal soprano part, Mabel, was admirably filled by Miss Laura Clement, who, to a pretty face and graceful figure, adds a cultivated voice of much freshness and purity, and good acting powers. Her facile and brilliant execution of the waltz song, “Poor wandering one,” in the first act, led to an enthusiastic encore, and she won very deservedly a similar compliment (with the tenor, Mr. Gerard Coventry) in the exquisitely sweet and tender madrigal, “O leave me not to live,” in the second act. Miss Augusta Roche, who filled the rôle of Ruth, has a rare musical contralto voice, which we are sure will do her good service as the engagement proceeds. Her rendering of her opening aria, “When Frederick was a little boy,” narrowly escaped an encore, and she was deservedly applauded in the duet with Frederic, and the concerted music in the second act. Mr. Gerard Coventry, the tenor, was a little uneven, obviously from nervousness, but he sang the beautiful air “O is there not one maiden here” with much tenderness, and imparted a like quality to the madrigal. Mr. G. W. Marnock, who played the pirate king, has a baritone voice of robust quality, and he sang the dashing song, “I am a pirate king,” energetically. Mr. G. Hemsley [sic] acted and sang very satisfactorily as his Lieutenant, Samuel, whilst no force in the kingdom, operatic or otherwise, could boast a more efficient Sergeant than is Mr. Marler. He and his attendant “Bobbies” very soon established themselves in the favour of the audience. The chorus, “When the foeman bares his steel,” with the concerted music which follows it had to be repeated, and a most vigorous re-demand followed Mr. Marler’s quaint and humorous rendering of the song “When a felon’s not engaged at his employment.” A cleverly-drawn character is that of Major-General Stanley. He is, in fact, the Sir Joseph Porter of the opera, and to his presence much of its humour is due. The part had an able exponent in Mr. David Fisher, jun., who evoked a vociferous encore for his patter song, and was greatly laughed at and applauded at other parts of the piece.

The concerted music, which possesses far more than average quality, was much applauded, and the unaccompanied chorale towards the close of the first act, “Hail, poetry” – a really grand example of harmonised vocal music – had to be repeated, and well nigh evoked a second encore. The pretty chorus for the sopranos, “Climbing over rocky mountains,” was greatly admired, and the Chattering chorus was heartily laughed at and as heartily applauded. There was a large audience.

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