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

 
From The Manchester Times, Saturday, March 19, 1881.

PRINCE'S THEATRE.

Manchester playgoers have not been so fortunate in regard to the "Pirates of Penzance" as they usually are in matters theatrical. Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera was first produced so long ago as December 30, 1879; but not until Monday had it been presented in Manchester. In the meantime the piece has had two seasons in Liverpool, and it has been performed in most of the other large towns in the kingdom. Why there should have been this unusual delay in bringing so popular a work to this city we are unable to say, but the reason is probably accident and not design.

Many of our readers have elsewhere become familiarised with the opera and its simple plot, but it may be useful to briefly sketch the groundwork of the piece. The hero is an innocent pirate, Frederick, who has an exaggerated notion of his duty under extraordinary circumstances. Frederick in his childhood is left to the care of a nurse, who has instructions to bind her charge as an apprentice to a pilot. Being hard of hearing, she misunderstands her instructions and apprentices the lad to a pirate. Frederick heartily abhors his calling, but his high sense of duty impels him to serve out his apprenticeship faithfully. On the last day of his bondage he tells the Pirate King that he will not only leave him the moment he is free, but henceforth will devote himself to the extirpation of the band. This resolve is communicated to the nurse Ruth, who thereupon makes amorous advances to her former charge, who, however, will have none of her. Presently the pirates leave their cave for one of their unlawful expeditions, only Frederick being left behind. Whilst they are away the cave is visited by several daughters of a major-general, and the eldest, Mabel, falls in love with the hero, who returns her affection. Whilst they are making love, the other pirates return, and all Mabel's sisters are provided with lovers and would-be husbands. Before the wholesale marriage can be performed, the Major-General returns and saves his daughters by declaring himself to be an orphan, knowing that the pirates have an inflexible rule never to hurt orphans. The old man's story moves the hardy pirates to tears, and he is allowed to depart with his daughters.

He takes with him also an uneasy conscience, because he has deceived the pirates, and is only soothed when Frederick declares his resolve to hunt down the band. Frederick, however, soon finds himself in a difficulty. The secret of his birth is betrayed to the Pirate King by the rejected nurse. This secret is that he was born on the 29th February, so that he only has a birthday every leap year. Thus he finds that, instead of having attained his majority, he is only a little over five, and that he will only be out of his apprenticeship in the year 1940. So severe a sense of duty has he that he parts from Mabel and returns to his lawless life with the pirates. Then his duty compels him to disclose to his chief the fact that the Major-General is not an orphan, and the King declares he will have the blood of the deceiver. The pirates discover the Major, and are about to seize him, when they are confronted with a body of police. The constables are defeated, but the police sergeant calls for the surrender of the band in the name of the Queen. This demand is complied with, the pirates bowing to Queen Victoria's name. "They yield at once with humbled mien, because with all their faults they love their Queen." After this touching display of loyalty certain explanations are made, the pirates turn out to be "all noblemen who have gone wrong," the General freely gives his daughter[s] to the ex-pirates, and everybody is made exuberantly happy.

The music of the piece is bright and lively, and is here and there – in the policemen's chorus, for instance – comic in itself, without the aid of the libretto. Mr. D'Oyly Carte's company is now well at home in the piece, which goes briskly from beginning to end. Miss Laura Clement is a charming Mabel, and has the advantage – which few other ladies of the company possess – of a fine, well-trained voice. Miss Augusta Roche acquits herself excellently in the ungracious part of Ruth. Mr. David Fisher, junior, is thoroughly successful as the amusing Major-General. The part of Frederick finds a good exponent in Mr. G. Coventry, and Mr. G. W. Marnock as the Pirate King and Mr. G. Marler as the Sergeant of Police play very acceptably. On Monday night the opera was preceded by Mr. F. Desprez's and Mr. A. Cellier's vaudeville, "In the Sulks."


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