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

 
From the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle, June 21, 1881

The Theatre Royal and Opera House

"THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE." When Mr. Gilbert Beck, of "Golden Butterfly renown, found that the nasty stuff which was oozing out of his location was "ile sir," he struck a source of revenue which was scarcely more valuable — scarcely from even the fictitious point of view — than Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan hit upon when they commenced writing comic operas. That they themselves have appreciated this fact is apparent we think in the higher class of workmanship which they have put into their later compositions, and this is fully apparent in the opera under notice — the last but one which they have introduced to the notice of a discriminating, but partial public. And, indeed, the rage for popular composers never followed a more worthy bent, for the Gilbert-Sullivan productions have never contained an element upon which a dubious interpretation might be placed. Pure audacious fun — discernable on the part of composer as well as author — have always marked their efforts in the matter of comic opera, and it is a worthy sign of the times that their operas have been much more successful than have those which from time to time have been transplanted from the other side of the English Channel. At all events it will be admitted that either for rattling music, scenic effects, or laughter provoking situations, "La Fille du Tambour Major" — the last French production with which Huddersfield has been favoured — will hardly bear looking at alongside of "The Pirates."

A first-class house — particularly in the circle — witnessed its production last evening, and it is safe to predict that before the week is out the new Opera House will afford lively entertainment for a very large number of people.

The story is too long a one to reproduce here, and probably such of our readers who care anything at all about such things know it pretty well. The conscientious Frederick, who after serving his apprenticeship at piracy would have exterminated his comrades — from a sense of duty — but for the fact that he finds his term expires on his 21st birthday, in the year 1940, since he has been born on the 29th of February; the piratical maid of all work, Ruth, in whose charge he has been left, and who, being instructed to make the boy a pilot, mistook her instructions and bound him to a pirate; the moral and gentlemanly pilot-king (sic); the orphaned major-general, and his charming and numerous daughters; and the moralising, police- sergeant with his eight officers, are the materials with which the plot is woven together, and the serious, matter-of-fact way in which the story — and the music — is set forth, elicits, rather than suggests, the continued merriment of the audience.

The songs, whether of the sentimental or humorous class, are capital, and will provide quite as many objects for amateur study as those in "That infernal nonsense Pinafore." One of the best of this kind is that of the Pirate King "Oh better far to live and die," and another number which someday we expect to hear at a national school concert is the girls' chorus "Climbing over rocky mountain." To admirers of the "Let me dream again" style of Sullivan music. Mabel's song "Poor wandering one" will be found a great attraction; but those who fancy a patter song, and who have mastered the rapidity of utterances necessary to sing "My name is John Wellington Wells," or "I am the ruler of the Queen's navy," will find the following selection from a song of the "Major-Gineral" rather difficult to master:—

I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's,
I answered hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox;
  I quote in elegiacs, all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolus.
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerald Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from "The Frogs" of Aristophanes.
  Then I can hum a fugue of which I have heard the music din afore,
And whistle all the airs in that infernal nonsense "Pinafore."
I can write you out a washing bill in Bablylonic Cuneiform,
And tell you all the details of Caractacus's uniform.
  In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-Gineral.

One of the most whimsical settings in the opera is the following song and chorus, for a portion sung by the Sergeant of "Bobbies" under him:—

SERGEANT. When the enterprising burglar's not a-burgling —
ALL.   Not a burgling;
SERGEANT. When the cutthroat isn't occupied in crime —
ALL.   Pied in crime;
SERGEANT. He loves to hear the little brook a gurgling —
ALL.   Brook a gurgling
SERGEANT. And listen to the merry village chime.
ALL.   Village chime.
SERGEANT. When the coster's finished jumping on his mother —
ALL.   On his mother;
SERGEANT. He loves to lie a basking in the sun —
ALL.   In the sun;
SERGEANT. Ah, take one consideration with another —
ALL.   With another,
SERGEANT. The policeman's lot is not a happy one —
ALL.   Happy one!

Another part which immensely amused the audience last night was the monotoned responses of the policemen to Mabel’s defence of her lover Frederick, who, instead of leading them to "death and glory" (in the capture of the pirates), held it to be his duty to fulfil the terms of his indentures and rejoin them, and the pulpit-style of the sergeant when exclaiming, in sonorous tones, "No matter; our course is clear. We must do our best to capture these pirates alone. It is most distressing to us to be the agents whereby our erring fellow-creatures are deprived of that liberty which is so dear to all — but we should have thought of that before we joined the force."

For piquancy the discovery by Frederick of the girls just as they have taken off a shoe preparatory to "paddling" in the water is immense, for they all try to stand on one foot — the one with the shoe on; and a situation which is very little less outrageously funny is that with which the opera concludes, when the pirates, having overcome the police, suddenly yield on being charged to do so in Queen Victoria's name. The confession by Ruth, that the pirates are all noblemen who have gone wrong, brings down the curtain.

As regards Mr. D'Oyly Carte's Company, it should be said that it is a large one, and very nearly perfection. Some improvement might be made in the part of Frederick (Mr. Coventry), whose voice is very uneven. Mr. G. W. Marnock can sing as well as enact the part of the Pirate King, his good baritone voice and striking appearance going far to make his performance a finished one. The Major-General of Mr. David Fisher, jun., was a carefully studied part, and Mr. Hemsley creditably undertook the character of Samuel, the pirate lieutenant. Nor should Mr. Marler's clever study of the Sergeant of Police be forgotten. Amongst the ladies voices are several of first-class quality.

Miss Laura Clement was a charming Mabel, her pure, light, and well-trained voice suiting the music admirably. Miss Millie Vere — a familiar and favourite name in Mr. Carte's companies, — Miss May Lennox, and Miss Maribel, sang the music of the sisters Edith, Kate, and Isabel, most creditably. Lastly must be acknowledged the sterling contralto of Miss Augusta Roche in the part of Ruth, and along with it accomplished vocalisation and good dramatic appearance.

The theatre band, who have for some time been rehearsing the music, gave an exceedingly creditable interpretation of it. The two scenes required by the opera — a rocky shore on the coast of Cornwall, in the distance the calm sea on which a schooner is lying at anchor; and a ruined chapel, by moonlight — were very striking and hearty rounds of applause were the compliments paid to their authors, the Messrs. Tweddle.


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