ITEMS OF INTEREST. The Original Rackstraw. The Era
1908 July 18 71(3643): 15, column 2
SIR GEORGE POWER, the original Ralph Rackstraw of H.M.S. Pinafore, has been giving a Daily Chronicle representative some interesting recollections. "Well do I remember," he says, "the first production of the play at the Opera Comique. At that time, you must remember, Gilbert and Sullivan opera had not settled down into a series of assured successes. It was on its trial, and with H.M.S. Pinafore came the crisis – and the victory. Never shall I forget the labours and anxieties of the rehearsals.
"It was a wonder some of us appeared 'on the night' at all. On the very day before the production, I remember, we rehearsed hard from 11 to 4. Then we had some food, and appeared in the last performance of The Sorcerer. Then, directly the curtain was down, we had a bite of supper, and began the full-dress rehearsal of H.M.S. Pinafore. This was over at about four o'clock in the morning. All the time the old directors were stamping up and down, utterly dissatisfied. 'Call this wit?' they exclaimed. 'Call this comic opera?' But Gilbert, who knew exactly what he was doing in those days as ever, pegged away. For myself, as you may imagine, I had precious little sleep even when I did get to bed, and I came to the first night as limp as a rag and overwhelmed with nervousness.
"People have said," continued Sir George, "that H.M.S. Pinafore did not really go ahead until news came of the triumph of the juvenile production of it in America. This is not quite right. The piece was popular from the start. The real truth was that throughout the early days of the run there was a terrific managerial battle going on behind the scenes, which resulted in the victory of Mr. D'Oyly Carte as manager over the old directors, and the formation of the Savoy triumvirate of Carte and Gilbert and Sullivan.
"SULLIVAN was delightful – a real genius, and the kindest, gentlest of men. Although nearly always ill, even in those days, he never said a harsh word. He had a curious, witful, irresistible sense of humour about him, too – partly due, perhaps, to the blending of Irish and Jewish blood in his veins. To my mind, the secret of the success of the Savoy operas is the way in which Sullivan entered into the spirit of Gilbert's topsy-turvy humours, and was pompous when Gilbert was sprightly, or, when Gilbert's satire was keenest and most acid, consciously wallowed in sentiment."
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 12 March 2002