OPERA COMIQUE. The Illustrated London News 1878 June 1 72(2031): 515 [unsigned review]

The promised new work by Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Dr. Arthur Sullivan was produced, with much success, at this theatre on Saturday; when, after a very long run, “The Sorcerer,” the joint production of the same gentlemen, was replaced by “H.M.S. Pinafore; or, the Lass that Loved a sailor,” a comic opera in two acts. The plot is merely a slight sketch, which serves, however, as a vehicle for that caustic humour and quaint satire in which Mr. Gilbert is such a proficient. A caricature First Lord of the Admiralty, the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., who has risen from small beginnings, seeks the hand of Josephine, daughter of Captain Corcoran, commander of the ship Pinafore, the young lady being secretly beloved by Ralph Rackstraw, one of the ordinary seamen. The First Lord visits the ship (with a boatload of female relations), and harangues the crew on the equality of men and officers, a sentiment which emboldens the sailor to declare his love to Josephine, who at first refuses him, but ultimately consents to elope with him. The plan is betrayed to the Captain by one of the crew, Dick Deadeye, a grotesque version of a misanthrope. Ralph is seized and is about to receive punishment, when a bumboat woman, nicknamed Little Buttercup, discloses the fact that the Captain and Ralph had been changed by her when intrusted as infants to her charge. On this announcement the changelings enter in reversed costume, the lovers are united, the quondam Captain, now a common seaman, pairs off with Little Buttercup, and Sir Joseph mates with Hebe, one of his cousins. There is so much that goes beyond the province of farce and enters the region of rampant burlesque, but there is also much to call forth hearty laughter in the occasional satirical hits, as, for instance, when the First Lord narrates the fact of his elevation, and gives the advice to

  Stick close to your desks, and never go to sea
  And you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navee;

and when he avows that

  When the breezes blow,
  I generally go below,
  And seek the seclusion that a cabin grants.
This and similar terminal rhymes are followed, with ludicrous effect, by a choral refrain,
  And so do his sisters and his cousins and his aunts
    Dr. Sullivan’s music is as lively as the text to which it is set, with here and there a touch of sentimental expression, as in Josephine’s ballad, “Sorry her lot;” her scena, “The hours creep on;” Ralph’s ballad, “A maiden fair to see;” the duet for these characters, “Refrain, audacious tar;” and a well-written ottet “Farewell, my own,” for the principal characters. In a sprightlier style are the Captain’s song, “I am the Captain of the Pinafore;” that for Sir Joseph, “When I was a lad” (encored); the very effective “Ensemble” at the end of the first act (the last part encored); the duet for the Captain and Little Buttercup, “Things are seldom what they seem;” and a capital trio, “Never mind the why and wherefore,” for Josephine, the Captain, and the First Lord, the concluding portion of which had to be repeated; another repetition having been that of a travestie of the style of the old nautical ballad, sung by the boatswain’s mate, to the lines:-
  For he himself has said it
  And it’s greatly to his credit
      That he is an Englishman!
  For he might have been a Roosian,
  A French, or Turk, or Proosian,
      Or perhaps Itali-an!
  But in spite of all temptations,
  To belong to other nations,
      He remains an Englishman.
     The piece is well performed throughout. Miss Howson, as Josephine, sang with much purity of voice and refinement of style, and acted very gracefully; Miss Everard gave a very quaint rendering of the part of Little Buttercup; Mr. Power, as Ralph, displayed an agreeable tenor voice and good cantabile phrasing; Mr. G. Grossmith, jun., was well made up, and acted and sang with quiet humour as the First Lord; and Mr. Barrington was a very efficient representative of the Captain, and gave his music with good effect, considering that he was suffering from a cold, for which an apology was made. subordinate characters were also well filled, including those of Hebe by Miss J. Bond, Dick Deadeye by Mr. R. Temple, Bill Bobstay the Boatswain’s Mate by Mr. Clifton, &c.
     The quarter-deck of the ship, with distant view of Portsmouth, is admirably represented, the scene-painters being Messrs. Gordon and Harford. The costumes are good, and the band and chorus well selected and thoroughly efficient. Dr. Sullivan conducted on the first night, and he and Mr. Gilbert, as well as the principal performers, were called forward.


transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 9 November 2000