THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE
 
 

BEATTY-KINGSTON, William. Our Musical-Box. THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE; OR, THE SLAVE OF DUTY.
The Theatre 1885 February 2 New series 5: 80-82
 

"THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE; OR, THE SLAVE OF DUTY."
An entirely Original Melodramatic Opera, in Two Acts, written by W. S. GILBERT. Composed by ARTHUR SULLIVAN.
Represented, for the first time, at the Royal Bijou Theatre, Paignton,
on Tuesday, December 30, 1879.
Produced at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York, on Wednesday, December 31, 1879.
Produced, for the first time in London, at the Opera Comique, on Saturday, April 25, 1880.


Paignton
New York. Opera Comique. 
Savoy.
Major-General Stanley MR. R. MANSFIELD. MR. J. H. RYLEY. MR. GEORGE GROSSMITH. MASTER E. PERCY.
The Pirate King MR. FEDERICI. MR. BROCOLINI. MR. R. TEMPLE. MASTER S. ADESON.
Samuel  MR. LACKNER. MR. F. COOK. MR. G. TEMPLE. MASTER W. PICKERING.
Frederic  MR. CADWALLADER. MR. H. TALBOT. MR. G. POWER. MASTER H. TEBBUTT.
Sergeant of Police MR. BILLINGTON. MR. CLIFTON. MR. BARRINGTON. MASTER C. ADESON.
Mabel MISS PETRELLI. MISS B. ROOSEVELT. MISS MARION HOOD. MISS ELSIE JOEL.
Edith MISS MAY. MISS N. BOND. MISS J. GWYNNE. MISS ALICE VICAT.
Kate MISS MONMOUTH. MISS BRANDRAM. MISS LA RUE. MISS EVA WARREN.
Isabel MISS K. NEVILLE. MISS BARLOW. MISS N. BOND. MISS F. MONTROSE.
Ruth MISS F. HARRISON. MISS A. BARNETT. MISS E. CROSS. MISS G. ESMOND.

Perhaps the most triumphant confutation of the Continental postulate, "The English are not a musical people," ever advanced by any native-born caterer for the British musical public was that put forward by Mr. D'Oyly Carte when he produced "The Pirates of Penzance" at the Savoy Theatre with an exclusively juvenile company. We are told that the child is father to the man, and, by inference, mother to the woman. Admitting the correctness of this axiom, we may accept the half hundred children whose singing at the savoy has been the wonder and admiration of London during the past month, as no less adequate representatives of their country than if they were all grown up and had families of their own. I think I may venture to say that I am not a rabid patriot in connection with matters artistic, or wilfully blind to the shortcomings of my compatriots as regards musical cultivation or taste: perhaps because I have lived nearly half my life abroad, and have consequently enjoyed opportunities accorded to few Englishmen of ridding myself of insular prejudices. As, moreover, my long sojourn upon the Continent teemed with musical events and experiences, it entitles me to a certain extent to draw comparisons between the innate musical capacities of foreign and English folk; and, in the exercise of that right, real or imaginary, I desire to record my conviction that such a rendering of a comic opera as that given by the savoy children, under the direction of Messrs. F. Cellier and R. Barker, has never within my remembrance been achieved by any German, French, or Italian company. These miniature mummers are living and indefeasible proofs of the disputed musicality of the English nation; for they are by no means "infant wonders," but average children judiciously selected from some hundreds of youthful candidates for employment, belonging in part to the mysterious little world that is peopled by hangers-on to the dramatic profession, and in part to the work-a-day lower middle classes of society. That such children as these, after a few weeks' careful training at the hands of an accomplished musician and an intelligent stage manager, should perform so difficult a work as "The Pirates of Penzance" quite faultlessly, from a musical point of view nay, more, should act as well as sing their parts with a spirit, humour, and discretion rarely displayed by their professional seniors goes far to prove at least that what is conventionally called "a musical ear" is a British national characteristic. The story of their preparation for the stage is a very simple one, but can hardly fail to interest music-lovers. These little ones, their voices and capacity to sing in tune having been tested by Mr. Carte in person, were taken in hand by Messrs. Cellier and Barker some ten weeks before the date fixed for the reproduction of the "Pirates" with a juvenile cast. Their ages, I should mention, varied between ten and thirteen. With but few eliminations or fresh recruitments, the company of Mr. Carte's original choice, fifty-four in number, underwent daily rehearsal for a little over two months; and their relations wit htheir instructors were so consistently the reverse of irksome to them that, during that interval of time, only one child (and that one, as I am given to understand, not a "singing-super,2 but a "principal") was constrained to shed tears by the difficulties of its task. The discipline to which the children were subjected, though strict, was never severs; unlike the adult supernumeraries in more than one popular London theatre,  they were not sworn at, hustled about, or bespattered with epithetical mire,  but were cheerily encouraged to do their best, and liberally praised when their endeavours proved successful. Under these genial influences and that of emulation, to which children of tender years are just as susceptible as those of larger growth, they attained the extraordinary degree of efficiency to which I have already alluded, and which may be most concisely described by the single word perfection.
    In Miss Elsie Joel, the small prima-donna of this admirable company, the Savoy management has discovered a pearl of great price. Gifted by nature with a powerful and flexible voice compassing two full octaves, this amazing child, at twelve years of age, is already a mistress of the art of vocalization. She executes elaborate fioriture with the ease and désinvolture of a Frezzolini; her attaccamento exhibits the reckless intrepidity that is alone inspired by inward certitude of infallibility; her tone-production would gladden the heart of Lamperti himself; and the truth of her intonation is absolutely flawless. She is, moreover, always within herself, obviously putting no strain upon her physical powers: a circumstance of happy augury, emboldening one to hope that she will not wear her lovely voice to shreds before it shall have attained its full development. If she do not, a bright and golden future awaits her upon the lyric stage, which has indeed seldom sitnessed so brilliant a debut as hers in the part of Mabel.
    Harry Tebbutt, who impersonated Frederick, the pirate-apprentice, is scarcely a less remarkable vocalist than Elsie Joel. His, too, is one of those strangely sympathetic voices the mellow pathos of which makes every fibre of a musician's heart thrill with the exquisite pleasure that is so closely akin to pain. I can recall few sensations of musical bliss so intense as that which I experienced whilst listening to the touching little duet, "Oh! leave me not to pine," sung by Frederick and Mabel in the second act of the "Pirates." Mine were not the only eyes by many filled with grateful tears as those tiny songsters delivered Sullivan's sweet strains with an innocent tenderness and pure tunefulness that I shall never hear excelled in this planet. The boy is a bright, intelligent actor, too, as well as a super-excellent singer, and a handsome lad to boot, well set up and graceful in his movements. He is "made up" to resemble a popular English light tenor, of whom he is a curiously exact reproduction, supposing the latter to be contemplated through a pair of reversed opera-glasses. His aplomb and self-possession on the stage, the fervour of his love-making, and the smartness with which he fires off all his "points," are simply astounding.
    Of the brothers, Stephen and Charles Adeson, who sustained the extravagantly humorous parts of the Pirate King and the Police Sergeant, it may be said without fear of contradiction that they are born wags and predestined operatic comedians. "Caparisons are odorous," as everybody knows; were they otherwise, I should certainly indulge in them with relation to these excruciatingly funny boys and their adult predecessors, in their respective rôles. as it is, I will simply record the fact that I have never seen a première audience, necessarily composed to a considerable extent of persons somewhat blasés of dramatic and musical entertainments, so irresistibly and ungovernably moved to laughter as was the gathering of critics and "professionals" assembled to witness the dress rehearsal of the Miniature Pirates. Young Percy, too a diminutive little chap, nearly a head shorter than either of the Adesons fairly took the house by storm with a stif, sententious, elderly-gentlemanly rendering of the "Modern Major-General," that was, to speak quite within bounds, a master-piece of comic acting. The clever imp sung his patter-song and spoke his words with a distinctness and weird gravity worthy of George Grossmith himself, and was as comfortably at home in all his "business" as the oldest actor on the British, or any other stage. A small girl, hight Georgie Esmond, displayed healthy dramatic instinct as the much-snubbed Ruth, and the parts of Edith, Kate, and Isabel Stanley, were most satisfactorily filled. As for the chorus singing, I lack words to express the delight it gave me. What beautiful fresh young voices! how perfectly they sang in tune! how clear and crisp the harmonies rang through the house when the dandified little pirates and dainty little maidens, all kneeling and gazing upwards with their large bright eyes, delivered Sullivan's impressive chorale, "Hail, Poetry," with inimitable purity and finish! I noticed around me some of the "hardest nails" in town quite unaffectedly staunching "the unfamiliar brine" at that moment; and one of the opera's joint authors I leave those amongst my readers who know them both to divine which was fairly overpowered by emotion. To my mind, the tears he shed were a supreme tribute of praise to the best performance, taking it all in all, I ever heard in or out of London.

WM. BEATTY-KINGSTON.
 

 

transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 28 November 2000