THE production of a new comic Opera, by Messrs. W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, entitled the "Pirates of Penzance," at the little town of Paignton, on the south coast of Devon, would assuredly excite our wonder were we not informed that, in the absence of the author and composer, a performance of the Opera in the metropolis is not deemed advisable, that Paignton is considered sufficiently out of the way to prevent the probability of many Londoners being included amongst the audience, and that a single representation of an English literary, dramatic, or musical work in any part of this country is absolutely necessary to secure for the authors a legal copyright. Our readers will, we are certain, be glad to know something of the merits of this latest production of our popular librettist and composer, and we therefore extract the following from the Paignton and Newton Directory of December 31 last :—
A new and original comic Opera by Messrs. W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, entitled the "Pirates of Penzance, or Love and Duty," was produced at this theatre yesterday (Tuesday), and met with an enthusiastic reception. So far as we can judge from a first performance it bids fair to rival "H.M.S. Pinafore" in popularity. "The Pirates of Penzance" is in two acts and two set scenes – the first scene representing a cavern by the sea-shore, which stands throughout the entire act, and the second the ruins of a picturesque chapel by moonlight. The plot – a compound of whimsical absurdities – is well described as a satirical burlesque upon the conventional romance of buccaneering, and the sentimentalities of the pirates' career on the stage and in fiction. The hero, Frederick[sic] (Mr. Cadwalader), has been apprenticed, much against his inclinations, to the profession of a pirate, by mistake for that of a pilot, and when the curtain rises his articles are on the eve of expiring, and he is looking forward to his becoming an honest member of society, and an uncompromising foe to his former associates, simply from his predominant sense of duty. The only woman he has yet seen is his nurse Ruth (Miss Fanny Harrison), to whom, on her assurance that she was a fine woman years ago, and whose love for him has been accumulating forty-seven years, he pledges his faith conditionally, merely promising that if he finds she is really a fine woman her age shall be no obstacle to their union. However, he presently sees another woman more to his taste, in the person of Mabel (Miss Petrelli), one of the many daughters of the Major-General (Mr. R. Mansfield), – a most eccentric individual, somewhat after the pattern of the First Lord in "Pinafore" – who appears on the scene with her sisters. Of course, Frederick and Mabel fall in love at first sight, and the pirates severally claim the sisters as their brides. Their father comes in search of them, and, taking advantage of the pirates' sentimental respect for "orphans," whom they "often" meet with and never harm, himself claims to be an orphan, on which the pirates are moved to tears, and allow him and his interesting daughters to depart, accompanied by Frederick, who informs the pirates that his sense of duty will impel him to compass their destruction. On the rising of the curtain in the second act, the Major-General is discovered in the ruins of the chapel among the tombs of his ancestors "by purchase," lamenting the deception he has practised on the credulity of the pirates, and the dishonour he had brought on the family name of "Stanley." Then follows a scene between Frederick, Ruth and the Pirate King, in which the nurse explains to Frederick that, as he was born on the 29th February, his articles would not expire until his 21st birthday, and, consequently, having only had some five birthdays, he has many more years to serve the pirates, and, his predominant sense of duty being appealed to, he reluctantly determines to rejoin the pirates. The Major-General confesses his falsehood, and a conflict takes place between the pirates and the authorities who arrive to capture them, and with some very effective concerted music the opera terminates. We are sorry that time does not permit of our giving more than the above meagre description of the story, which is exceedingly funny, and of the music we can speak in the highest praise. The airs are catching, and the concerted pieces are well worthy of our most popular English composer (Mr. Arthur Sullivan). We congratulate the talented author and composer on another brilliant success.
A correspondent of the Daily News gives a long account of the production of this Opera at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York, on the last night of the old year. "Author and composer," he says, "were repeatedly called before the curtain; nearly all the principal songs and choruses were demanded a second time, and the jokes are already in everybody's mouth."
transcribed by Helga J. Perry, 9 November 2000
updated 16 December 2000