Tuesday, August 1

And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore

Last night I finished reading a fascinating book about Gilbert and Sullivan, whose comic operas were all the rage in the late 19th century. William S. Gilbert wrote the libretto and Arthur Sullivan composed the music for over a dozen operettas. The best known are The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance, from which my blog title comes. I've loved Gilbert and Sullivan since I first saw a performance of Pirates at USM as a kid, so it was very interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at life in Victorian England, particularly the business of entertaining. Gilbert's sharp wit and Sullivan's rousing scores complimented each other so well.

In 1878 Sullivan’s airs were heard everywhere, and Gilbert’s jokes were repeated like Napoleon Dynamite quotes. One of the best known comes from Captain Corcoran of the Pinafore:

CAPT. Bad language or abuse,
I never, never use,
Whatever the emergency;
Though "Bother it" I may
Occasionally say,
I never use a big, big D—
ALL. What, never?
CAPT. No, never!
ALL. What, never?
CAPT. Hardly ever!
ALL. Hardly ever swears a big, big D—
Then give three cheers, and one cheer more,
For the well-bred Captain of the Pinafore!

Gilbert & Sullivan and Their Victorian World says that “What, never?” “Hardly ever!” was repeated so much that the editor of a paper in which it appeared about a dozen times in a single issue roared at his writers that he never wanted to see that joke in print again. “What, never?” they replied. “Hardly ever,” he answered helplessly. You can hear a sample of the song at the Gilbert & Sullivan Archive.

If you get a chance to see a G&S performance, don't miss it! Meanwhile, here is a self-portrait Gilbert—who was known for his volatile temper and verbal barbs—made as a gift for a child. Each confession is signed "W.S. Gilbert."

I hate my fellow-man.
Everybody is an ass.
I am an overbearing beast.
I loathe everybody.
I love to bully.
I am an ill-tempered prig, & I glory in it.
Confound everything.
I like pinching little babies.


Anonymous said...

Hey Caroline! Thanks for your note! I am going out of town this weekend, but I hope to be at Redeemer on Sunday night. Sorry I couldn't see you the other night. The road was blocked. =( Love you!

Brad said...

Ahh Pirates of Penzance... I remember my part in the chorus when Belhaven performed it. I actually hated every minute of rehearsing those accursed songs. I never gained a true appreciacion for the work until I met Daniel McNair...

"For I am a pirate kiiiiiiing! And it is it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king!"

I would have paid a cool million to sing like Johnny Gaither.