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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon
Written by W S Gilbert
Composed by Arthur Sullivan
We sail the ocean blue
Hail! men-o'-war’s men
I'm called Little Buttercup
But tell me who’s the youth
Buttercup & Boatswain
Ralph & Chorus of Sailors
A maiden fair to see
Ralph & Chorus of Sailors
My gallant crew, good morning
Captain & Chorus of Sailors
Sir, you are sad
Buttercup & Captain
Sorry her lot who loves too well
Over the bright blue sea
Chorus of Female Relatives
Sir Joseph’s barge is seen
Chorus of Sailors & Female Relatives
Now give three cheers
Captain, Sir Joseph, Cousin Hebe & Chorus
When I was a lad
Sir Joseph & Chorus
For I hold that on the sea
Sir Joseph, Cousin Hebe & Chorus
A British tar
Ralph, Boatswain, Carpenter’s Mate & Chorus of Sailors
Refrain, audacious tar
Josephine & Ralph
Finale, Act I: Can I survive this overbearing?
Fair moon, to thee I sing
Things are seldom what they seem
Buttercup & Captain
The hours creep on apace
Never mind the why & wherefore
Josephine, Captain & Sir Joseph
Kind Captain, I’ve important information
Captain & Dick Deadeye
Carefully on tiptoe stealing
Soli & Chorus
Pretty daughter of mine
Captain & Ensemble
He is an Englishman
Boatswain & Ensemble
Farewell, my own
Ralph, Josephine, Sir Joseph, Buttercup & Chorus
A many years ago
Buttercup & Chorus
Here, take her, sir
Sir Joseph, Josephine, Ralph, Cousin Hebe & Chorus
Finale: Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen
The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB
First Lord of the Admiralty (comic baritone)
Commander of H.M.S. Pinafore (lyric baritone)
Able Seaman (tenor)
Able Seaman (bass-baritone)
Boatswain’s Mate (baritone)
Carpenter’s Mate (bass)
The Captain’s Daughter (soprano)
Sir Joseph’s First Cousin (mezzo-soprano)
Mrs. Cripps (Little Buttercup)
A Portsmouth Bumboat Woman (contralto)
Chorus of First Lord’s Sisters, His Cousins,
His Aunts, Sailors, Marines, etc.
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Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not necessarily represent the views of St David’s Players
During 1888 the inventor Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph, sent his representative Col. George Gouraud, to Great Britain to record the voices of the celebrities of the day onto wax cylinders. We know of course that he recorded Queen Victoria, although that cylinder has never surfaced, and also that he recorded the voice of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and that recording can be heard on a number of releases and, indeed, at various sites on the internet.
It is remarkable to think that less than 20 years later, substantially complete recordings of at least three of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas had appeared on cylinder and shortly afterwards on 78’s.
The first ‘complete’ recording of Pinafore appeared in 1907
and unusually for the day featured not just an orchestra,
but also a chorus.
The recording lacks just the overture and the madrigal ‘A British tar’ which, however, is reprised as part of the Act One Finale and presumably was therefore thought to be expendable in the interests of saving space.
Initially issued on 11 cylinders, the recording later appeared on 10 double-sided discs at the price of 50/- (fifty shillings or 2.50 GBP in today’s currency.)
No D’Oyly Carte singers were employed of course. The cast however did apparently rehearse for several weeks before the recording was made and, most unusually for this period,
no singer sang multiple parts.
When one considers that this recording is now over 100 years old, this is a remarkable achievement and although the sound cannot hope to compare with that of more recent recordings, it is exceptionally good, all credit to the engineers at Symposium.
The recording is available on the SYMPOSIUM label, catalogue number 1293.
Considering the popularity of Pinafore it seems amazing that the first complete recording in the HMV acoustic series, did not appear in the shops until 1924. Six of the operas had already been recorded and issued by this time. Recording seems to have started in 1922 and continued through 1923 and at the same time both Patience and Iolanthe were also recorded and issued. This anomaly means that several of the characters in Pinafore are shared by two singers with Buttercup being recorded by both Bertha Lewis (D’Oyly Carte) and Nellie Walker (not D’Oyly Carte), Josephine by both Violet Essex and Bessie Jones (neither D’Oyly Carte) and Ralph by James Hay and Walter Glynne (both D’Oyly Carte).
However, this is an important document for, as with Leo Sheffield and Henry Lytton on several subsequent recordings, Sydney Granville as Captain Corcoran was a performer who had worked with Gilbert and we can therefore be sure that Granville’s performance would have reflected Gilbert’s wishes.
The recording has been expertly remastered by Chris Webster and is available on SOUNDS ON CD VGS 202.
With the advent of the new electrical recording process in 1927, HMV abandoned their series of complete acoustic recordings having committed 9 of the operas to disc, and embarked on a
This time Pinafore appeared in 1930 and by now most of the singers were D’Oyly Carte regulars as was the chorus.
The conductor was Malcolm Sargent.
This is an excellent recording of the opera which maintained a place in the catalogue well into the LP age alongside Sargent’s 1958 offering.
The two non-D’Oyly Carte singers are Stuart Robertson in the small role of Bob Becket, the Carpenter’s Mate, and George Baker as Corcoran. The wonderful Bertha Lewis is present once again as Buttercup. Most important from a historical point of view is the presence of Henry Lytton as Sir Joseph. Lytton had first appeared at the Savoy in 1887 as Robin in Ruddigore as understudy to George Grossmith when GG has been taken ill just a week into the run. Lytton continued to work under Gilbert’s direction for some 20 years.
The recording has been reissued on a number of labels. That illustrated above is on the ARABESQUE label Z8052-2 coupled with the 1928 Trial. The issue also includes a slightly abridged version of the recording of Sullivan’s voice made in 1888. Other issues include a single disc version on PRO-ARTE CDD 598 and a double disc issue coupled with the 1936 Mikado on HAPPY DAYS CDHD 253/254.
There is a very loyal band of Gilbert and Sullivan lovers who still remember the casts preserved on this first DECCA series of D’Oyly Carte recordings, or who were brought up listening to them, and who will happily insist that these recordings have never been surpassed.
To an extent I can sympathise with this view, just as I can with those who were brought up listening to the Sargent series. For me it was the second DECCA series of the late 50’s into the 60’s, as these were the casts that I knew on stage.
What I cannot fathom is the dogged determination that these first series recordings are in some ways superior.
Advances in technology have certainly revealed some delightful performances which had been hidden away under all the surface noise and clicks and pops ever present with vinyl. Sadly a number of flaws, often present I suspect because DECCA engineers couldn’t be bothered, or just didn’t have time to go for an extra ‘take’, are also revealed.
This 1949 Pinafore seems to have more than it’s fair share what with a particularly clumsy tape edit at one point and, sadly, some very audible fluffs from Leonard Osborne as Ralph. Osborne was a highly regarded (and much over-worked) artist on stage, and one can imagine that his very nasal singing tone could have been lost in stage production. On record it often became unpleasant. Pinafore was not a show he normally performed in but at the time of this recording the regular player of the part had just left the company and his replacement was not yet in full swing. Sadly, Osborne manages to crack in ‘The Nightingale’ and again is badly out of tune and cracks at the beginning of the Act One Finale. So sad, as when he is on form elsewhere in the opera, he is extremely good. Why these flaws were ever allowed to get through is not known. Apparently, different ‘takes’ used for the 78’s issue and a highlights issue do not have these flaws and the question must be why did DECCA not insert these into the LP master tape.
The rest of the cast is standard for the day with Martyn Green as a superior Sir Joseph, Leslie Rands delightful as Corcoran, Darrell Fancourt a very sinister Deadeye, Muriel Harding a strong-willed Josephine and Ella Halman a rich, full-bodied Buttercup. The chorus and orchestra are excellent under the baton of Isidore Godfrey.
The recording has appeared in a number of guises. One to be avoided is NAXOS 8.110175. This firm, so often really dependable has for some reason transferred this recording
at a higher speed than should have been the case. The result
is that it plays for 3½ minutes less than any other transfer.
The equalisation also is incorrect with some of the higher frequencies being lost, therefore the triangle and cymbals are often not heard.
The best transfer is probably that on SOUNDS ON CD VGS 213. The recording is also available from PEARL GEM 0096, REGIS RRC1088, and it is included in AVID’s 10 disc box set AMBX 138.
Sir Malcolm Sargent’s 1958 recording is a great deal better than the previous offerings in the series, but unfortunately, although beautifully sung and played, Sargent’s tempi once again let the enterprise down. The piece is excellently recorded, and the modern digital transfers are bright and clear, but the sparkle of Pinafore is all too often missing.
George Baker is once again at the head of the cast, this time as Sir Joseph. Owen Brannigan is excellent as Deadeye and proves a wonderful foil for Richard Lewis as Ralph. John Cameron is a commanding Corcoran.
But here we come to a strange bit of casting as the roles of Bill Bobstay and Bob Becket are shared between Cameron, Brannigan and James Milligan and what is sung by whom seems to depend on who else is involved at the time. Very clumsy.
Elsie Morison is delightful as Josephine and one couldn’t wish for two better contraltos as Marjorie Thomas and Monica Sinclair as Hebe and Buttercup.
The Glyndebourne Festival Chorus and the Pro Arte Orchestra are on excellent form.
The recording has gone through multiple releases both on LP and more recently on CD. It is currently available on EMI’s budget label, CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 2134332 and is coupled with Trial by Jury. The recording is also included in the EMI Classic 16 disc box-set.
DECCA’s second complete series began in 1957 and it was in 1959 that new ground was broken with a new recording of Pinafore, the first of any Gilbert and Sullivan opera to be issued with the complete dialogue.
It has to be said that this recording has never been bettered. Indeed the Penguin Record Guide awarded the recording a rosette which it has never lost, and despite a number of stars for many other G & S recordings, Pinafore has never been surpassed.
This is hardly surprising as the cast is ideal, representing as it does the cream of the D’Oyly Carte post war golden age.
John Reed had only recently assumed the mantle of the ‘patter’ roles and his approach is still fresh and deliciously witty. Thomas Round is a tenor who is still a D’Oyly Carte legend in his own lifetime and his portrayal of Ralph has never been bettered. Donald Adams, for so long a stalwart of the company (and probably the best ever Mikado) gives an object lesson in how to play Deadeye, whilst the wonderfully talented Jeffrey Skitch is a bemused Corcoran.
Such a faithful performer of minor roles for many, many years was the late George Cook who is heard here as Bill Bobstay. George was also famed for making all the fans for the company’s production of Mikado.
Jean Hindmarsh was with the company for only a few short years but her popularity with audiences is easy to understand on hearing her here as Josephine. She in turn is ably supported by Joyce Wright as Hebe, whilst Buttercup is performed by the remarkable Gillian Knight.
The New Symphony Orchestra of London and the D’Oyly Carte Chorus are conducted by Isidore Godfrey and the whole enterprise sparkles from beginning to end.
DECCA have recently reissued this recording as a 2 CD set with the original artwork on 473 638-2. The set is also included as part of DECCA’s 24 disc box set.
From probably the best G & S recording ever, we move on to one that has been reviled more than any other. Having commenced a third D’Oyly Carte series in 1967, DECCA recorded a new Pinafore in 1971 using their new Phase 4 process and again including the full dialogue.
Not having listened to this recording for several years, other than the odd snippet for comparison purposes, I was pleasantly surprised to find how good this production actually is. I guess my opinion, and the opinion of others, had been coloured to a greater or lesser extent by the ‘sound effects’, so much so that one’s ability to listen to the actual performance was impaired by the distraction.
A quick comparison of the LP against the CD reveals that the level of the sound effects has been reduced, allowing the performance to be heard, and the sound effects to act merely as atmosphere. The original recording was also recorded at an incredibly high level, leading to a certain amount of distortion. This seems to have been resolved, certainly in Act One, although there is still some minor distortion in Act Two.
The one disappointment of the set, for me, is Thomas Lawlor as Corcoran. There is just something about the voice that makes him seem too heavy and dark hued. I personally much preferred Jeffrey Skitch or Alan Styler in the role. Valerie Masterson is, of course, excellent as Josephine and for the first time one is able to hear Ralph Mason as Ralph without being distracted.
I would never say that this recording comes anywhere near the 1959 in excellence, but let’s just say, it needed to be re-evaluate and the transfer to CD now reveales it to be a much better recording than could have been suspected in its original LP guise.
The disappointments of the set are the items from DECCA’s 1966 Phase 4 G & S SPECTACULAR and I’m afraid the blame has to be laid yet again at the feet of Sir Malcolm Sargent. The problem is the tempi — a problem which I have always felt dogged his Glyndebourne series, and his 1965 D’Oyly Carte/DECCA Ida.
‘Wand’ring Minstrel’ and ‘A More Humane Mikado’ are about the best, with Philip Potter on top form in the former and Donald Adams turning in a vintage performance in the latter. But in some of the other numbers you can sense that the singers are trying to push the number on, but are being literally forced back by Sargent. ‘There grew a little flower’ and ‘Three little maids’ are prime examples, and ‘The flowers that bloom’ almost grinds to a halt and, as a result, ends the second CD on a definite anti-climax. Such a pity when one listens to Sargent’s 1920’s and 1930’s recordings, which are so full of life.
The recording is available as a 2 CD set
In 1987 the short-lived New Sadler’s Wells Opera recorded their production of Pinafore for the TER label. This recording came about as the result of a successful stage production and was especially welcomed as it presented for the first time, Sullivan’s original orchestrations, the orchestral parts having been transcribed for the production by David Russell Hulme from Sullivan’s autographed manuscript. The recording is presented complete without dialogue. An added bonus is provided by the inclusion of the recit ‘Here take her sir’ just preceding the Act Two Finale. The finale also is presented in three versions, Sullivan’s original ending, the traditional D’Oyly Carte ending, and the ‘Rule Britannia’ ending.
The most annoying feature of the stage production was Nicholas Grace’s portrayal of Sir Joseph in which he endeavoured to give an impersonation of the Prince of Wales. This became very tiresome in the theatre. However, as the dialogue is omitted here this is less of a drawback.
The remainder of the cast are on excellent form and include Gordon Sandison as Corcoran, Thomas Lawlor much more acceptable in the role of Deadeye and Elizabeth Ritchie as Josephine.
The chorus and orchestra are conducted by Simon Phipps who, as with the same company’s Ruddigore, takes the whole piece at a terrific pace.
The recording is currently available from JAY RECORDS CDJAY2 1324.
1994 saw the release by TELARC of a single CD recording of Pinafore from Sir Charles Mackerras and his forces at Welsh National Opera.
This is a delightful and very ‘traditional’ recording of the opera (without dialogue), which dances merrily upon it sparkling way just as a Gilbert and Sullivan opera should do.
Richard Suart is one of those performers that G & S lovers either love or hate. Here as Sir Joseph he seems very solid and ‘traditional’ and gives a very good performance without any of the verbal histrionics that many accuse him of indulging in on other recordings.
Corcoran is in the very capable hands of Thomas Allen whilst the small role of Bill Bobstay is excellently portrayed by Richard Van Allan. Michael Schade is a suitably romantic Ralph. Donald Adams brings all the weight of his long D’Oyly Carte experience to Deadeye.
Rebecca Evans is a delightful Josephine whilst the wonderful Felicity Palmer throws herself into the role of Buttercup.
As a single disc issue of Pinafore this cannot
be bettered and is available from TELARC CD-80374.
As the New Sadler’s Wells were recording their Pinafore in 1987, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, disbanded in 1982, was being revived as the New D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and in 1999 their production of Pinafore was recorded by TER and issued in 2000.
As with the Sadler’s Wells version, the new production used the new orchestra parts transcribed by David Russell Hulme. However, this was the first recording to include the full dialogue, also restoring Hebe’s dialogue scenes which had originally been deleted during the rehearsal period in 1878.
Gordon Sandison is promoted from Corcoran at Sadler’s Wells to Sir Joseph and obviously relishes the change. The young Alfie Boe is a delightful Ralph and is ideally partnered by the feisty Yvonne Barclay as Josephine. Corcoran is intelligently performed by Tom McVeigh and Frances McCafferty give an excellent account of Buttercup.
The entire recording is beautifully paced and is a credit to musical director John Owen Edwards.
As a bonus the recently rediscovered duet for Josephine and Corcoran, ‘Reflect my child’ is included as an appendix to the second disc.
The set comes from TER CDTER2 1259.
The 2006 double bill of Pinafore/Trial from Australian Opera is excellent all-round entertainment. Treated traditionally without any of the liberties that were taken some years ago with Gondoliers, this is a lively, highly enjoyable production.
Trial is placed at the end of the evening, as indeed Gilbert and Sullivan themselves originally intended it to be performed and presumably why Sullivan never provided this work with an overture.
For this production Pinafore was played without an interval, with the entr’acte being used to accomplish the lighting change to night already commenced in the Act One Finale.
Anthony Warlow, a stalwart of Australian Opera, gives a unexpectedly comic performance as the Corcoran, which is somehow quite different from what we are all used to. He is ably backed by a highly experienced cast, although it has to be said that Collette Mann as Buttercup is really out of place, and I understand that after the première season in Melbourne, she was replaced.
The Opera Australia Melbourne Chorus and Victoria Orchestra are conducted by Andrew Greene who draws a sparkling performance of both operas from all involved.
The recording is available on DVD on the FAVEO label, OA F 4009 D.