Gilbert & Sullivan Operettas

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  • H.M.S. PINAFORE
    (quarter-deck of HMS Pinafore off Portsmouth)

    High spirits prevail aboard HMS Pinafore as Little Buttercup distributes sweets and tobacco to the crew. Ralph Rackstraw’s mind, however, is on Josephine. He is in love with her even though she is socially unattainable. Unaware of his affection for her, Josephine is in love with Ralph but pride prevents her from revealing this because of his low station.

    Josephine, meanwhile, is sought in marriage by Sir Joseph Porter whose advances she refuses to acknowledge. Sir Joseph holds strong views about the treatment of sailors. He maintains that a British sailor is any man’s equal (excepting his own), and should always be treated with politeness without recourse to bad language or abuse. This inspires Ralph to declare his love to Josephine who soon forgets her price and confesses her true feelings to him.

    Plans are quickly made to smuggle the couple ashore that night to be married. The only crew member who is not happy at the news is Dick Deadeye. He betrays their intentions to the Captain and they are caught before they can leave the ship. Furious at Ralph’s actions, the Captain swears an oath at him which is, unfortunately, overheard by Sir Joseph. He is appalled at such an outburst and turns to Ralph for an explanation. Unfortunately, Ralph only makes matters worse by revealing that he is in love with Josephine.

    The situation is saved by Little Buttercup who intervenes to confess how, in her youth, she had fostered two babies from opposite ends of the social ladder. In the course of caring for them she had mixed them up. The baby from the poor background was Captain Corcoran and the other was Ralph. Upon hearing this, Sir Joseph immediately loses all interest in Josephine and gladly resigns her to Ralph, now Captain Rackstraw.

    IOLANTHE
    (An Arcadian Landscape/Palace Yard, Westminster; between 1700 and 1882)

    Twenty-five years after her banishment from Fairyland for marrying a mortal, a crime usually punishable by death, Iolanthe has been pardoned. She had a son by this illicit marriage, Strephon, who is, therefore, half mortal and half fairy. He is in love with Phyllis whom he is determined to marry. However, in order to do so he needs the consent of her guardian, the Lord Chancellor, who shows little enthusiasm for the idea of his ward marrying a mere shepherd.

    When Strephon turns to his mother for comfort, Phyllis misinterprets their intimacy (as a fairy Iolanthe has not physically aged beyond a certain point) and, believing him to be unfaithful, she renounces her love for him. Although he protests that Iolanthe is his mother, his claims are met with derision by Phyllis and the peers (who are unaware of his parentage) and even the intervention of the Queen of the Fairies cannot persuade them otherwise. Furious at their attitude, she declares that Strephon will enter Parliament and will work to overthrow all the privileges enjoyed by the nobility, a job at which Strephon is successful.

    However, he finds it no substitute for Phyllis and, with no further reason to conceal it, he reveals his fairy origins to her. This explains Iolanthe’s apparent youth and the couple become re-engaged. At Strephon’s request, Iolanthe puts their case to the Lord Chancellor, but has to disguise herself before doing so as, unbeknown to him, he is her mortal husband and she is forbidden to enlighten him under pain of death. Unfortunately, when he declares that he has decided to marry Phyllis himself, she is forced to reveal her true identity although this will mean forfeiting her life. However, when it emerges that the other fairies have committed the ultimate offence and married the peers (i.e. mortals), the Lord Chancellor suggests that the law be amended so that it is a crime for any fairy not to marry a mortal. The Queen happily selects a mortal for herself and invites the whole company to join her in Fairyland.

    THE MIKADO
    (The Town of Titipu, Japan)

    The Mikado has decreed that the act of flirting when ‘not conubially linked’ is punishable by death. Horrified by this prospect, the townsfolk of Titipu appoint Ko-Ko as the Lord High Executioner – he has been imprisoned for flirting and would be obliged to execute himself before beheading anyone else. Arriving in Titipu, Nanki-Poo is distressed to hear of this new appointment. He has been forced to leave his father’s Court to avoid execution due to the unwarranted attentions of Katisha and has come to Titipu to claim Yum-Yum, Ko-Ko’s bride to-be, believing that she would now be freed of her engagement to Ko-Ko in the light of his imprisonment. Yum-Yum has no desire to marry Ko-Ko but knows that he will not release her to anybody else, especially not to an itinerant musician. Heartbroken, Nanki-Poo prepares to commit suicide but is prevented from doing so by Ko-Ko, who has received orders from the Mikado to execute someone within the month, and suggests that Nanki-Poo be the required victim. Nanki-Poo agrees on the condition that in the meantime he can marry Yum-Yum, a plan which receives a temporary set-back at the discovery that the wife of a beheaded man must be buried alive. However, when they hear that the Mikado, accompanied by Katisha, is approaching the town, Ko-Ko, anxious to avoid the Mikado’s wrath, decides to pretend that Nanki-Poo’s execution has already taken place. Unfortunately, the Mikado is furious to learn that it is his son who has supposedly been beheaded and Ko-Ko has no choice but to persuade Nanki-Poo to “come back to life”, a plan Nanki-Poo will only agree to if Ko-Ko proposes to the unwed Katisha. Reluctantly he agrees and Katisha, believing Nanki-Poo to be dead, accepts the proposal. With Katisha out of the way, Nanki-Poo appears before the Mikado. He is delighted to see his son alive, and all is forgiven.

    THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE
    (The coast of Cornwall)

    The pirates of Penzance (a rather tender-hearted band, made up exclusively of orphans and unable to harm anyone of similar background) are celebrating Frederic’s coming of age and subsequent release from his apprenticeship to them. He joined the pirates as a child owing to a mistake by Ruth, his nursemaid, who misheard his father’s instructions to apprentice him to a pilot. She has remained with Frederic ever since and now harbors a desire to marry him.

    However, Frederic has met and fallen in love with Mabel whose sisters the pirates have claimed as their future brides. Their father, the General, is horrified at this prospect and declares himself to be an orphan, knowing that this will effect their immediate release. As an ex-pirate, Frederic now feels that his duty is to society and he wastes no time in assembling a police force to capture the pirates. He is, therefore, dismayed when he learns from Ruth and the Pirate King that, due to the fact that his birthday is on 29th February and only occurs once every four years, he has in effect only had five birthdays; the terms of his apprenticeship state that he is bound to the pirates until his 21 st birthday.

    Consequently, feeling that his loyalty is now to the pirates again, he reveals that the General is not really an orphan. The Pirate King is furious that he has been tricked and he plots to capture the General, his daughters and the policemen and take his revenge. This task proves no problem to his band of men until the Sergeant demands that they surrender in the name of Queen Victoria. This is too much for them and they yield to the request. However, as they are about to be taken into custody Ruth reveals that they are not really pirates at all, but noblemen who have gone astray. On hearing this, the General orders their release, restores them to their rightful ranks and offers them his daughters in marriage.

    PRINCESS IDA

    Act I
    Lytton as Gama, 1921
    In a pavilion at King Hildebrand’s palace, courtiers wait expectantly for the arrival of King Gama and his daughter Princess Ida, who was betrothed in infancy to Hildebrand’s son, Prince Hilarion (Search throughout the panorama). Hildebrand promises to wage war against Gama if the Princess should fail to appear (Now hearken to my strict command), while Hilarion, who is in love with Ida, although he has not seen her since he was two years old, wonders how she may have changed over the ensuing twenty years (Ida was a twelvemonth-old).

    Ida’s war-like (and dull) brothers Arac, Guron and Scynthius, arrive at Hildebrand’s palace (We are warriors three) preceding their father. King Gama enters, explains his misanthropy (If you give me your attention I will tell you what I am), and promptly displays it by insulting Hildebrand and his son. He then announces that Princess Ida has forsworn men and founded a women’s university at Castle Adamant, one of his many country houses. The two Kings advise Hilarion to go to Castle Adamant to claim Ida, and that if she refuses him, Hildebrand will storm the castle (Pr’haps if you address the lady). But Hilarion plans to use romantic means, rather than force, to gain the princess’s love. He explains that nature has “armed” him and his friends, the courtiers Cyril and Florian, to win this “war” (Expressive glances will be our lances). The three set off to Castle Adamant, while King Gama and his sons are to remain at Hildebrand’s palace as hostages (For a month to dwell in a dungeon cell).

    Act II
    At Castle Adamant, Princess Ida’s pupils learn that “man is nature’s sole mistake” (Towards the Empyrean heights). One of the Professors, Lady Blanche, doles out the punishments for the day, for “offenses” that include bringing chessmen to the university – “men with whom you give each other mate” – and for sketching a double-perambulator. Princess Ida arrives (Minerva! Oh hear me) and delivers a stern lecture, stating that women’s brains are larger than men’s, and predicting that woman shall conquer man, but that once having conquered, woman will treat man better than he has treated her. Lady Blanche resents the Princess and predicts that one day she will replace her as head of the university (Come mighty must, a song often cut from the D’Oyly Carte productions).

    Hilarion, Cyril and Florian sneak into Castle Adamant (Gently, gently). They scoff at the idea of a woman’s college. Finding some discarded academic robes, the three men disguise themselves as young maidens wishing to join the university (I am a maiden cold and stately) and are welcomed by Princess Ida (The world is but a broken toy). Florian realizes that their disguises won’t fool his sister, Lady Psyche (one of the professors), and they take her into their confidence. Lady Psyche warns them that they will face death if the Princess discovers who they are and informs them of the Princess’s theories on man, using a parable about an ape who falls in love with a high-born lady to illustrate her point that Darwinian “Man, sprung from an Ape, is Ape at heart” (A lady fair of lineage high).

    Illustration by Gilbert for the “Darwinian Man” song; compare with Darwin image above.
    Melissa, Lady Blanche’s daughter, has overheard them, but, fascinated by the first men she has ever seen, swears herself to secrecy. She falls in love with Florian at first sight, and the company celebrate joyously the discovery that men are not the monsters that Princess Ida had claimed (The woman of the wisest wit). Lady Blanche, who has not fallen for the men’s disguises, confronts Melissa. Though indignant at first, she is persuaded to keep the men’s secret when her daughter points out that if Hilarion is able to woo Princess Ida, Blanche will become head of the university (Now, wouldn’t you like to rule the roast?).

    During lunch (Merrily rings the luncheon bell), Cyril gets tipsy and inadvertently gives away his friends’ identity by singing a bawdy song (Would you know the kind of maid). In the ensuing confusion, Princess Ida falls into a stream, and Hilarion rescues her (Oh joy, our chief is saved). Despite her rescue, Ida condemns Hilarion and his friends to death. Hilarion counters that without her love to live for, he welcomes death (Whom thou hast chained). King Hildebrand and his soldiers arrive, with Ida’s brothers in chains. He reminds her that she is bound by contract to marry Hilarion and gives her until the following afternoon to comply (Some years ago) or incur the guilt of fratricide. The defiant Ida replies that, although Hilarion saved her life and is fair, strong, and tall, she would rather die than be his bride (To yield at once to such a foe).

    Act III
    Princess Ida reviews her student troops’ readiness to meet Hildebrand’s soldiers in battle, but the terrified girls admit that they are afraid of fighting (Death to the invader!). Princess Ida is disgusted by their lack of courage and vows that, if necessary, she will fight Hildebrand’s army alone (I built upon a rock). Her father, King Gama, arrives with a message that Hildebrand prefers not to go to war against women. He reveals that Hildebrand has been torturing him by treating him in luxury and giving him nothing to complain about (Whene’er I spoke sarcastic joke). He suggests that, instead of subjecting her women to all-out war, she pit her three strong, brave brothers against Hilarion and his friends, with Ida’s hand to depend on the outcome. Ida is insulted to be “a stake for fighting men” but realizes that she has no alternative.

    Rutland Barrington as Hildebrand, 1884
    Hildebrand’s forces enter, together with Gama and his three sons (When anger spreads his wing). Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian are still in their women’s robes, and King Gama and his sons ridicule them. In preparation for battle, Gama’s sons shed their heavy armor, saying that it is too uncomfortable for combat (This helmet I suppose). The fight ensues, with Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian defeating Gama’s sons (It is our duty plain).

    Her wager lost, Ida yields to Hilarion and bitterly asks Lady Blanche if she can resign her post with dignity. The delighted Blanche, who will succeed her as head of the university, assures her that she can. Ida laments the failure of her “cherished scheme,” but King Hildebrand points out the fatal flaw in her logic:

    If you enlist all women in your cause,
    And make them all abjure tyrannic Man,
    The obvious question then arises, “How
    Is this Posterity to be provided?”

    Princess Ida admits, “I never thought of that!” Hilarion makes an emotional appeal, urging her to give Man one chance, while Cyril observes that if she grows tired of the Prince, she can return to Castle Adamant. Lady Psyche says that she, too, will return if Cyril does not behave himself, but Melissa swears that she will not return under any circumstances. Finally, Ida admits that she has been wrong, and declares that indeed she loves Hilarion, ending with a quotation directly from the Tennyson poem. All celebrate, (With joy abiding).

  • Music by Arthur Sullivan
    Lyrics and Libretto by W.S. Gilbert

  • 1 Leader Violin (1st Violin part with vocal cues)
    1 Violin I
    2 Violin II
    1 Viola
    2 Cello & Bass

    1 Flute I & II (Flute II doubles Piccolo)
    1 Oboe
    1 Clarinets I & II in A and Bb
    1 Bassoon

    1 Horns I & II (in F)
    1 Trumpets I & II [or Cornet I & II] in A and Bb
    1 Trombone I & II

    1 Percussion
    1 Piano-Conductor’s Score (There is no piano scored in the orchestration.
    The Piano-Conductor’s Score is a vocal score with orchestra cues added.

    Two-Piano Arrangements are available for: The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance.

  • 1       Piano Conductor’s Score
    1       Prompt Book
    1       Vocal-Chorus Book

    Vocal scores for Gilbert & Sullivan operettas are available for sale at bookstores or online.
    The orchestrations match only the Boosey & Hawkes or Chappell editions.

  • H.M.S. PINAFORE (1878)

    The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B. (First Lord of the Admiralty)
    Capt. Corcoran (Commanding H.M.S. Pinafore)
    Ralph Rackstraw (Able Seaman)
    Dick Deadeye (Able Seaman)
    Bill Bobstay (Boatswain)
    Bob Becket (Boatswain’s Mate)
    Tom Tucker (Midshipmate)
    Sergeant of Marines
    Josephine (The Captain’s Daughter)
    Hebe (Sir Joseph’s First Cousin)
    Mrs. Cripps [Little Buttercup] (A Portsmouth Bumboat Woman)

    First Lord’s Sisters, his Cousins, his Aunts, Sailors, Marines, etc.

    IOLANTHE (1882)

    The Lord Chancellor
    Earl of Mountararat
    Earl Tolloller
    Private Willis (of the Grenadier Guards)
    Strephon (an Arcadian Shepherd)
    Queen of the Fairies
    Iolanthe (A Fairy, Strephon’s Mother)
    Fairies:
          Celia
          Lelia
          Fleta
    Phyllis (an Arcadian Shepherdess and Ward in Chancery)

    Chorus of Dukes, Marquises, Earls, Viscounts, Barons and Fairies

    THE MIKADO (1885)

    The Mikado of Japan
    Nanki-Poo (his Son, disguised as a wandering Minstrel, and in love with Yum-Yum)
    Ko-Ko (Lord High Executioner of Titipu)
    Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything Else)
    Pish-Tush (a Noble Lord)
    Three Sisters – Wards of Ko-Ko:
          Yum-Yum
          Pitti-Sing
          Peep-Bo
    Katisha (an elderly Lady, in love with Nanki-Poo)

    Chorus of School-Girls, Nobles, Guards, and Coolies

    THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1880)

    Major-Heneral Stanley
    The Pirate King
    Samuel (his Lieutenant)
    James (a Pirate)
    Frederic (the Pirate Apprentice)
    Sergeant of Police
    General Stanley’s Daughers:
          Mabel
          Edith
          Kate
          Isabel
    Ruth (a Pirate Maid of all Work)

    PRINCESS IDA (1884)

    King Hildebrand
    Hilarion (his Son)
    Hilarion’s Friends:
          Cyril
          Florian
    King Gama
    King Gama’s Sons:
          Arac
          Guron
          Scynthius
    Princess Ida (Gama’s Daughter)
    Lady Blanche (Professor of Abstract Science)
    Lady Psyche (Professor of Humanities)
    Melissa (Lady Blanche’s Daughter)
    Girl Graduates:
          Sacharissa
          Chloe
          Ada

    Soldiers, Courtiers, “Girl Graduates,” “Daughters of the Plough,” etc.

    Operettas require trained voices for principal roles and a full SATB chorus.
    Original D’Oyly Carte Orchestrations are available.

  • Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) and to the works they jointly created. The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado are among the best known.

    Gilbert, who wrote the words, created fanciful “topsy-turvy” worlds for these operas where each absurdity is taken to its logical conclusion—fairies rub elbows with British lords, flirting is a capital offense, gondoliers ascend to the monarchy, and pirates turn out to be noblemen who have gone wrong. Sullivan, six years Gilbert’s junior, composed the music, contributing memorable melodies that could convey both humor and pathos.

    Their operas have enjoyed broad and enduring international success and are still performed frequently throughout the English-speaking world. Gilbert and Sullivan introduced innovations in content and form that directly influenced the development of musical theatre through the 20th century. The operas have also influenced political discourse, literature, film and television and have been widely parodied and pastiched by humorists. Producer Richard D’Oyly Carte brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and nurtured their collaboration. He built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works (which came to be known as the Savoy Operas) and founded the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and promoted Gilbert and Sullivan’s works for over a century.

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