About this Recording
8.110196-97 - SULLIVAN: Pirates of Penzance / Trial by Jury (D'Oyly Carte) (1949)
English 

William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900)

William Schwenk Gilbert (1836 - 1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842 - 1900)

The Pirates of Penzance

Trial By Jury

 

 

The Pirates of Penzance

 

While The Pirates of Penzance contains some of Sullivan's most captivating tunes, Trial By Jury has preserved for posterity Gilbert's cleverest satirical asides on the hypocrisy of the judicial system. Each imparts its message with an economy of music and lyrical invention which has assured its place among the best loved of G & S masterpieces.

 

Subtitled The Slave of Duty, The Pirates of Penzance was the fourth in the series of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, a sequel to the phenomenally successful HMS Pinafore of 1876, which swiftly provided its creators with another transatlantic hit. After parallel 'copyright' performances at the Bijou Theatre, Paignton, Devon, on 30th December and the Fifth Avenue Theater, New York, on 31st December, 1879, its first London performance took place at the Opera-Comique, under Sullivan, on 3rd April, 1880, with an initial run of 363 performances. Combining ideas from the pre-Sullivan Gilbert operetta Our Island Home (1870) with some of his more recent mock-melodramatic improvisations on burglars, its plot revolves around yet another case of mistaken identity. Owing to the oversight of his nursery-maid Ruth, as a child Frederic was apprenticed in error to the Pirate King.

 

Trial by Jury

 

Following their inaugural collaboration Thespis, first produced in London on 23rd December, 1871, Gilbert and Sullivan's first full-scale collaboration Trial By Jury, 'A novel and entirely original Dramatic Cantata' based on an earlier courtroom skit and initially proposed to D'Oyly Carte by Gilbert in 1874, was first given under the baton of the composer at the Royalty Theatre in London on 25th March, 1875. An immediate success, it was their first significant milestone prior to HMS Pinafore (1878). "Extremely funny and admirably composed," it originally constituted the last in a triptych of one-act farces, preceded by Edgar and Wallace's Cryptonchoidsyphonostomata and Offenbach's La perichole, and survived its counterparts in an initial run of 131 performances. The libretto is an elaboration by Gilbert of a comic ballad he had written in 1868 for Fun magazine and later submitted to the impresario Carl Rosa as a possible vehicle for an opera.

 

Pirates or Penzance

 

Synopsis

CD l

Act I: After the Overture [1] the curtain rises on an appropriate location for pirates, the craggy coast of Cornwall. On the shore a notorious band of pirates are making merry, drinking the health of the young Frederic who, having reached his 21st birthday, has completed his pirate apprenticeship [2]. Frederic causes consternation when he informs the Pirate King that, as he will be free from midnight that day of his indentures, he intends to part company with his pirate colleagues. As Ruth, the pirate maid-of-all-work, endeavours to explain, his association with them was a mistake in the first place. He was meant to have become a pilot, not a pirate [3] Frederic assures the pirates that, although he is very fond of them, once a free man he will, out of a sense of duty, join the police force and work towards their extermination. The Pirate King's sad confession that the gang have never been successful in their piratical aspirations (being orphans, they have a soft spot for other orphans) prompts Frederic out of leniency to suggest that the pirates accompany him back to civilisation to avoid extermination. The pirates declare they will have none of this, preferring to die as they have lived [4]. Next, the ageing Ruth begs Frederic to take her with him and make her his wife. As he has been at sea since he was eight, Frederic has no previous experience of women and his shrewd idea that there might be prettier - and younger - specimens to be found elsewhere is confirmed when, suddenly, a group of beautiful maidens appears in the distance. At this, he bitterly reproaches Ruth for deceiving him and she goes out in despair [5]. As the girls, all daughters of Major-General Stanley, clamber over the rocks, Frederic takes refuge in a cave. From their conversation he overhears that they had set out with their father but have left him trailing some way off [6]. Intrigued by the handsome Frederic's "effective but alarming costume," the girls nonetheless express horror that he is, for the present at least, a pirate [7], despite his reassurance that he will change his profession that evening if anyone of them will marry him [8]. The girls all spurn his advances, with the exception of Mabel who, in a florid parody of a conventional Italian operatic aria, openly declares her love for him [9]. Conscious of the instant mutual attraction between Mabel and Frederic, Edith and the other sisters gather round to eavesdrop on the progress of their courtship [10] until Frederic warns his future sisters-in-law to leave the shore before the pirates return [11]. The warning comes too late; the pirates enter and seize the girls, over whom they swiftly weave designs of matrimony [12]. At this, Mabel comes forward and informs them in a sobering recitative that the girls' father is a Major-General [13], whereupon the Major-General himself enters and introduces himself in a brilliant patter-song [14]. Next, the General expresses his unwillingness to accept the pirates as his sons-in-law [15]. He plays on their weakness by addressing them as his fellow-orphans and they are swiftly reduced to the state of maudlin sentimentality which has undermined all their previous enterprises. Amid cheers for the "orphan boy," they release the General's daughters. Ruth makes one final, futile appeal to Frederic and the curtain falls upon both Union Jack and Skull-and-Crossbones [16].

 

CD 2

Act II: The scene opens on a ruined chapel by moonlight. Surrounded by his daughters, the Major-

General sits deep in thought. While Mabel urges him to return to his bed. Frederic attempts to raise his spirits [1]. The General is overcome by remorse at having lied to the pirates, as he is not really an orphan. He visits the chapel nightly, he says, to commune with the spirits of his "ancestors" but, as Frederic rightly points out, they cannot really be his ancestors since he only bought the property a year ago. As that very night Frederic is to lead a police expedition against the pirates, the General directs Frederic to summon his forces [2], upon which the Police Sergeant and his men enter. Despite the martial fervour of their music they clearly have little stomach for the enterprise in hand and, despite the flattery of Mabel and the girls, depart only after much urging from the General [3]. Frederic expresses satisfaction at leaving his piratical past behind him and is himself about to depart when Ruth and the Pirate King re-appear [4]. Each holds a gun to his head as they unfurl a new twist in the tale. By "a most ingenious paradox" Frederic, having been born in a leap year, is really only five years old and therefore still indentured to the pirates until he reaches the age of [5]. It is, he now realises, his duty to remain a pirate and that same duty compels him to reveal to the King that the General is not really an orphan. Infuriated, the King resolves to attack the General's castle that very night [6]. Ruth and the King depart and Mabel comes to bid Frederic goodbye before he sets out against the pirates [7]. He discloses to Mabel the truth about his age and she at first tries to persuade him to stay [8]. She appeals to him not to abandon her and, in an impassioned duet, he expresses reluctance at leaving her "in endless night to dream" [9]. He reminds her that by 1940 they will be eligible to marry [10] and as Frederic rushes out to rejoin the pirates, she vows to wait for him [11]. The police march in and Mabel tells the Sergeant that, impelled by a sense of duty, Frederic has now joined forces with his old comrades [12]. The Sergeant, while underlining that "the policeman's lot is not a happy one," gallantly resolves to combat the pirates without Frederic's leadership [13]. As the police conceal themselves the pirates are heard approaching [14]. In a chorus worthy of grand opera, punctuated by the police's interjections and concealed brandishing of truncheons, the pirates swear vengeance [15]. Next, clad in a dressing-gown and carrying a light, the General enters. "Tormented with the anguish dread of falsehood unatoned;' he is unable to sleep [16]. He sings a lyrical song about a rippling brook [17] but, followed out of doors by his daughters, all night-capped and carrying lighted candles, is unwittingly running into danger. He is promptly seized by the pirates who, despite his daughters' entreaties, warn him to prepare for death. At the last moment the police summon their courage and come out of hiding. A general struggle ensues in which the pirates swiftly gain the upper hand. When they are called upon by the Sergeant to yield in Queen Victoria's name, however, they do so willingly; whereon Ruth intervenes to plead leniency for the pirates, declaring that they are all "noblemen who have gone wrong". At last the General, having no objection to noble sons-in-law, magnanimously hands over his daughters to the pirates [18].

 

Trial by Jury

 

Synopsis

The scene opens immediately upon the Court of Justice, a comic allegory loosely based on Gilbert's brief personal experiences in jurisprudence at Clerkenwell, before he abandoned law for writing, The action in hand, that of breach of promise brought by the pretty and scheming Angelina against the ingenuous defendant Edwin, is proclaimed by an all-male chorus of barristers, attorneys, Jury and members of the public [19] The Usher, while urging that the proceedings should be "from bias free of every kind," is himself obviously in favour of the Plaintiff [20]. Excited and defiant Edwin, the Defendant, appears [21] and, sensing the Jury's hostility, endeavours in a flowing aria to clarify his plea of innocence. He fell in love with a maiden and became "like love-sick boy", but once the sweetness of love had cloyed and bored him he became "another's love-sick boy." [22]. The Jurymen all admit that they were once just like him but, having now attained middle-aged respectability and a certain reputation, they can no longer condone his conduct [23]. The Judge now enters and is greeted by all present with great effusion [24]. He thanks them [25] and responds by telling how he first became a judge. It appears he gained his first step up the ladder by marrying an attorney's "elderly, ugly daughter" then, once he had become rich in his own right, cast her aside. Whereon he proceeds to try the case for "Breach of Promise of Marriage" [26]. The Jurymen are sworn in and the plaintiff, Angelina, is called [27]. She enters, surrounded by maidens who were intended to be her bridesmaids. The Judge, who has a roving eye, scribbles a billet doux which he instructs the Usher to give to the First Bridesmaid but, having spotted Angelina, changes his mind and the Usher gives her the note instead [28]. Angelina, appropriately flattered, kisses it rapturously and stows it in her bosom as she sings [29], The Judge, meanwhile, cannot refrain from expressing his admiration at Angelina's beauty [30]. The Counsel for the Plaintiff now addresses the court. Never, he says, could he have believed any man so base as to deceive a girl so trusting, and paints a picture of his fair client's happiness prior to her "naming and insisting on the day." The Defendant, he claims, had criminally evaded her questions and demands, even after she had purchased her trousseau [31]. Weeping, the Plaintiff is led "fondly" by her Counsel into the witness box where, overcome, she reels. The Foreman of the Jury offers his support but when the Judge suggests she might prefer him, she ascends to his bench and sobs on his shoulder. At this, the Jury turn angrily upon the Defendant [32] who, sensing he is losing the battle, attempts to account for his wayward behaviour .He admits he has previously allowed his heart to roam but is willing to make amends by marrying the young lady that day and marrying the present object of his affection tomorrow [33]. The Judge concurs with this proposition but Counsel interjects that "to marry two at once...is a rather serious crime" [34] and as a quartet ensues, the statute book is consulted. Should the Defendant recoil from marrying the Plaintiff it will constitute Breach of Promise; should he not that will be Burglaree! [35]. At this the Plaintiff, her heart set on a substantial financial settlement, throws her arms around the Defendant. Recounting the loss she has suffered by being jilted, she proclaims her undying affection, in the next breath requesting that the Jury bear this in mind when assessing "the damages Edwin must pay". Edwin, not wishing to be outdone, repels her, claiming that he might not be such a good catch, that he drinks and when drunk would probably thrash his wife [36]. The Jury is in dumbfounded and when the Judge cleverly suggests they had better turn hypothesis to reality by making the Defendant drunk, general objections are raised, except from the Defendant himself, who think this a good idea. Infuriated, the Judge announces that he intends to marry the Plaintiff himself [37]. He jumps down from the Bench and embraces Angelina and as the curtain descends all present proclaim his sovereign worth.

 

Peter Dempsey


Close the window