About the Show
Common sailor Ralph Rackstraw and captain’s daughter Josephine Corcoran are in love, but Captain Corcoran has pledged his daughter to the elderly Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty. Sir Joseph is an incompetent leader, ill-suited to his position, but beloved by a loyal following of “his sisters and his cousins and his aunts.” Josephine agrees to the marriage to satisfy her father, but secretly she and Ralph plan to escape and elope.
Meanwhile, the honorable Captain reveals his affection for “dear Little Buttercup,” a lowly peddler woman, who hints to the Captain “things are seldom what they seem.” A short while later, Ralph and Josephine are caught as they attempt to leave the ship. Just at the moment when everyone’s plans for happiness are about to capsize, Little Buttercup reveals her long-kept secret, and the curtains close on a comedic, merry celebration.
The fourth collaboration for Sirs W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, the debut of H.M.S. Pinafore in May of 1878 was an enormous success. The comic operetta, also known as The Lass That Loved a Sailor, first ran for 571 performances. It received both critical and popular success. Gilbert and Sullivan built a reputation for themselves on their wit and whimsy, and H.M.S. Pinafore did not disappoint. The operetta ran through February of 1880 at the Opera Comique in London.
Because of the great number of unauthorized versions playing in the United States, the official NewYork production did not see as much success as expected when it opened in November of 1879. In response, Gilbert and Sullivan worked quickly to finish their new operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, which replaced H.M.S. Pinafore in New York on New Year’s Eve that year.
As with many Gilbert and Sullivan productions, H.M.S. Pinafore has been widely adapted. Many of its songs show up in pop culture references and parodies including:
Gilbert and Sullivan
The first Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration, Thespis, premiered in London at the Gaiety Theater on December 26, 1871. Unfortunately, the score was never published and most of the music has been lost. It was not until four years later that they worked on their second operetta, Trial by Jury.
Opera vs Operetta
The terms “opera” and “operetta” are nearly interchangeable,however, there are a few distinct differences. Operettas are a subset of operas, featuring the classical form of an opera in overall style, but lighter themes and more popular subjects. Gilbert and Sullivan’s works fall under the operetta category, but are also commonly referred to as operas.
The Savoy Operas
From 1871 to 1896, Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on 14 comic operas. Gilbert wrote the scripts while Sullivan composed the scores. The Savoy Theatre in London became the partnership’s permanent home in 1881 when it opened for their opera Patience, a story revolving around a milkmaid of that name. As noted on a plaque on the theatre’s wall, “The Savoy Theatre was the first public building in the world to be lit throughout by electricity.” Known as the Savoy Operas, Gilbert and Sullivan’s collective works take their name from that theatre. The duo’s final comic opera was The Grand Duke in 1896.
Although they are fondly remembered as a legendary team, the two were continually at odds over their works, especially after the move to the Savoy Theatre. On several occasions, Sullivan asked to leave the partnership, saying that Gilbert’s plots were repetitive. Each time, though, after a few months, Gilbert created a more satisfactory libretto, and the partnership continued.
Founded in 1974, The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) is dedicated to the professional performance of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and to building new audiences for this classic repertory. The NYGASP repertory includes every complete Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration as well as Sullivan’s last work, The Rose of Persia. As part of their mission, NYGASP offers full-scale performances to New York public schools free of charge, and also offers a number of school programs and master classes to schools around the country.