Painting: "Ships on Anchor" by Ivan Aivazozsky.
History: The remarkable early hits that helped establish the popular reputation of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan ("Trial by Jury" and "The Sorcerer") paved the way for subsequent collaborations by the duo, one of which was a marine drama of extreme charm. Gilbert's father had been a naval surgeon, and, thus, the nautical theme naturally became the center of the new opera: the writer also drew on several of his earlier "Bab Ballad" poems, many of which also concern the lives and woes of various sailors. The libretto was finished by the end of 1877 (in a matter of several months), and Sullivan was "in the full swing" of work on the piece by the middle of April 1878. "H.M.S. Pinafore, or The lass that loved a sailor" opened at the Opara Comique Theatre in London on May 25, 1878, before an enthusiastic audience, with Sullivan conducting. Soon, however, the piece suffered from weak ticket sales, generally ascribed to a heat wave. The four partners of the Comedy-Opera Company lost confidence in the opera's viability; however, Sullivan's active advertising of the work stimulated new interest and ticket sales. By September, "Pinafore" was playing to full houses at the Opera Comique. On 20th of February, 1880, "Pinafore" completed its initial run of 571 performances; only one other work of musical theatre had ever run longer, Robert Planquette's "Les cloches de Corneville". At any rate, it was "Pinafore" that established Gilbert and Sullivan as a creative force to be reckoned with in British comic theater.
Narrative: Gilbert's libretto has everything necessary to create a comedy: the story, taking place aboard the titular British ship, centers on Captain Concoran's (baritone) daughter, Josephine (soprano), who is in love with a lower-class sailor, Ralph Rackstraw (tenor), although her father intends her to marry Sir Joseph Porter (baritone), the First Lord of the Admiralty. The latter's advocacy of the equality of humankind encourages, however, Ralph and Josephine to overturn conventional social order. They declare their love for each other and eventually plan to elope. The captain discovers this plan, but a surprise disclosure (as it turns out, Ralph and the Captain were switched at birth, thus it is Ralph who is the Captain of the "Pinafore") brings the story to a happy conclusion. This plot can seem rather unsubstantial, but Gilbert's tongue-in-cheek lampooning of various theatrical conventions and contemporary political events turns it into a marvelous framework for the librettist wit and, even more importantly, the composer's inspiration..
Music: Indeed, "Pinafore" is unfailingly melodious: one does not have to know the opera intimately to remember the ever-popular and immensely catchy "When I was a lad". While perhaps not as musically adventurous as the more ambitious "Pirates" (indeed, Act I of "Pinafore" is occupied by no less than five introductory cavatinas; the solos themselves are mostly short and structurally straightforward; the orchestration - uncomplicated), "Pinafore" has more charm than one could possibly hope for, combining English music hall traditions and a romantic language from the world of grand opera. Though it is the numerous comic numbers that readily stay in one's mind - the classic patter-song of Sir Joseph and the Captain's joyous cavatina above all others - Sullivan's score is beautifully varied, encompassing flights of romance - Ralph's marvelous opening ballad - and flashes of quasi-operatic inspiration - most notably, the heroine's urgent second aria, the enchantingly sincere octet and the Captain's handsome Act II romance. What speaks most clearly of the score's potency is the fact that the bright and cheerful music of "Pinafore" was composed during a time when Sullivan suffered from excruciating pain from a kidney stone.
Recording: In this case, the "hidden treasure", however, is not the score itself which remains well-known to this very day, but its beautiful representation. The present 1994 Telarc issue is a perfect version of the score: while lacking the dialog from Godfrey's equally winning 1960 recording, the more modern version positively bubbles with excitement. veteran conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, leading the excellent Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera, produces a sparkling accompaniment for his uniformly strong cast, featuring a wonderful pair of lovers, a handsome-voiced captain and a suitably buffoonish Sir Joseph. A triumph on all counts.
Sir Joseph - Richard Suart,
Captain Corcoran - Thomas Allen,
Ralph Rackstraw - Michael Schade,
Dick Deadeye, Able Seaman (bass) - Donald Adams,
Bill Bobstay, boatswain (baritone) - Richard Van Allan,
Bob Becket, carpenter (bass) - John King/Philip Lloyd Evans,
Josephine - Rebecca Evans,
Little Buttercup (contralto) - Felicity Palmer.
Cousin Hebe (mezzo-soprano) - Valerie Seymour.
Hope you'll enjoy :).