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When I was a lad

Opera details:

Opera title:

H.M.S. Pinafore


Arthur Sullivan




H.M.S. Pinafore Synopsis


H.M.S. Pinafore Libretto


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Aria details:




Sir Joseph Porter





Previous scene: I am the captain of Pinafore
Next scene: I am called Little Buttercup

Hidden treasures - Gilbert & Sullivan - H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) - Selected highlights (Mackerras)

Singer(s): Donald Adams Richard Van Allan Thomas Allen Richard Suart

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 :).

Watch videos with other singers performing When I was a lad:


When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

As office boy I made such a mark
That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.
I served the writs with a smile so bland,
And I copied all the letters in a big round hand--
I copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

In serving writs I made such a name
That an articled clerk I soon became;
I wore clean collars and a brand-new suit
For the pass examination at the Institute,
And that pass examination did so well for me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that junior partnership, I ween,
Was the only ship that I ever had seen.
But that kind of ship so suited me,
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule--
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!

English Libretto or Translation:

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Sheetmusic in our database with this aria

Gilbert & Sullivan for Singers: Baritone/Bass

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