Thursday Dec. 31, 2020’s Smile of the Day: Pirates of Penzance
On this Day:
The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty had it official premiere at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City in 1879.
The Pirates of Penzance is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. where the show was well received by both audiences and critics. Its London debut was on 3 April 1880, at the Opera Comique, where it ran for 363 performances. [Ed: The CBC FM had an announcer who used to do a GST portion every week…his Gilbert and Sullivan Treat).
The story concerns Frederic, who, having completed his 21st year, is released from his apprenticeship to a band of tender-hearted pirates. He meets the daughters of Major-General Stanley, including Mabel, and the two young people fall instantly in love. Frederic soon learns, however, that he was born on the 29th of February, and so, technically, he has a birthday only once each leap year. His indenture specifies that he remain apprenticed to the pirates until his “twenty-first birthday”, meaning that he must serve for another 63 years. Bound by his own sense of duty, Frederic’s only solace is that Mabel agrees to wait for him faithfully.
Pirates was the fifth Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration and introduced the much-parodied “Major-General’s Song”. The opera was performed for over a century by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in Britain and by many other opera companies and repertory companies worldwide. Modernized productions include Joseph Papp’s 1981 Broadway production, which ran for 787 performances, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, and spawning many imitations and a 1983 film adaptation. Pirates remains popular today, taking its place along with The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore as one of the most frequently played Gilbert and Sullivan operas (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
How do pirates know that they are pirates? They think, therefore they ARRRR!!!!!
Second, a Song:
“I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” (often referred to as the “Major-General’s Song” or “Modern Major-General’s Song”) is a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. It has been called the most famous Gilbert and Sullivan patter song. Sung by Major General Stanley at his first entrance, towards the end of Act I, the character introduces himself by presenting his résumé and admitting to a few shortcomings. The song satirises the idea of the “modern” educated British Army officer of the latter 19th century. It is difficult to perform because of the fast pace and tongue-twisting nature of the lyrics.
The song is replete with historical and cultural references, in which the Major-General describes his impressive and well-rounded education in non-military matters, but he says that his military knowledge has “only been brought down to the beginning of the century”. The stage directions in the libretto state that at the end of each verse the Major-General is “bothered for a rhyme”. Interpolated business occurs here, and in each case he finds a rhyme and finishes the verse with a flourish (per Wikipedia).
Here is “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Canada’s Stratford Festival 1985. The lyrics have been modified a bit…listen closely! I hope you enjoy this version!
Thought for the Day:
“In the movies, I loved Errol Flynn whether he was playing a soldier or a pirate. I dug pirates. In fact, my first exposure to live performances was when my paternal grandfather took me to a D’Oyly Carte performance of ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ which impresario Sol Hurok imported from London. I loved every minute of it.” – Stephen Lang
Have a great day!
© 2020 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky