H.M.S. Pinafore Trivia

H.M.S. Pinafore Trivia No. 1.

In H.M.S. Pinafore, the Captain reacts to his daughter’s attempted elopement with a member of the crew by exclaiming “Damme, it’s too bad!”; and the chorus repeat in horror “He said Damme! He said Damme!” When D’Oyly Carte staged a production of Pinafore played by children, Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, protested in anguish:  “I cannot find words to convey to the reader the pain I felt in seeing those dear children taught to utter such words to amuse ears grown callous to their ghastly meaning…. How Mr. Gilbert could have stooped to write, or Sir Arthur Sullivan could have prostituted his noble art to set to music, such vile trash, it passes my skill to understand.”  In fact, for the children’s production Gilbert had replaced “Damme” by “Hang it”.

H.M.S. Pinafore Trivia No. 2.

Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore, who sings of how he became “the ruler of the Queen’s Navee” in spite of having no experience whatever of the sea or ships, is a lampoon on William Henry Smith, founder of the bookshop chain W.H. Smith’s, who had been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in the year before Pinafore opened.   The allusion was instantly recognised, and the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, was heard to refer to the First Lord as “Pinafore Smith”.

H.M.S. Pinafore Trivia No. 3.

The dénouement of The Pirates of Penzance, in which the defeated pirates are saved by the revelation that they are “all noblemen who have gone wrong”, is a send-up of the stock situation in melodrama where a seemingly low-born character turns out to be the heir to a title or fortune. In the original production, the finale included the exchange: “Oh spare them, they are all noblemen who have gone wrong!” – “What, all noblemen?” – “Yes, all noblemen!” – “What, all?” – “Well, nearly all!”: a humorous reminiscence of the catchphrase “What, never?” – “No, never!” – “What, never?” – “Well, hardly ever!” from the previous opera, H.M.S. Pinafore.

H.M.S. Pinafore Trivia No. 4.

Only one Gilbert and Sullivan character has the distinction of appearing in two operas. In Utopia Limited, a company of six Englishmen, each representing some aspect of imperial Britain, arrive in the South Sea island of Utopia to assist the King in modernising his realm; and the last to appear is Captain Corcoran from H.M.S. Pinafore, with his catchphrase “What, never?” – “No, never!” – “What, never?” – “Well, hardly ever!”  The fact that he has evidently regained his Captaincy after losing it at the end of the earlier opera, and earned a knighthood into the bargain (he is listed in the dramatis personae as “Captain Sir Edward Corcoran, K.C.B.”), is not explained.

H.M.S. Pinafore Trivia No. 5.

The part of Lady Sangazure in The Sorcerer was created by Mrs Howard Paul; and the part of Cousin Hebe in the next opera, H.M.S. Pinafore, was originally written for her.  Her voice, however, was visibly past its best, and before the opening of Pinafore Gilbert and Sullivan decided that the part should be divided between her and Jessie Bond.  Mrs Paul, taking this as an insult, withdrew entirely from the company; and to avoid placing an untried newcomer in what had been planned as a major part, the role was cut down to the few lines of which it now consists.

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