Opera Scotland

H M S Pinafore or The Lass that Loved a Sailor

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Arthur Sullivan (born London, 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900)


William S Gilbert



First Performance: London (Opéra Comique), 25 May 1878.

First Performance in Scotland: tbc 1879.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.



Pinafore is the work that established Gilbert and Sullivan as stars of the theatrical world, particularly in the United States, where the piece was quickly staged in a multitude of unofficial versions. The result was that when their next opera, Pirates of Penzance, was mounted, stringent steps were taken to tighten up the application of the authors' copyright. The plot is both a typical light operatic romance and a completely nonsensical example of the 'topsy-turvy' ideas that frequently drove Gilbert's plotting, of which Sullivan would eventually grow very tired. This version still seems remarkably fresh.


Main Characters

Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty (baritone)

Captain Corcoran, of H.M.S. Pinafore (baritone)

Josephine, his daughter (soprano)

Ralph Rackstraw, able seaman (tenor)

Dick Deadeye, able seaman (bass)

Mrs Cripps 'Little Buttercup', a bumboat woman (contralto)


Plot Summary

On the quarterdeck of H.M.S. Pinafore, in Portsmouth Harbour, preparations are in hand for the visit of Sir Joseph Porter, who is considering marriage to the captain's lovely daughter, Josephine. Little Buttercup, who is selling various trinkets to the sailors, notices that one seaman looks miserable. This is Ralph, who loves Josephine, but is too low in rank to be considered as a husband. When Sir Joseph announces that a British tar is any man's equal, Ralph proposes, is immediately rejected, threatens suicide, and is then accepted.

That evening, the Captain's singing is interrupted by Buttercup, who loves him. Dick Deadeye informs the Captain and Sir Joseph that their plan for the marriage to Josephine are to be foiled through her imminent elopement with Ralph. The young couple are surprised and prevented from leaving. Ralph is arrested, and there is general consternation, until Buttercup provides the solution. Many years ago, in her youth, she ran a nursery, looking after a number of infants, including Corcoran and Rackstraw. At some stage she mixed the two babies up. It therefore becomes clear to Sir Joseph that Ralph is really the captain and the Captain is Ralph. The First Lord's marriage to Josephine is now out of the question - love does not level ranks as much as all that. Captain Rackstraw can now marry Josephine, and Corcoran, demoted to able seaman, can marry Buttercup. Sir Joseph marries his cousin Hebe, one of the extensive flock of sisters, cousins and aunts that follows him everywhere.

The Cast

Bill Bobstay
 Boatswain's mate
Bob Becket
 Carpenter's Mate
Captain Corcoran
 commanding H.M.S. Pinafore
Dick Deadeye
 Able Seaman
 Sir Joseph's First Cousin
 the Captain's Daughter
Little Buttercup
 Mrs Cripps, a Portsmouth Bumboat Woman
Ralph Rackstraw
 Able Seaman
Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB
 First Lord of the Admiralty

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