SCENE 2: December 1879 – ‘From Pinafore to Pirates’
(The backcloth rises to reveal a fully dressed Pinafore set facing the audience. The players are in position. Sull has conducted the overture and now begins the performance.)
(As the number finishes and the players move for the next item the stage turns so that the audience is now looking in from the wings, not quite able to see the stage itself. Gilb, still dressed in costume as a member of the chorus, comes off and joins Carte. A constant coming and going of players takes place during the following dialogue as the show proceeds)
Gilb Will you credit it? At times I thought we would never get here.
Carte Sold out for our Columbian opening night!
Gilb (Looks on to stage) The spirit of Nelson and his HMS Victory has sailed in to the very centre of New York – and been welcomed fulsomely by its natives!
Carte Sullivan told me how you both tramped the boards of that very flagship to conclude your design for the set.
Gilb It was one of Sullivan’s legion of ‘worthy’ friends who arranged access to several Royal Navy ships-of-the-line to complete our research.
Carte I have always admired your attention to detail. Only you would have insisted that the Pinafore naval uniforms were to be made by a Portsmouth tailor.
Gilb It was a sensible approach in pursuit of accuracy, but in fact they proved much too expensive.
Carte I was advised that on some occasion Barrington deliberately displaced part of the rigging on the set and won his bet that you would dutifully notice it before the start of rehearsals. And yet, I do confess that I did not expect to see you tramping these boards on an opening night! You usually walk the nearby streets in apparent anguish awaiting the outcome of the evening.
Gilb Take care I am still of a mind to flee.
Carte How Sullivan managed to compose the music to be so uplifting while he was stricken with his complaint I shall never fully appreciate. He has not been at all well since his brother Fred died.
Gilb And yet it was that sad occasion that inspired his extremely successful ‘Lost Chord’. It is particularly successful when performed by his very close friend (he makes a face to indicate he knows she is a mistress) Fanny Rowlands.
Carte (Ignores this) I believe that the operation in France to break down his kidney stones does appear to have improved his situation?
Gilb Methinks his rehabilitation owes rather more to his debauched gambling sprees in France. He is still very weak, tonight I feared he would not be able to conduct, but the act of raising his baton appears to act like a magic potion for him.
Carte Your own complaint cannot have helped matters?
Gilb (Puffs himself up) I would never permit a little gout to interfere with my work.
Carte While you have both been here, you appear to have grown closer?
Gilb Not terribly surprising, I have seen more of him in America than I ever did in London. (His countenance hardens a little) Of course that is still time that has to be stolen between his round of being lauded and entertained by the establishment on this side of the pond. Your booking him for the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston meant his attention was taken from this work.
Carte (Trying to change the subject) My real concern for ‘Pinafore’ was the lack of staying power of my cowardly financial backers. They had been just the same with ‘Sorcerer’, any slight dip in performance and they wanted to post closure notices. They could not seem to appreciate the unique situation when we opened ‘Pinafore’ in London; we had that very hot spell when it was far too stuffy for any audience to choose to be cooped up in a steamy theatre.
Gilb I can understand their fears, to a degree, the takings on the second evening dropped to just £14! However your arrangement that the cast took one third less in salary was an inspired solution.
Carte I promoted the show heavily, but in the end it was Sullivan’s inclusion of a selection of Pinafore music in his Covent Garden Promenades that began to improve the houses. Ten thousand copies of the piano score were sold by the music shops in just one day! Yet, even that was not enough for my partners.
Gilb Remember it well, I purchased my new yacht, Pleione, on the proceeds from that renaissance. A great investment for I started my work on the next opera while aboard her.
Carte When, last December, the Ministry of Works forced the Opéra Comique to close for work on its water supply, the drainage and sewage in January, I argued that this constituted the end of the contracted initial run. I suggested that therefore the Comedy Opera Company had lost its rights in the opera.
Gilb A damned shame that we could not enforce that right back then!
Carte From this February I had to appease them by taking a personal six-month lease of the Opéra Comique. But when this expired at the end of the summer I was finally able to give them formal notice. Perversely they immediately changed their tack and wanted to sustain their interest in the show!
Gilb Naturally, for they had initially invested £500 each and by then were achieving a regular return of £500 each and every week!
Carte But I never expected that they would try to steal the show – and the cast!
Gilb I recall you were rather conveniently here in America at the time.
Carte (Annoyed at this) Trying to resolve the copyright for Pinafore and conclude a response to the American pirated performances for all of our interests.
Gilb It was your old partners, Frank and Cecil Chappell of Metzler’s, who despatched some of ‘Water-cart’ Bailey’s vehicles with a gang of fifty ruffians. They knocked down Barker who resisted their approach, he was seriously hurt. They seat about trying to seize the show’s scenery and properties – they arrived in the middle of a performance!
Carte Heaven knows what the audience thought. I believe there were cries of ‘Fire’ until Grossmith’s speech from the stage managed to calm things down?
Gilb We should be grateful that the loyal cast and stage management team successfully drove them off. Fortunately your ex-partners’ own performances of ‘Pinafore’ proved to be wretched, their audiences small. This was assisted to a large extent by my army of men bearing sandwich boards, while marching around London proclaiming the only authorised ‘Pinafore’ was at the Opéra Comique.
Carte They did manage 91 performances before finally going away, the Court still ponders the issue! But subsequently we were able to found ‘Mr Richard D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company’, controlled and owned equally by the three of us.
Gilb (He intones) “The profits of the speculation to be equally divided after all expenses have been paid. Carte’s salary to be £15 per week – Sullivan’s and Gilbert’s fees to be four guineas per representation, each. These salaries and pay to be included in weekly expenses.” It was excellent finally to gain proper control of our work, such a shame that we do not appear to be able to achieve the same sort of arrangements here in America.
Carte That is why I have been travelling back and forth, plus Helen Lenoir, my assistant will be making even more visits to challenge these unauthorised Pinafores, to seek to gain some degree of control for us, but it proves difficult. I met with Helen in Dublin on the provincial tour with ‘Pinafore’, she has proven indispensable to our business.
Gilb She appears very capable.
Carte I showed you a copy of that American newspaper saying that there are forty-two companies playing ‘Pinafore’ in America. They thought it extremely amusing to add that this excluded companies that had been formed after 6pm the previous day! I believe there are in fact more than one hundred, there are eight in New York alone!
Gilb It is not just the fact that the copyright situation means we earn nothing from them, it is the fact that they are adding their own local songs, inserting unrelated gags and interpretations. I hear in Boston the part of Ralph was played by a woman! In Baltimore Little Buttercup was played by a man who was seven foot tall! Because we agreed that Sullivan should not publish the score they are using half-heard, poorly transcribed musical arrangements. It’s just awful!
Carte But ‘Pinafore mania’ does spread your reputation. What is it that rascal Oscar Wilde said to me, “There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about”.
Gilb Indeed, but what they see and hear here is inadequate. They are all pirates! Pirates one and all! For my farcical play ‘Engaged’ I renounced the publication of the play as a book in England, to retain my ownership of the play here at common law. This process worked so long as it was never published. As a result it has netted me well over £2,000 since February!
Carte I am working on this approach for the new opera.
Gilb Can you believe it one of the journalists when we arrived here asked me to change it to USS Pinafore, replace the Ensign with a Stars and Stripes and locate the show on the Jersey shore!
(BBar as SIR JOSEPH joins them in the wings. Gilb, claps him on the back as he goes on stage. The set rotates back to give a view of the stage. Carte and Gilb slowly disappear as they say these last lines.)
Carte (looking at BBar as he heads on to the stage) In England everyone knew that you created Sir Joseph as a satire of W H Smith, the founder of the chain of newsagents, appointed First Lord of the Admiralty with absolutely no naval experience at all.
Gilb Though Disraeli sought to glower in our direction, he himself called his First Lord ‘Pinafore Smith!’
Carte But just what will they make of the character over here?
HMS Pinafore: Ruler of the Queen’s Navee
SONG – SIR JOSEPH:
CHORUS: And we are his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
ALL: And they are his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
ALL: And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
ALL: And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
CHORUS: He polished, etc.
CHORUS: He copied all the letters in a big round hand –
CHORUS: He copied, etc.
CHORUS: For the pass examination at the Institute.
CHORUS: That pass examination, etc.
CHORUS: Was the only ship that he ever had seen.
CHORUS: But that kind of ship, etc.
CHORUS: He never thought of thinking for himself at all.
CHORUS: He thought so little, etc.
CHORUS: Be careful to be guided by this golden rule.
CHORUS: Stick close to your desks, etc.
(The set rotates to show the wings again. Carte is there, he is joined by Gilb from the stage)
Carte Congratulations, the first act was well received.
Gilb Of course, because this country has finally heard the true and authentic words and music, of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera as it is truly meant to be. Moreover the players have been properly rehearsed and stage-managed by the author and composer.
(They are joined by Sull)
Sull All of the great and the good of New York are all out there!
Gilb (Sulkily) Are there any lawyers or politicians? (Sull looks confused) Perhaps they will be disposed to change the copyright laws here! Pirates all!
Carte This is why we lock up the orchestration every night. Why I have ushers in the theatre ready to eject anyone they see making notes. But you do appreciate that under American law once the show has been performed it is adjudged to be in the public domain. All we can do is limit their opportunity to get hold of the original materials.
Gilb This is the very reason you must ensure the three touring companies we are rehearsing are despatched to carry the true word along the East coast and out in to the mid-West. We must overcome these piratical thieves.
Sull I received a note from Helen Lenoir asking if we were prepared to allow the South London Palace, a rather notorious music hall, to perform Pinafore numbers. I replied “Certainly Not”. Is it not sufficient that we hear our music performed on a hundred thousand barrel-organs?
Carte We are, of course, legitimately authorising amateur societies in England to perform the work!
Gilb Then we must do the same here.
Carte You need to appreciate that many have already attended what they think of as ‘Pinafore’. For over a year, Americans have seen Catholic and burlesque versions, Minstrel and Yiddish versions, one performance even managed to insert the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’! Nonetheless their audiences’ perceptions will be that they have already seen the show!
Sull However we have happily adopted one of the innovations from Boston. Our London stage manager, over Christmas, ran matinees of a juvenile version of ‘Pinafore’.
Carte We can finally remedy these matters with the next opera, ‘The Robbers’. Imagine it, finally we will have a première of a British opera held in America! How is that progressing?
Gilb It did not assist that Sullivan left his musical sketches for one of the Acts back in England!
Sull I am recreating it from memory back in the hotel each night.
Carte Will you be ready for the end of the month, I am thinking we should open it on New Year’s Eve.
Gilb I have had the notion that our robbers should perhaps not be brigands, but pirates!
Sull (Smiles) I wonder just where that idea arose?
Gilb (A little annoyed by the remark) This approach does maintain the nautical theme that has proven so popular!
Carte You do need to make the title and content clear to me because I am preparing the promotional material.
Gilb Pirates it is then, let us have some alliteration and call it ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.
Carte But please keep this decision private, I can conspire to inspire all of New York to talk throughout December by providing them with conflicting hints and misleading information. In this way their conjectures and counter-conjectures will of themselves promote the opera for us.
Gilb We will rehearse at night with only our closest of players and continue to lock up the libretto and score until the opening night.
Carte By opening the show here we can claim USA copyright for it, but I want to protect us in Britain too. I have the idea for an opening in a provincial location, somewhere that few will notice. Helen can arrange this to happen on the eve of our opening here, then we will have both markets properly protected.
Gilb (Looks to Sull for confirmation) We are content to leave that to you and Miss Lenoir.
Sull But first let us complete this evening’s entertainment, Act II everyone!
(He leaves for the stage and the set rotates back to have the stage face the audience with the Pinafore Set.)
HMS PINAFORE: Josephine’s Song
The hours creep on apace,
On the one hand, papa’s luxurious home,
And on the other, a dark and dingy room,
A simple sailor, lowly born,
And yet he is so wondrous fair
(Backdrop of The Strand, Carte and Shaw are still strolling, a barrel-organ player is passed, playing a Pinafore tune.)
Carte (Indicates the barrel-organ) Gilbert always despised these organ players with almost an insane anger and this was before they started unofficially to perform Gilbert and Sullivan numbers.
Shaw Why did they have so many problems in America? Gilbert had already achieved some success for his other works there?
Carte His ‘Engaged’, in its opening four weeks in New York earned him over $3,000, and in Baltimore he earned a further $1,000 in its opening week.
Shaw You can only imagine what ‘Pinafore’ would have been worth to the three of you with a proper copyright in place.
Carte Gilbert certainly could imagine it. He was particularly difficult on this matter. I had negotiated and contracted for the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York to retain 40% of the profits. This clearly enraged him, he wrote to insist that I give up one-sixth of my net profits before they would agree to this.
Shaw Such ingratitude, when you had travelled and negotiated the best deal for them.
Carte It was a tough period for me because the Comic Opera Company court action came to a head at the same time. The first round of hearings concluded nothing, but my old partners heard I was going to America and achieved a court order that insisted I place £250 in security with the Court. I was in Liverpool, ready to embark, and had to arrange for Helen to make the security payment. But the directors pressed further and I had no choice but to pay them the £150, that they claimed I owed them, before I could board the ‘Gallia’.
Shaw You arrived in New York with much of the company a week after Gilbert and Sullivan?
Carte Yes we got there on the 11th November and rehearsals began the next day. Two weeks later we had to work around Sullivan’s absence in Boston while he conducted his ‘Prodigal Son’. We opened on December 1st.
Shaw Was it easy to assemble the company?
Carte These were early days but we already had a willing cadre of principals and chorus members. Today Helen has accumulated 7,000 names on our books, with the voice, the appearance, and the ability of each lady and gentleman carefully catalogued.
It is she who arranges all the dates, all the bookings and every other detail of organisation. I don’t understand how she does it. I assume it is some kind of conjuring with a map of England and several of George Bradshaw’s railway timetables.
Shaw With ‘Pirates’ planned for the 31st – why did you not run ‘Pinafore’ longer?
Carte We three agreed to spend twelve weeks in America and that none could leave without the agreement of the other two. Besides while they shared $440 on the opening night of Pinafore, it was just $85 on the second and next-to-nothing on the third night. As I had suggested the American audience believed it had already experienced ‘Pinafore’, so it had to be ‘Pirates’ that would justify our trip.
Shaw Did writing ‘Pirates’ while in America prove to be easier or more complicated?
Carte Their attention was a little more assured by their removal from friends and family, but the pressure they put upon themselves was extreme. It was only half ready on their arrival in America, and then Sullivan had left the whole of Act I back in England.
Shaw Much of it was written in New York?
Carte Yes, it proved a relatively easy time for Gilbert, though he appeared to have abandonned Fred Clay to handle the mid-month New York première of their ‘Princess Toto’ and arrangements for its touring companies.
Shaw Sullivan had a recurrence of his illness during this period?
Carte The assistance of Arthur Cellier proved to be vital, between them they managed only an accompaniment for despatch to England so that was what Helen used for her English première. They could not achieve a full orchestration despite working into the early mornings every night.
Shaw Was this why they decided to reuse a piece from ‘Thespis’?
Carte Yes, Sullivan could not recall his sketch for the entrance of the female chorus, so Gilbert suggested they insert ‘Climbing Over Rocky Mountains’. Gilbert changed some of the words but it still bore clear evidence of its origins.
Shaw But did all these complicated machinations achieve the objective?
Carte We certainly ensured that we retained the direct profits for our New York run and that of the subsequent touring companies. I believe that ‘Pirates’ was one of their very best collaborations. But you might argue that the main goal was missed, for the first unauthorised ‘Pirates’ appeared in Boston by the following Autumn.
(They exit, the Strand backdrop rises to reveal the Pirates set, Sull is having CAlto run through the number a capella.)
The Pirates of Penzance: When Frederic was a little lad
When Frederic was a little lad he proved so brave and daring,
I was a stupid nurserymaid, on breakers always steering,
I soon found out, beyond all doubt, the scope of this disaster,
(CAlto and Sull converse quietly, then CAlto leaves. Carte and Gilb enter and join Sull on the set.)
Sull Finally she has caught its spirit!
Carte Helen has already held the opening night for ‘Pirates’, or rather I should say opening afternoon, back in England. She selected the Royal Bijou Theatre at Paignton as best for that purpose. She charged one of our provincial touring companies with the responsibility to deliver the performance.
Gilb Were they fully rehearsed?
Carte Of course not, there was time for just one rehearsal. They will have used ‘Pinafore’ costumes, even the policemen were agreed to be dressed as sailors! As a result Helen agreed that the Chorus could hold their sheet music during the performance. There was of course no specific scenery or properties for the show!
Sull What did they do about the lack of an overture? I am still working on this with Cellier.
Carte They simply did not offer one. Helen’s telegraph message indicates that this was unremarked by the audience, which comprised of just fifty people, but it constitutes our English première nonetheless.
Gilb It makes you proud to be an Englishman. This news is all thanks to Brunel’s ‘Great Eastern’ and its transatlantic cable-laying just over a decade ago! The Empire will become stronger because of this means of communication; our personal empire can follow its lead. Now we are ready for the American première tomorrow, New Year’s Eve!
Carte Thanks to Sullivan. I thought we were sunk when the musicians argued for higher pay as they proposed that ‘Pirates’ was Grand Opera. They reasoned that there was so much music in it, that it surely must be a Grand Opera!
Sull I merely threatened that we would open with me playing the piano and Cellier on harmonium while we waited on an orchestra to come from Covent Garden. I must apologise, but I need to leave to complete the overture. Carte can you please call the orchestra in for rehearsals tomorrow morning?
Carte Certainly leave that to me. But it is also my duty to apologise for this will not be the end of the rehearsals. I have now engaged three touring companies and you will need to drill these through the next month and ideally instill your standards on their first nights.
I have arranged these to open a week apart during February. Philadelphia first and that company will then tour New England; then a Newark company which will travel westward; finally Buffalo with that company then touring towards the south. They can then each run unsupervised by us, hopefully right through the summer.
(They leave, the set dims then comes up to reveal the cast assembled on stage)
The Pirates of Penzance:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
(Set rotates so that we are seeing the wings – Carte and Gilb are conversing)
Carte I feel sure Philadelphia has never seen Sir Garnet Wolseley. But you insist that the Major-General is not intended as a caricature of him?
Gilb No, I had in mind Kitty’s disagreeable uncle, General Henry Turner, he is very much one of the old school of officers, Wolseley is much more of a progressive soldier. It is Turner’s understanding of military tactics does not extend beyond the beginning of the century.
Carte Are you content with the performance?
Gilb I am having difficulty because when I wrote the four comedy characters I had in mind George Grossmith as the Major-General, Richard Temple as the Pirate King, Rutland Barrington as the Segeant and Harriet Everard as Ruth.
Carte Temple refused to come to America for less than £20 per week!
Gilb That was not my point, Sullivan has written the music for the artists that we have assembled here in New York, I can’t help noticing the differences.
Carte Do you assume that we will probably use those four when we open properly in England in the Spring?
Gilb Yes and it may require Sullivan to reconsider some passages Barrington is a good baritone and the Sergeant has become a bass-baritone.
Carte I feel sure that this is a simple matter.
Gilb Also, I can’t help worrying about Jessie Bond, she had a number of absences due to illness when we were back in England. I fear she is faring no better here.
(Set rotates to show set)
The Pirates of Penzance:
SERGEANT: When a felon’s not engaged in his employment –
SERGEANT: Or maturing his felonious little plans
SERGEANT: His capacity for innocent enjoyment –
SERGEANT: Is just as great as any honest man’s –
SERGEANT: Our feelings we with difficulty smother –
SERGEANT: When constabulary duty’s to be done –
SERGEANT: Ah, take one consideration with another
SERGEANT: A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.
SERGEANT: A policeman’s lot is not a happy one, happy one.
SERGEANT: When the cut-throat isn’t occupied in crime –
SERGEANT: He loves to hear the little brook a-gurgling –
SERGEANT: And listen to the merry village chime –
SERGEANT: When the coster’s finished jumping on his mother
SERGEANT: He loves to lie a-basking in the sun –
SERGEANT: Ah, take one consideration with another –
SERGEANT: A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.
(Set rotates back to the wings)
Carte So that is the final touring company properly launched. Helen arrives shortly for me to train her so that she can manage the American companies, then I will follow you back to England.
Gilb We shall reach Liverpool by the 13th of March I believe.
Carte That will give you just three weeks before ‘Pirates’ is due to open at the Opéra Comique, but it will be much easier working with old friends and colleagues. I have much enjoyed the three of us working more closely here, we should be considering the next steps in our relationship.
Gilb Back in England we will require a manager to arrange the advertisements and to sign off on the performers as they are engaged. Perhaps Sullivan and I might seek to take our own theatre and appoint a manager?
(Carte looks horrified as the curtain falls.)