H.M.S. Pinafore

H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass that Loved a Sailor, is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It is one of the Savoy Operas, and the first big hit by Gilbert and Sullivan. It opened at the Opera Comique in London on May 25 1878 for a run of 571 performances, which was the second longest run of any musical theatre piece up to that time (after the operetta Les Cloches de Corneville). H.M.S. Pinafore was Gilbert and Sullivan's fourth operatic collaboration.

Drawing on several of his earlier "Bab Ballad" poems, Gilbert imbued H.M.S. Pinafore with mirth and silliness to spare. The opera's gentle satire reprises and builds on a theme introduced in The Sorcerer – love between members of different social classes. The opera also pokes good-natured fun at the Royal Navy and, in themes to be repeated in the later operas, parliamentary politics and the rise of unqualified people to positions of authority. The title of the work itself is humorous, as it juxtaposes the name of a little girl's garment, pinafore (which sounds like "semaphore"), with the symbol of a naval war ship.

The plot revolves around a naval captain's daughter who is in love with a lower-class foremast hand (a common sailor, well below officer rank), even though her father intends her to marry the First Lord of the Admiralty, the cabinet minister in charge of the Royal Navy. As with most of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, a surprise twist changes everything dramatically near the end of the story.


In 1875, Richard D'Oyly Carte, then the manager of the Royalty Theatre for Selena Dolaro, brought Gilbert and Sullivan together to write a one-act opera, Trial by Jury. This proved a smash hit, and in 1876 Carte assembled a group of financial backers to establish his own Comedy Opera Company, devoted to the production and promotion of English opera. With this theatre company, Carte finally had the financial resources, after many failed attempts, to back another Gilbert and Sullivan opera. This next opera was The Sorcerer, and it proved a success, running for 178 performances. With this new company, also, Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte were able to choose their own cast of performers, rather than being obligated to use the actors already engaged at the theatre in which they produced their opera, which was the usual system in Victorian theatres. They chose talented actors, most of whom were not well-known stars, and so did not command high fees, and whom they felt they could mould to their own style. Then, they tailored their work to the particular abilities of these performers.

Genesis of H.M.S. Pinafore

The success of The Sorcerer made another collaboration by Gilbert and Sullivan inevitable. Carte agreed on terms for a new opera with his Comedy Opera Company financial backers, and Gilbert began work on a new opera, H.M.S. Pinafore, before the end of 1877, sending Sullivan a plot sketch on December 27. Gilbert's draft reached Sullivan while he was on holiday on the Riviera, accompanied by the following note from Gilbert:

I have very little doubt whatever but that you will be pleased with it. I should have liked to have talked it over with you, as there is a good deal of fun in it which I haven't set down on paper. Among other things a song (a kind of 'Judge's Song') for the First Lord – tracing his career as office-boy... clerk, traveller, junior partner and First Lord of Britain's Navy. I think a splendid song can be made of this. Of course there will be no personality in this – the fact that the First Lord in the Opera is a Radical of the most pronounced type will do away with any suspicion that W. H. Smith is intended. Mrs. Cripps [Little Buttercup] will be a capital part for Everard. I propose to have no comprimaria.... Barrington will be a capital captain, and Grossmith a first-rate First Lord....

...As soon as I hear from you that the plot will do, I will set to work, sending you the first act as soon as it is finished.

Despite Gilbert's disclaimer, everyone identified W. H. Smith with Sir Joseph Porter, but in general, Gilbert's intentions in this early sketch were turned into reality.

Following the example of his mentor, T. W. Robertson, Gilbert strived to ensure that the costumes and sets were made as realistic as possible. This attention to detail was typical of Gilbert's stage management and would be repeated in all of the Savoy Operas. When preparing the sets for H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), Gilbert and Sullivan visited Portsmouth in April 1878 to inspect ships. Gilbert made sketches of H.M.S. Victory and H.M.S. St Vincent and created a model set for the carpenters to work from. This was far from standard procedure in Victorian drama, where naturalism was still a relatively new concept, and where most authors had very little influence on how their plays and libretti were staged. During the composition of the bright and cheerful music of Pinafore, Sullivan suffered from excruciating pain from a kidney stone.

Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte used most of the same principal cast members that they had used in The Sorcerer. Mrs. Howard Paul, who had played Lady Sangazure in The Sorcerer, however, was declining vocally, and by mid-May 1878, both Gilbert and Sullivan wanted her out of the cast. With only a week to go before opening night, Carte hired concert singer Jessie Bond to play the role of Cousin Hebe. Since Bond had little experience as an actress, however, Gilbert and Sullivan cut out most of the dialogue from the role and turned some of it into recitative. As was to be his usual practise, Sullivan left the overture for last, sketching it out and leaving it to the company's music director, Alfred Cellier, to complete.


Pinafore opened on 25 May 1878 at the Opera Comique, before an enthusiastic audience. Soon, however, the piece suffered from weak ticket sales, generally ascribed to a heat wave that summer, although historian Michael Ainger notes that the heat waves were of short durations. Biographer Arthur Jacobs comments that the "grudging welcome" by the press for Pinafore could not have helped. Richard D'Oyly Carte's four producing partners of The Comedy Opera Company lost confidence in the opera's viability and posted closing notices. In August, Sullivan used some of the Pinafore music during several successful Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden, and by September, Pinafore was playing to full houses at the theatre and touring the provinces with success. Carte persuaded the author and composer that a business partnership among the three of them would be profitable. The Opera Comique was required to close at Christmas 1878 for repairs to drainage and sewage under the Public Health Act of 1875. Carte used the enforced closure of the theatre to evoke a contract clause reverting the rights of Pinafore and Sorcerer to Gilbert and Sullivan, who entrusted them to him, and to take a six-month personal lease on the theatre beginning on 1 February.

Meanwhile, numerous pirated versions of Pinafore began to be played in America with great success. Pinafore became a source of popular quotations, such as the exchange:

"What, never?"
"No, never!"
"What, never?"
"Well, hardly ever!

In February 1879, Pinafore resumed profitable operations at the Opera Comique, and touring resumed in April, with two touring companies crisscrossing the provinces by June (one starring Richard Mansfield and the other W. S. Penley as Sir Joseph). Carte left for America to make arrangements for a New York theatre and tours for Pinafore, Sorcerer and the next opera in America.

Sullivan, as had been arranged with Carte and Gilbert, gave notice to the partners of the Comedy Opera Company in early July 1879 that he, Gilbert and Carte would not be renewing the contract to produce Pinafore with them. The disgruntled partners in return gave notice that they intended to play Pinafore at another theatre and brought a legal action against Carte and company. They offered the London and touring casts of Pinafore more money to play in their production. They engaged the Imperial Theatre but had no scenery. On 31 July, they sent a group of thugs to seize the scenery during the evening performance at the Opera Comique. Stagehands successfully managed to ward off their backstage attackers and protect the scenery. Gilbert sued to stop the former partners from staging their rival production of H.M.S.Pinafore. The court permitted the production to go on, but it was not as popular as the D'Oyly Carte production and was withdrawn in October. The matter was settled in court, where a judge ruled in Carte's favour about two years later.

Some of the most popular songs from the opera include "I'm called Little Buttercup", the solo introducing the round, rosy, but mysterious bumboat woman, "A British tar" (a glee for three men describing the ideal sailor, composed by Sir Joseph "to encourage independent thought and action in the lower branches of the service, and to teach the principle that a British sailor is any man's equal, excepting mine"); "Never mind the why and wherefore" (a trio for the Captain, Josephine, and Sir Joseph); and Sir Joseph's patter song "When I was a lad" (like the judge's song in Trial by Jury, a satire on the meteoric career of an incompetent man to high office – in this case, the story bears similarities to the career of William Henry Smith, the newsagent who had risen to the position of First Lord of the Admiralty in 1877).

On 20 February 1880, Pinafore completed its initial run of 571 performances. Only one other work of musical theatre in the world had ever run longer, Robert Planquette's operetta Les Cloches de Corneville). Pinafore remains one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular works, perhaps because of its infectious tunes and generally well-constructed libretto.

Bringing Pinafore to the U.S.

Over a hundred unauthorised productions Pinafore sprang up in the United States. In New York, the piece was playing in eight theatres within five blocks of each other. These pirated versions took many forms, including burlesque versions, all-negro versions, all-Catholic versions, performances on boats and productions starring a cast of children. Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte brought law suits in the U.S. and tried for many years to control the American performance copyrights over their operas, or at least to claim some royalties, without success. They made a special effort to claim American rights for their next work after Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, by giving the official premiere in New York at the Fifth Avenue Theatre under the management of John T. Ford.

Carte had travelled to New York in the summer of 1879 and made arrangements with Ford to open at the Fifth Avenue Theatre with the first authorized American production of Pinafore on 1 December, to be followed by the premiere of Pirates on 31 December and two American touring companies. In November, he returned with a company of strong singers, including J. H. Ryley as Sir Joseph, Blanche Roosevelt as Josephine, Alice Barnett as little Buttercup, Furneaux Cook as Dick Deadeye, Hugh Talbot as Ralph Rackstraw and Jessie Bond as Cousin Hebe. To these, he added some American singers, including Signor Brocolini as Captain Corcoran. After Pinafore ran through December, Pirates played at the Fifth Avenue Theatre through February to strong houses. Carte then sent three touring companies around the U.S. East Coast and Midwest, playing The Sorcerer, Pinafore and Pirates.

Children's productions

The pirated juvenile productions of Pinafore were so popular that Carte mounted his own children's version. Captain Corcoran's curse "Damme!" was uncensored in early children's productions of Pinafore, shocking such prominent audience members as Lewis Carroll, who wrote, "...a bevy of sweet innocent-looking girls sing, with bright and happy looks, the chorus 'He said, Damn me! He said, Damn me!' I cannot find words to convey to the reader the pain I felt in seeing these dear children taught to utter such words to amuse ears grown callous to their ghastly meaning. Put the two ideas side by side – Hell (no matter whether you believe in it or not; millions do) and those pure young lips thus sporting with its horrors – and then find what fun in it you can! How Mr Gilbert could have stooped to write, or Arthur Sullivan could have prostituted his noble art to set to music, such vile trash, it passes my skill to understand.



Act I

The British warship H.M.S. Pinafore is in port at Portsmouth. It is noontime, and the sailors are on the quarterdeck, "cleaning brasswork, splicing rope, etc."

Little Buttercup, a Portsmouth "bumboat woman" (dockside vendor) — who is the "rosiest, roundest, and reddest beauty in all Spithead" — comes on board to sell her wares. She hints that she may be hiding a dark secret under her "gay and frivolous exterior". The Boatswain demurs that he's never thought about that, but the grim and ugly realist, Dick Deadeye, says he's "thought it, often". Ralph Rackstraw, "the smartest lad in all the fleet," enters, declaring his love for the Captain's daughter, Josephine. His fellow sailors (excepting Dick) offer their sympathies, but can give Ralph little hope that his love will ever be returned.

The Captain greets his crew and compliments them on their politeness, saying that he returns the compliment by never ("well, hardly ever") using bad language, such as "a big, big D." After the sailors have left, the Captain complains to Little Buttercup that Josephine has not taken kindly to a marriage proposal from Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Buttercup says that she knows how it feels to love in vain. As she leaves, the Captain remarks that she is "a plump and pleasing person." Josephine enters and confesses to her father that she loves a common sailor, but she is a dutiful daughter and will marry Sir Joseph as her father wishes.

Sir Joseph comes on board, accompanied by his sisters, cousins, and aunts. After telling everyone how he came to be "ruler of the Queen's Navee," he delivers a lesson in etiquette. He tells the Captain that he must always say "if you please" after an order; for, as he says, "A British sailor is any man's equal" – excepting his. Sir Joseph has composed a song to illustrate that point, and he gives a copy of it to Ralph.

Elated by Sir Joseph's views on equality, Ralph decides that he will confess his love to Josephine to the delight of his shipmates, except Dick, who explains that equality is incompatible with the giving and obeying of orders. In horror at his words, the sailors force Dick to listen to Sir Joseph's song before all exit, leaving Ralph alone. Josephine now enters, and Ralph confesses his love. Although she finds Sir Joseph's attentions nauseating, she knows she is obligated to marry him. Keeping her feelings to herself, she haughtily rejects Ralph's advances.

Ralph summons his shipmates, and tells them he is bent on suicide. He puts a pistol to his head, but as he is about to pull the trigger, Josephine enters, proclaiming she loves him after all. Ralph and Josephine plan to sneak ashore to get married that night. Dick Deadeye warns them that their actions will lead to trouble, but he is ignored by the joyous ensemble.

Act II

Later that night, under a full moon, Captain Corcoran confesses his concerns: all his friends are deserting him, and Sir Joseph has threatened a court-martial. Little Buttercup offers sympathy. He tells her that, if it were not for the difference in their social standing, he would have returned her affections. She prophesies that things are not all as they seem, and that a change is in store, but he does not understand her.

Sir Joseph enters, and complains that Josephine has not yet agreed to marry him. The Captain speculates that she is probably dazzled by his superior rank, and that if he can persuade her that "love levels all ranks," she will accept his proposal. When Sir Joseph makes this argument, a delighted Josephine says that she is convinced. The Captain and Sir Joseph rejoice, but Josephine, in an aside, admits that she is now more determined than ever to marry Ralph.

Dick Deadeye intercepts the Captain, and tells him of the lovers' plans to elope. The Captain confronts Ralph and Josephine as they try to leave the ship. The pair declare their love, adding that "I am (He is) an Englishman!" The furious Captain is unmoved, and says, "Why, damme, it's too bad!" Sir Joseph and his relatives, who have overheard, are shocked to hear swearing on board a ship, and Sir Joseph orders the Captain to his cabin.

When Sir Joseph asks what had provoked this outburst, Ralph replies that it was his declaration of love for Josephine. Furious in his turn at this revelation, Sir Joseph has Ralph put in chains and taken to the ship's dungeon. Little Buttercup now reveals her secret. Years before, when she was a nursemaid, she had cared for two babies, one "of low condition," the other "a regular patrician." She confesses that she "mixed those children up and not a creature knew it.... The wellborn babe was Ralph; your Captain was the other."

Sir Joseph now realizes that Ralph should have been the Captain, and the Captain should have been Ralph. He summons both, and they emerge wearing one another's uniforms: Ralph is now middle-class, and in command of the Pinafore, while the former Captain is now a common sailor. Sir Joseph's marriage with Josephine is now impossible. As he explains it, "love levels all ranks... to a considerable extent, but it does not level them as much as that." He gives her to now-Captain Rackstraw. The former Captain, with his rank reduced, is free to marry Buttercup. Sir Joseph settles for his cousin Hebe, and all ends in general rejoicing.

Musical numbers

  • Overture

Act I

  • 1. "We sail the ocean blue" (Sailors)
  • 2. "Hail! men-o'-war's men" ... "I'm called Little Buttercup" (Buttercup)
  • 2a. "But tell me who's the youth" (Buttercup and Boatswain)
  • 3. "The nightingale" (Ralph and Chorus of Sailors)
  • 3a. "A maiden fair to see" (Ralph and Chorus of Sailors)
  • 4. "My gallant crew, good morning" (Captain Corcoran and Chorus of Sailors)
  • 4a. "Sir, you are sad" (Buttercup and Captain Corcoran)
  • 5. "Sorry her lot who loves too well" (Josephine)
  • 5a. Cut song: "Reflect, my child" (Captain Corcoran and Josephine)
  • 6. "Over the bright blue sea" (Chorus of Female Relatives)
  • 7. "Sir Joseph's barge is seen" (Chorus of Sailors and Female Relatives)
  • 8. "Now give three cheers" (Captain Corcoran, Sir Joseph, Cousin Hebe, and Chorus)
  • 9. "When I was a lad" (Sir Joseph and Chorus)
  • 9a. "For I hold that on the sea" (Sir Joseph, Cousin Hebe, and Chorus)
  • 10. "A British tar" (Ralph, Boatswain, Carpenter's Mate, and Chorus of Sailors)
  • 11. "Refrain, audacious tar" (Josephine and Ralph)
  • 12. Finale, Act I: "Can I survive this overbearing?"

Act II


  • 13. "Fair moon, to thee I sing" (Captain Corcoran)
  • 14. "Things are seldom what they seem" (Buttercup and Captain Corcoran)
  • 15. "The hours creep on apace" (Josephine)
  • 16. "Never mind the why and wherefore" (Josephine, Captain, and Sir Joseph)
  • 17. "Kind Captain, I've important information" (Captain and Dick Deadeye)
  • 18. "Carefully on tiptoe stealing" (Soli and Chorus)
  • 18a."Pretty daughter of mine" (Captain and Ensemble) and "He is an Englishman" (Boatswain and Ensemble)
  • 19. "Farewell, my own" (Ralph, Josephine, Sir Joseph Porter, Buttercup, and Chorus)
  • 20. "A many years ago" (Buttercup and Chorus)
  • 20a. "Here, take her, sir" (Sir Joseph, Josephine, Ralph, Cousin Hebe, and Chorus)1
  • 21. Finale: "Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen" (Ensemble) 2

1See discussion, below.

2Includes reprises of several songs, concluding with "For he is an Englishman".


Ballad for Captain Corcoran, "Reflect, my child"

During rehearsals for the original production, Gilbert added a ballad for Captain Corcoran in which he urged his daughter to forget the common sailor she is in love with, who "at every step...would commit solecisms that society would never pardon." The ballad was meant to be sung between No. 5 and No. 6 of the current score, but was cut before opening night. The words survive in the libretto that was deposited with the Lord Chamberlain for licensing. Before 1999, all that was known to survive of Sullivan's setting was a copy of the leader violin part.

In April 1999, Sullivan scholars Bruce I. Miller and Helga J. Perry announced that they had discovered a nearly complete orchestration – lacking only the second violin part – in a private collection of early band parts. These materials, with a conjectural reconstruction of the lost vocal lines and second violin part, were later published and professionally recorded. This piece has now been performed a number of times by amateur and professional companies, although it has not become a standard addition to the traditional scores.

Dialogue for Cousin Hebe

In the licensing copy of the libretto, Sir Joseph's cousin Hebe had lines of dialogue in several scenes in Act II. In the scene that follows No. 14 ("Things are seldom what they seem"), she accompanied Sir Joseph onstage and echoed the First Lord's dissatisfaction with Josephine. After several interruptions, Sir Joseph urged her to be quiet, eliciting the response "Crushed again!" Gilbert would later re-use this passage for Lady Jane in Patience. Hebe was also assigned several lines of dialogue after No. 18 ("Carefully on tiptoe stealing"), and again after No. 19 ("Farewell, my own.")

Late in rehearsals for the original production, Jessie Bond assumed the role of Hebe, replacing Mrs. Howard Paul). Miss Bond, who at this point in her career was known primarily as a concert singer and had no experience as an actress, did not feel capable of performing dialogue, and these passages were revised to cut Hebe's dialogue. Hebe's dialogue is occasionally restored in modern performances, particularly her lines in the scene following No. 14.

Recitative preceding the Act II finale

The dialogue preceding the Act II finale, starting with "Here, take her sir, and mind you treat her kindly," was originally recitative. The music for this passage was printed in the first edition of the vocal score as No. 20a. Shortly after opening night, the recitative was dropped, and the lines thereafter were performed as spoken dialogue. The recitative is rarely performed.


From the beginning, H.M.S. Pinafore has been one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular comic operas. Its initial run of 571 performances only begins to explain its popularity. After its initial success in London became clear, Richard D'Oyly Carte dispatched touring companies into the British provinces. There was a company playing Pinafore under his aegis close to continuously between 1878 and 1888. The opera was then given a rest, returning to the touring repertory again between 1894–1900, and then most of the time between 1903–1940.

In the winter of 1940–41, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company scenery and costumes for Pinafore and three other operas were destroyed in enemy action. The opera spent seven years out of the repertory before a London revival in the summer of 1947. It was then included in the D'Oyly Carte repertory in every season from then on, until the company's closure in 1982. The D'Oyly Carte company performed Pinafore before Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family at Windsor Castle on 16 June 1977 (the first royal command performance there since 1891).

In America, Pinafore was an instant success. The first American production was given at the Boston Museum on November 25 1878. According to Reginald Allen, some 150 companies played the opera (all without royalties to the authors) before Gilbert, Sullivan, and D'Oyly Carte arrived to present the "authorised" version, which opened in New York on 1 December 1879. In Australia, its first authorized performance was on 15 November 1879 at the Theatre Royal, Sydney, produced by the J. C. Williamson company.

The following table shows the history of the D'Oyly Carte productions in Gilbert's lifetime:

Theatre Opening Date Closing Date Perfs. Details
Opera Comique May 25, 1878 December 24, 1878 571 Original run in London. (The theatre was closed between December 25, 1878 and January 31, 1879.)
January 31, 1879 February 20 1880
Crystal Palace July 6, 1878 July 6, 1878 1 Special performance at the Crystal Palace, conducted by Eugene Goossens.
Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York December 1 1879 December 27, 1879 28 Official American premiere in New York, prior to the opening of The Pirates of Penzance
Imperial (Royal Aquarium) Theatre August 1 1879 c. 1 September 1879 91 A pirate production set up by the disgruntled directors of the Comedy-Opera Company after they failed to seize the scenery during the July 31, 1879 performance at the Opera Comique.
Royal Olympic Theatre September 8, 1879 October 25, 1879
Opera Comique December 16, 1879 March 20, 1880 78 Company of juvenile performers, matinees only. (This company went on a provincial tour between August 2 and December 11, 1880.)
Opera Comique December 22, 1880 January 28, 1881 28
Savoy Theatre November 12, 1887 March 10 1888 120 First London revival.
Savoy Theatre June 6, 1899 November 25, 1899 174 Second London revival. Played with Trial by Jury as a forepiece.
Savoy Theatre July 14, 1908 March 27, 1909 61 Second Savoy repertory season; played with five other operas. (Closing date shown is of the entire season.)

Historical casting

The following tables show the casts of the principal original productions and D'Oyly Carte Opera Company touring repertory at various times through to the company's 1982 closure:

Role Opera Comique
New York
Savoy Theatre
Savoy Theatre
Savoy Theatre
Sir Joseph George Grossmith J. H. Ryley George Grossmith Walter Passmore Charles H. Workman
Captain Corcoran Rutland Barrington Sgr. Brocolini Rutland Barrington Henry Lytton Rutland Barrington
Ralph Rackstraw George Power Hugh Talbot J. G. Robertson Robert Evett Henry Herbert
Dick Deadeye Richard Temple J. Furneaux Cook Richard Temple Richard Temple Henry Lytton
Bill Bobstay
Fred Clifton Fred Clifton Richard Cummings W. H. Leon Leicester Tunks
Bob Beckett
Mr. Dymott Mr. Cuthbert Rudolph Lewis Powis Pinder Fred Hewett
Tom Tucker
Master Fitzaltamont1
Josephine Emma Howson Blanche Roosevelt Geraldine Ulmar Ruth Vincent Elsie Spain
Hebe Jessie Bond Jessie Bond Jessie Bond Emmie Owen Jessie Rose
Buttercup Harriett Everard Alice Barnett Rosina Brandram Rosina Brandram Louie Rene

Role D'Oyly Carte
1915 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1925 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1935 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1950 Tour
Sir Joseph Henry Lytton Henry Lytton Martyn Green Martyn Green
Captain Corcoran Leicester Tunks Leo Sheffield Leslie Rands Richard Watson
Ralph Rackstraw Walter Glynne Charles Goulding John Dean Herbert Newby
Dick Deadeye Leo Sheffield Darrell Fancourt Darrell Fancourt Darrell Fancourt
Boatswain Frederick Hobbs Henry Millidge Richard Walker Stanley Youngman
Carpenter George Sinclair Patrick Colbert L. Radley Flynn L. Radley Flynn
Josephine Phyllis Smith Elsie Griffin Ann Drummond-Grant Muriel Harding
Hebe Nellie Briercliffe Aileen Davies Marjorie Eyre Joan Gillingham
Buttercup Bertha Lewis Bertha Lewis Dorothy Gill Ella Halman

Role D'Oyly Carte
1958 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1965 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1975 Tour
D'Oyly Carte
1982 Tour
Sir Joseph Peter Pratt John Reed John Reed James Conroy-Ward
Captain Corcoran Jeffrey Skitch Alan Styler Michael Rayner Clive Harre
Ralph Rackstraw Thomas Round David Palmer Meston Reid Meston Reid
Dick Deadeye Donald Adams Donald Adams John Ayldon John Ayldon
Boatswain George Cook George Cook Jon Ellison Michael Buchan
Carpenter Jack Habbick Anthony Raffell John Broad Michael Lessiter
Josephine Jean Hindmarsh Ann Hood Pamela Field Vivian Tierney
Hebe Joyce Wright Pauline Wales Patricia Leonard Roberta Morrell
Buttercup Ann Drummond-Grant Christene Palmer Lyndsie Holland Patricia Leonard

1 The Midshipmite, Tom Tucker, is traditionally played by a child. "Fitzaltamont" was likely a pseudonym used to protect the child's identity, as the same name appears on programmes of several provincial touring companies.


The 1930 recording is notable for preserving the performances of the best D'Oyly Carte Opera Company stars of the era. Of the post-war D'Oyly Carte the 1960, which contains all the dialogue, is most admired. The New D'Oyly Carte recording also contains complete dialogue and the "lost" ballad for Captain Corcoran, "Reflect, my child," as a bonus track. The Mackerras recording, featuring opera singers in the roles, is musically well-regarded. on one CD, is particularly compelling.

On video, the 1973 D'Oyly Carte preserves the company's traditional style of the period, but some people find it dull. The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival offers various video recordings of the opera, including its 2003 professional G&S Opera Company video.Selected recordings

  • 1922 D'Oyly Carte – Conductors: Harry Norris and G. W. Byng
  • 1930 D'Oyly Carte – London Symphony Orchestra; Conductor: Malcolm Sargent
  • 1949 D'Oyly Carte – Conductor: Isidore Godfrey
  • 1958 Sargent/Glyndebourne – Pro Arte Orchestra, Glyndebourne Festival Chorus; Conductor: Sir Malcolm Sargent
  • 1960 D'Oyly Carte (with dialogue) – New Symphony Orchestra of London; Conductor: Isidore Godfrey
  • 1972 G&S For All – G&S Festival Chorus & Orchestra; Conductor: Peter Murray
  • 1973 D'Oyly Carte (video) – Conductor: Royston Nash
  • 1981 Stratford Festival (video) – Conductor: Berthold Carrière; Director: Leon Major
  • 1987 New Sadler's Wells Opera – Conductor: Simon Phipps
  • 1994 Mackerras/Telarc – Orchestra and Chorus of the Welsh National Opera; Conductor: Sir Charles Mackerras
  • 1997 Essgee Entertainment (video; adapted) – Conductor: Kevin Hocking
  • 2000 New D'Oyly Carte (with dialogue) – Conductor: John Owen Edwards


  • George S. Kaufman wrote a Broadway musical in 1945 called Hollywood Pinafore based on H.M.S. Pinafore and using Sullivan's music.
  • Essgee Entertainment produced an adapted version of H.M.S. Pinafore in 1997 in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Pinafore Swing, first performed at the Watermill Theatre in England in 2004, with music arranged by Sarah Travis and directed by John Doyle (the team responsible for the actor-orchestra staging of the 2006 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd). The adaptation assigns all the musical parts to a reduced-size acting cast, who also serve as the orchestra, playing the musical instruments, and the music is infused with swing rhythms.

Cultural impact

Pinafore had a profound effect on musical theatre in general and American musicals in particular. According to critic Andrew Lamb, "The success of H.M.S. Pinafore in 1879 established British comic opera alongside French opera bouffe throughout the English-speaking world. Over the next twenty years successful British comic operas continued to cross the Atlantic almost as a matter of course. Theatre historian John Kenrick comments that Pinafore "became an international sensation, reshaping the commercial theater in both England and the United States. Pinafore's popularity also led to musical theatre adaptations of the piece itself, including George S. Kaufman's 1945 Broadway musical Hollywood Pinafore and Pinafore Swing, a 2004 British swing adaptation with a score arranged by Sarah Travis in which the actors serve as the orchestra, playing the musical instruments. Several other musicals parody or pastiche Pinafore.

In addition, songs from Pinafore have been widely parodied or pastiched in films, on television and in a variety of other media. For example, in a 1963 comedy album, Allan Sherman parodied "When I was a lad," from the point of view of a young man going to an Ivy League school and then rising to prominence in an advertising agency. At the end he thanks old Yale, he thanks the Lord, and he thanks his father "who is chairman of the board". On his next album, Sherman sang "Little Butterball" to the tune of "I'm Called Little Buttercup". Literary references to Pinafore songs include those in "Runaround", a story in I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, where a robot sings part of "I'm Called Little Buttercup". Pinafore songs and images have also been used in advertising. For example, Pinafore themed trading cards were created.Film references Particularly notable examples of the use of songs from Pinafore in films include The Good Shepherd (2006), which depicts an all-male version of Pinafore at Yale University. The Matt Damon character plays Little Buttercup, singing falsetto. In the 1981 British historical film Chariots of Fire, the protagonist, Harold Abrahams, and others from Cambridge University, sing "For he is an Englishman". In the 2003 movie Peter Pan, the Darling family sings "When I Was A Lad". Characters also sing various songs from Pinafore in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and in Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), Captain Picard and Lt. Commander Worf sing part of "A British Tar" to distract a malfunctioning Lt. Commander Data. The soundtrack of the 1992 thriller The Hand that Rocks the Cradle prominently features songs from Pinafore. There was also a 1976 film called Dick Deadeye, or Duty Done.Television references Among notable examples of songs from Pinafore used in television shows is the "Cape Feare" episode of The Simpsons, Bart stalls his would-be killer Sideshow Bob with a "final request" that Bob sing him the entire score of Pinafore. Similarly, the "HMS Yakko" episode of Animaniacs consists of pastiches of songs from H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance. In a Family Guy episode, "The Thin White Line" (2001), Stewie sings a pastiche of "My gallant crew". The song "He is an Englishman" is referenced both in the title's name and throughout The West Wing episode "And It's Surely To Their Credit".



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  • Arnold, David L. G. (2003). Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture. Wayne State University Press.
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  • Bordman, Gerald. American Operetta: From H. M. S. Pinafore to Sweeney Todd Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • Bradley, Ian (1996). The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  • Bradley, Ian (2005). Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!: The Enduring Phenomenon of Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
  • Gänzl, Kurt (1986). The British Musical Theatre—Volume I, 1865–1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gänzl, Kurt. Gänzl's Book of the Broadway Musical: 75 Favorite Shows, from H.M.S. Pinafore to Sunset Boulevard, 1995 Schirmer/Simon & Schuster ISBN 0028708326
  • Lamb, Andrew. "From Pinafore to Porter: United States-United Kingdom Interactions in Musical Theater, 1879-1929" in American Music, Vol. 4, No. 1, British-American Musical Interactions (Spring, 1986), pp. 34-49 University of Illinois Press.
  • Rollins, Cyril; R. John Witts (1962). The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in Gilbert and Sullivan Operas: A Record of Productions, 1875–1961. London: Michael Joseph. Also, five supplements, privately printed.
  • Gilbert, W.S. (1879). H.M.S. Pinafore - Libretto. London: Bacon & company. This libretto is available online here.

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