Thursday, May 26, 2011

Operetta: What Nobody Knew

(Enter the Author dressed as a dowdy late-Victorian governess with a secret burning desire to strut upon the stage. Her spectacles glitter as she clears her throat.)

Author: I sometimes feel moved to express myself
thus. O willow, tit-willow, tit willow. It’s the ideal expression of diva-dom, plus –
(O willow, tit-willow, tit willow) I can wax argumentative, tragic or proud; You may join in the chorus, and posture aloud. We can all count ourselves a most spirited crowd. O willow, tit-willow, tit-willow.

(Exit the Author. Brief intermission while the orchestra warms up.)
(Re-enter the Author in raven ringlets, a scarlet petticoat and revealing corset with a few laces undone. She carries a basket of red berries that she occasionally holds to her chest while she pulls a rosy nipple out of her d├ęcolletage. She is now Modest Maggie of the Market.)

MM: I am the very model of a willing pleasure-giver-er. I’ll do things to your ticklish parts to make them swell and quiver-er. You’ve never seen my like before. I’ll always leave you wanting more. I am the very model of a practised pleasure giver-er.

(A crowd of other peddlers, gentlemen-customers and other urban street-types, including disapproving black-bonneted Salvation Army ladies, surround her.)

General Chorus: She is the very model of a practised pleasure-giver-er!

(A constable strides past, looking round suspiciously and fondling his truncheon – but he doesn’t arrest Maggie because her true profession as paid companion is a secret. A crew of colourfully-dressed pirates rushes onstage. One plays a whistle while the others dance a hornpipe.)

Pirate Captain: You’re coming with us, wench. We need a pleasure-giver on our ship full of booty.

Pirate Chorus: Arrgh! Aye!

(The shortest pirate, with prominent breasts beneath her tight velvet jacket and lace jabot, elbows the others aside. She is Pirate Patty.)

PP: Step aside, lads. I’ll take care of her.
(singing) The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la, Have nothing to do with my life. To men’s arms I never would cling, tra la, And I never will be a man’s wife.

Pirate Chorus: Arrgh! She never will be a man’s wife!

Pirate Captain: But Maggie must be married to the shy First Mate! After she has pleasured all of us, of course.

Pirate Pete (a lanky red-faced man with a loud voice, clutching a bottle of rum): Arrgh! Share and share alike! That’s the Pirate Code!

(A stout and resolute Salvation Army lady pushes her way past the pirates to the front of the stage. She is Captain Killjoy.)

CK: Maggie must be reformed and married to a respectable man with a good salary! This is a musical for families, and I am the voice of the Author’s upbringing!

PP (with great sarcasm): Right-o, sister. Take a stroll with me in the park, and we’ll see who gets converted.

(First Mate Bashful Bert Bentley rushes nervously between LK and PP. His knees knock as he faces the audience.)

BBB: B-b-but I don’t want to marry a woman! No disrespect intended, Maggie. Why d’youse think I signed on board a ship full of men! Excepting one, if you’ll pardon me for saying so, Patty.

PP: No offense taken, Bert.

Pirate Captain: Insubordination! Bert, you must be flogged. (To audience) He’s such fun to flog.

CK: Flogging and prayer!

PP: Flogging and gamahouching! (To audience) That’s oral sex to you. (Shocked, delighted gasp from the assembled company.) And dildoes! Nothing like them for enforcing pirate discipline! (A hushed moan passes through the company.)

MM: And for rewarding good service!

(Captain Killjoy faints and is dragged offstage. The constable pushes his way through the crowd. He is Officer Lance.)

OL: Here, you degenerates! The moral standards of our good Queen must triumph at last. Do you all need a taste of my truncheon?

Pirate Chorus: Arrgh! Aye! Hip hip hooray!

This opening act of an old masturbation fantasy was recently discovered under some floorboards in the Author’s brain, where it has been collecting dust for over forty years. This juvenile work has been expanded and updated by means of the Author’s improved technical knowledge, but the female lead (Modest Maggie of the Market) has retained her hormone-fuelled pansexual eagerness to exchange pleasure with all the “customers” she could imagine.

The vague sexuality of the Author’s youth perfectly coincided with the Victorian innocence of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas on her parents’ set of vinyl, long-play records.

The Author’s parents belonged to a music club that sent such records in the mail, usually in sets (e.g. Masters of the Baroque). They probably acquired the soundtrack of every Gilbert & Sullivan operetta that was ever recorded. The Author didn’t discover this set while sifting through her parents’ voluminous amount of stored property after their deaths in 2009, but she couldn’t be present for the entire sifting. The G&S albums are probably now owned by one of her sisters.

Gilbert and Sullivan were more subversive of the social order than the Author realized at the time when their music formed a soundtrack to the life of her family. Operetta as a genre subverts the seriousness of opera, in which larger-than-life characters with large voices act out a large, obstacle-strewn plot.

Teenagers, as a tribe, are subversive and satirical. They resent spending most of their weekdays in school. They crave sex at a much younger age than any of the adult authorities in their lives consider appropriate. Their energy is excessive, and their sarcasm tends to be topical. Teen life is either an operetta or a rock opera.

Welcome to the debut performance of What Nobody Knew (at the Time). There is no copyright on this material. Anyone who feels inspired may write Act Two.


  1. Brilliant, Jean!

    As well as insightful. And sexy.

    You're right about the slyly subversive nature of G&S. Practically every opera pokes fun at authority and traditional morality. I was thinking the other night about the many G&S plots that involve dirty old men lusting after their "wards", for example.

    I wish I had the time to come up with Act Two. On the other hand, I doubt my version would be worthy of such applause!


  2. Jean - a band of rollicking pirates indeed! I don't think I could follow that Act.

    My favorite G&S lyrics are
    "S/he will be faithful to her/his sooth 'til they are wed, and even after."

  3. Thank you both! However, I need some advice on formatting. (I'm tempted to say "Arrgh!") Lisabet? I couldn't figure out how to format the song lyrics to look like poetry. I'll try it here:

    "I've never seen a purple cow,
    I never hope to see one.
    But I can tell you anyhow,
    I'd rather see than be one."

    That's what I was aiming for, but it didn't work. :(

  4. That was fun. I may take you up on your offer someday. I have to admit, this makes me want to go looking for Gilbert and Sullivan stuff.


  5. What fun!

    Better than the original.