Monday, May 23, 2011

Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!

After Lisabet's fine intro, it's hard to think of something else to say about Gilbert & Sullivan's operettas. True lovers of opera are supposed to despise them as lesser works but you'd have to be a humorless wanker not to enjoy how With Catlike Tread from Pirates of Penzance

pokes fun at the The Italian Gypsy Chorus (AKA The Anvil Chorus) from  Il Trovatore.

The first live theater I ever saw was a staging of Pirates of Penzance when I was six or seven. There was no scenery, I think it was staged in an elementary school cafeteria (although I vaguely remember that the performers were from the nearby university) and we sat in cold, hard folding chairs. And yet, I was enthralled. The story didn't have those horrible moral lessons that books for kids my age hammered into us. Adult humor, it seemed, could be all about fun, and oh, the wit! Much of it flew over my head, but what I got caught was enshrined in my imagination. Until then, I never realized that grownups could embrace the absurd. But most of all, it was all about fun with words. I was already trying to write stories and had an abstract idea that words could be toys, but that performance made my inklings reality.

Iolanthe was the first G&S I saw properly staged, then Witness for the Prosecution. Early in my marriage, when we were dirt poor, we were lucky to catch the complete G&S on PBS. Ruddigore was a favorite, although Patience with its slams against the aesthetic movement made me giggle. Then I saw the Mikado and moved from being a casual fan of their work to a much deeper appreciation for their ability to put together a story, lyrics, and music that endured long beyond the pop culture it was intended to be. I still love YumYum's aria The Sun, Whose Rays Who Are All Ablaze from the Mikado

as much as Un Bel Di Vedremo from Madame Butterfly.

The thing is, I never would have bothered to listen to real opera if it weren't for G&S. Maybe they're a gateway drug. All I know is that when I listen to their Topsy Turvy (also the title of a great movie about G&S, and one of the finest movies ever made about theater) operettas, it's "Oh Joy! Oh Rapture!"


  1. Hi, Kathleen,

    I remember the first time I heard Mozart's "Don Gionvanni". I thought, "Gee, that sounds a lot like the witches' Sabbath song from 'Ruddigore'!"

    The more I listen to G&S, the more I appreciate it. I'd never really thought about how many of their songs poke fun at Victorian public morality until I became an erotica author!

  2. You have to be a bit careful about The Mikado, though. The Lord High Executioner has a sing that starts out:

    As some day it may happen that a victim must be found / I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list / Of society offenders who might well be underground / And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!

    And the song lists these 'offenders', ending with:

    And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist – / I don’t think she’d be missed – I’m sure she’d not be missed!

    Not an opinion I agree with, obviously!

  3. Will Blogger let me post this time?

    Fulani - yeah, I'm not fond of that line about lady novelists. Gilbert really hated women of a certain age, which makes the circumstances of his death fitting.

  4. Awesome video clips, Kathleen! I love the comparisons with "real" opera.


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