I Have A G&S Question to Ask-oh!

I’m pretty sure that there are a number of G&S (Gilbert and Sullivan) fans amongst the Teeming Millions, so, several questions:

Which of their operettas is your favorite? Why?

Mine’s Ruddigore. Clever, funny and it has the Madness song (“So it really doesn’t matter…”). Besides, it’s not as overplayed as some of the others.

What’s your favorite G&S song?

I like all the patter songs, but my all time favorite has gotta be The Song of the Heavy Dragoon from Patience.

Who’s your favorite Patter-Song guy?

John Reed, unquestioned favorite. Peter Pratt is ok, and Donald Adams probably has a better voice, but only Reed has the raw sense of…fun…with his roles.



As I said in another thread, I just recently bought the Mikado CD set. My favorite song is either “I’ve got a Little List” or else “I am so proud”. Of course I’m fond of “A More Humane Mikado”. I don’t really have a favorite performer.

You rang?


Mine is Iolanthe. This perhaps will not come as a big surprise. It’s not overplayed like the big 3, the leads are all fun and all have good stuff to do, and the singing and stage time is well-split between the male and female choruses (as opposed to Pinafore or Patience.) Second favorite is Princess Ida, for having much of the best music Sullivan ever wrote.

Oy. If I had to pick one at gunpoint, it would probably be “There Grew a Little Flower” from Ruddigore. But that may change tomorrow.

Donald Adams did patter? I thought he stuck to the George Temple roles. I do have a favorite, and once I remember his name, I’ll post it here. (Oy vey izmer.)

It is sung to the moon by a lovelorn loon
Who fled from the Teeming throng-oh!
It’s a song of a Fenris man moping mum
Whose soul was sad and his glance was glum!
Who sipped no sup and who craved no crumb
As he sighed
For love of a lady!

Oops, am I singing out loud?

I have a confession. And I am very serious.

[sub]I have never seen (live or video) or listened to anything by Gilbert and Sullivan. Well, with the exception of “The Elements” by Tom Lehrer, that’s sort of by Gilbert. Or Sullivan. Don’t remember which.[/sub]

Now before y’all go beserk and start throwing small painful objects at me, I wish to make up for my cultural deficiency.

In any case, which operetta sould I start with? Who are these people you mention? Are there any G&S (See, I understand the lingo! That’s a start!) that are ‘not as good as the others’, a la Shakespeare’s plays? Which are the Big 3 that {b]Iolanthe** mentioned?

Help me; I feel like such a dweeb. Two music degrees and no G&S knowledge in my repertoire anywhere (but I know my Bugs Bunny classics)!

A) The ‘big three’ are (probably in order of popularity) The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S Pinafore.

B) Which operetta? You’re gonna get this tossed to GD or the Pit! :smiley: I’d say start with Penzance or The Mikado. There’s a reason they’re overplayed. They really are wonderful and extremely accessible.

C) Which version/cast? That’s the hard part. From about 1920 or so, the D’Oyle Carte company recorded the whole G&S cannon every ten-twenty years or so with a new cast. (plus there was a set by Sir Malcom Sargent and hundreds of other casts…a recent Mikado starred Eric Idle!) My favorite group tends to be the late '60’s-mid '70s recordings with the magnificent John Reed as “the little guy who prances about doing the patter songs” and Valerie Masterson as the ingenue. This is a great site to get a feel for the recordings, and I’d recommend this cast of The Pirates of Penzance as an excellent starting point. The cast is wonderful, it’s one of G&S’s best, and this recording includes all the dialogue, so you get an even better feel for the story.

  1. Which to avoid? I don’t much like The Sorcerer, but that’s just me. They only wrote 13 or 14 operettas and they all have good points. Utopia, Ltd and The Grand Duke aren’t generally considered their best work.

By the way Iolanthe you’re right, Donald Adams wasn’t a patter-song guy normally. In the rough draft of my post it was going to list favorite male and female singers. I decided to go with the patter-song question, and his name managed to survive the purge of the earlier draft. Anyway…there’s a comedy album (that I think is available on CD) called “Anna Russell Sings…Again?”. The whole first side is an explaination for ordinary folks of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. It’s among the funniest things I’ve ever heard (she describes, in a Miss Hathaway voice, Sigfried as being “…very strong, and very handsome and very stupid. A regular ‘Little Abner’ type”). But on the second side, she gives you the Platonic Ideal of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Hysterical. Have you heard it?


Yes, those are the ones I meant.

Yes, they are good ones to start with. Caveat - as much as I love Kevin Kline, avoid the Pirates of Penzance movie. The others? Depends on your interests. I’ll always recommend Iolanthe, Yeoman of the Guard is the one with the dramatic ending, The Gondoliers has a very big cast, Patience is the one that parodies Oscar Wilde. Ruddigore parodies the melodramas of the Victorian era.

The good thing about these recordings is that they are all pretty widely available, and all on cd. I don’t think that any of the older casts have been transferred, which is a pity.

The Grand Duke is supposed to have some of Sullivan’s best music, but it definitely has Gilbert’s worst libretto and lyrics. But you’d have a hard time finding copies of Utopia and Grand Duke anyway; they are both out of print.

Heh. My dear Fenris, you might regret asking that. I love Anna Russell. She gets her G&S parodies spot-on (much like SDMB’s own Kimstu, so in the interests of furthering Screech-Owl’s education, I’m taking this opportunity to quote my favorite lines at length.

(Screech, if you like Tom Lehrer, you’ll very probably like Anna Russell too.)

From ‘How to write your own Gilbert & Sullivan opera:’

“So long as you use this formula, you can put your opera where you like.”

"As you know, you always have to start with a homogenous chorus…I mean homogenous as in milk.

“She is the British, piercing type soprano that is always connected with these operations.”

“Now it’s absolutely obligatory that the tenor sing an aria in 6/8 time in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, usually accompaning himself upon the guitar, the mandolin, or some such instrument.”

“‘I started as a gangster with a power so despotic,
The police became dogmatic and the going too chaotic.
Then I made a lot of money on a very nice narcotic
I’m that fabulous phenomenon, The Great Tycoon!’”

“The Madrigal. Now this is a mixed quartet. You will have to be indulgent with this one, as my quartet singing isn’t what it used to be.”

“The knot is just about to be tied, when who should come in, but Dandelion. She is the large fat contralto with a voice like a foghorn, that you have to have in these productions…She stops the wedding because she says she has a confession to make, assisted by the chorus.”

“‘The newborn babes, they trusted to my care.
All alike, bright red, no teeth, no hair,
But one I knew, twas little baby Bunion.
He’d a birthmark here, just like a Spanish onion.’”

“‘So if you’re psychotic, or rather neurotic,
Or if you’ve a notion you’re far too emotional,
If you’ve a pain, or a feeling of strain,
Get it out of your system by writing a popular op-er-ette.
An o-o-op-er-ette! Dance!’”

(And from her non-G&S routines)

“I feel I’m very well-qualified in this respect, as I was for many years a favorite pupil of the Great Viennese Maestro, Herr Doktor Schatzputzstreishurtz. He taught me everything I know. Including singing!”

“In fact many of the world’s greatest voice teachers have at one time or another, ruined my voice, so I now feel that I am in a position to do the same for you.”

“And they go in for some very competitative singing. The type of thing ‘Anything you can sing, I can sing louder.’ I think probably she wins.”

“Well then they fall in love, and he gives her the ring. She’s his aunt, by the way.”

“Because Harbin gives Siegfried a magic potion, that makes him forget all about Brunhilde, and fall in love with Gutrund. Who by the way, is the only woman Siegfried has ever come accross who hasn’t been his aunt. I’m not making this up, you know!”

Her comedic timing is impeccible. And the voices she uses, especially that hilariously nasal “Fa la la la la” just before the end of the madrigal. Oh, I adore Anna Russell.

Note to Screech-Owl: A big caveat for my recommended set of recordings: Beware of the HMS Pinafore that stars Reed and Masterson. It was recorded in some stupid '70’s Phase-4 Stereo-Vistavision-Mega-Spectrorama gimmick. It has a wonderful cast, brilliant orchestration and even sound effects (foghorn, splashing of waves against the ship, a seagull) to help you get the full “ocean” experience. Unfortunately, because of the Phase-4 or a brain-damaged sound engineer, the background noises occasionally drown out the main performers. The Seagull gets a solo in one of the songs. (The sound quality has been cleaned up for the CD and I kind of like it, but in it’s vinyl version it’s atrocious)

I shoulda known, given your obviously impeccable taste :).

Other great quotes:

“Our story opens in the River Rhine. In it!”

(regarding Erda)“She’s a green-faced torso that pops out of the ground”

“So he gives her the ring. She’s his aunt, by the way. But nonetheless they’re in love and everything’s very happy and you’d think that’d be the end of it wouldn’t you? No fear: Gotterdammerung.”

“You have the three norns, or fates. And they are also daughters of ‘My Friend Erda’ the green faced torso and therefore, presumably they are also Siegfried’s aunts but this bunch of aunts are as droopy as the first lot [the valkeries] were noisy”

“Madrigals:…they were an evening’s pastime compirable to playing canasta. People went to each other’s houses and sat at square tables, wore square hats, sang from music with square notes on it. In fact, it was a very square occupation”

(Sung) “Be joyous and be glad/We’ll drive the neighbors mad/Fa-La, Fa Laaa-la la etc/<snip>/Now we’d better stop./For someone’s called a cop/Fa-la etc”

“Folk music: The dictionary defines this as the ‘uncooth vocal utterances of the people’.” (approximate quote)


Thank you for the discussion. As I was reading the part about this perhaps ending up in GD or the Pit**, I was worried that I may have to say “scr#w it” and put on my AC/DC “Back in Black” CD. Quite civil, y’all are.

As for Anna Russell, you are preaching to the choir (so to speak). I have mentioned her in a couple of threads previous - listened to her albums in college and fell in love with the “Ring” anlysis. As soon as I get some G&S under my belt, I will understand the humorousness a bit better.

If I may return the favor (but don’t hate me for it).
Get Florence Foster Jenkins- The Glory of the Human Voice. She is the 'world’s worst soprano.
**(G&S discussion in the Pit - now THAT would be worth venturing into the Pit! :smiley: )

Oh my God. I’ve never met anyone else aware of her. The phrase world’s worst soprano doesn’t even begin to describe her.

For those of you not in the know, she was a wonderful human being, but when she let those vocal chords rip…um…ever seen an episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy tries to sing? Lucy’s voice is angellic in comparison.

Jenkins sounds like cats in heat that’ve been tossed into a clothes dryer.


Try listening to both Anna Russell’s “Ring Cycle” and FFJ’s versions of “Der Hölle Rache” (Queen of the Night Aria from Die Zauberflote) and “Adele’s Laughing Song/Mein Herr Marquis” (from Die Fledermaus) on the same day in Opera History class in college. We were on the floor under the desks.

From laughing so hard at the first.
And cringing in abject terror at the second.

Your description of ‘cats in heat that’ve been tossed into a clothes dryer’ is most apt.

Shall we start the Florence Foster Jenkins Appreciation Society? With some Anna Russell and P.D.Q. Bach thrown in to boot?

You’d better not be cracking on P.D.Q. Bach, or I may have to come down there and kick your ass. :smiley:

Who cracking on P.D.Q.? What part of “Appreciation Society” suddenly turned into illegible Greek lettering? :smiley:
Puh-lease, you are speaking to people who enjoy “Concerto for Horn and Hardart”, “Fanfare for the Common Cold” and the great operetta, “Hansel & Gretel & Ted & Alice”!

Kick MY ass, eh?
I’ll just take back that Monty Python & the Holy Legos website! :stuck_out_tongue:


Iphegenia, Iphegenia, Iphegenia
Herself in Brooklyn found!

From PDQ Bach’s immortal “Iphegenia in Brooklyn,” not to be confused with “Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice.”

I love the SDMB!! Where else would you find people who have heard of Florence Foster Jenkins (a rich NYC society dame who performed in privately sponsored concerts, and despite–or because of-- her amazing lack of talent, became a camp success in the gayer part of the arts world back in the 40s)?

I also am a big G&S fan. For a nice intro to G&S and The Mikado, rent the movie Topsy-Turvy. It’s about he first production of The Mikado by the Savoy Theatre and features some lovely samples of the bouncier tunes from the show.

Favorite operetta? The Mikado, followed closely by Patience.

Favorite aria? Yum-yum’s solo, “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze”

Favorite patter song? “The Duke of Plaza-Toro” from The Gondoliers.