University of Iowa Opera Theatre stages Gilbert and Sullivan classic


Bill Theisen

“H.M.S. Pinafore” premiered 144 years ago on May 25, 1878.

In preparing for this production by the University of Iowa Opera Theatre, I have decided to begin with a letter that Mr. Gilbert sent to Mr. Sullivan shortly after their previous collaboration, “The Sorcerer,” had opened.

Dear Sullivan,

I send you herewith a sketch plot of the proposed opera. I hope and think you will like it. I should have liked to talk 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 for the First Lord- tracing his career as office boy in cotton-brokers office, clerk, traveler, junior partner, and First Lord of Brittan’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. (Gilbert could not have seriously believed this, but as W.H. Smith was Disraeli’s First Lord appointee, he was probably trying to allay any potential fear Sullivan might have that offense might be given in high places.) I shall be anxious to know what you think of the plot. It seems to me that there is plenty of story in it, with good musical situations. 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.



Sullivan received this letter in Paris and his reaction to the sketch plot had been instantly favorable. What grew from this correspondence was a comic opera about love. But not a simple love. A love between different classes, and a love on many different levels.


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