HMS Pinafore


The fourth collaboration between Gilbert & Sullivan was their first blockbuster hit: "H.M.S. Pinafore", or "The Lass That Loved a Sailor." This opera opened May 28, 1878 at the Opera Comique. It ran for 571 performances and became a huge fad in England, as well as in America, being copied illegally by dozens of performing companies in the US, as well as being presented there by Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte themselves. Pinafore is among the most popular Gilbert and Sullivan operas, perhaps because of its infectious tunes and generally well-constructed libretto.

Drawing on several of his earlier "bab ballad" poems, Gilbert embued HMS Pinafore with mirth and silliness to spare. The opera's gentle satire reprises and builds upon one of The Sorcerer's themes: Love between members of different social classes. The gentlemanly Captain of the Pinafore, who claims that he would never swear at his crew (What, Never?), does not know that his daughter has fallen in love with a common sailor serving on her father's ship. Meanwhile, the Captain has arranged for her to marry the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Joseph Porter. Sir Joseph himself has risen from humble beginnings to gain his office by political acumen, despite having never gone to sea! And the Captain himself fancies a poor bumboat woman. Fear not: it all works out in the end. Hip, hip, hoorah!

By Samuel Silvers.

Pinafore Web Opera
Another in our very popular series of Web Operas, containing all of the music from the opera as MIDI files, along with the full lyrics and dialogue and many pictures.

Warning!! Singing-along with the music in our web operas is addictive – you will spend much more time doing it than you intended to!

  • Introduction, adapted from the book Tit-Willow or Notes and Jottings on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas by Guy H. and Claude A. Walmisley.
  • Interview given on arrival in New York (to produce H.M.S. Pinafore). "New York Herald", 6 November 1879.
  • Pinafore in America, 1878-79
  • Russ Sype has done a considerable amount of research into the various "pirate" productions of H.M.S. Pinafore which took place in the United States before the arrival of Gilbert and Sullivan with their authorised production. He has presented this in the form of a documentary on YouTube. Part 1 and Part 2 are now available.
  • The Story of H.M.S. Pinafore by Sir W. S. Gilbert — this 1908 book is a retelling of the HMS Pinafore story for "young readers." It includes 16 stunning full page colour illustrations and a number of black and white drawings.
  • Lost Song: In 1999 a lost song from H.M.S. Pinafore was reconstructed by two Gilbert and Sullivan musicologists.
  • H.M.S. Pinafore Clip Art: Bab drawings illustrating H.M.S. Pinafore. Scanned graphics files of Gilbert's own drawings.
  • Illustrated Music Covers — The melodies of H.M.S. Pinafore were arranged as dance music and these arrangements were pubished with decorative illustrated covers. The opera's popularity in America led to songs and arrangements being also published there with decorative covers.
Poster created in 1879 to advertise the authorised production of H.M.S. Pinafore in New York. Restoration by Adam Cuerden.
Download a printable version.
1879 Pinafore Poster
  • Savoynet Discussion Transcript — Transcript of a discussion of H.M.S. Pinafore by members of the SavoyNet distribution list. This extensive discussion provides substantial background information on this opera, and is a must for anyone wanting to understand it better, produce it, or perform in it. Compiled by Bill McCann.
  • Hebe's Cut Dialogue — In the Licence Copy of the libretto, Gilbert gave Hebe much dialogue that was subseqently cut. Marc Shepherd gives the background to this and you can read the cut material.
  • The Making of H.M.S. Pinafore — from the book "Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas" by François Cellier & Cunningham Bridgeman, published by Little, Brown and Company in 1914.
  • H.L. Mencken Newspaper ArticleNewspaper Article on HMS Pinafore by the American journalist H. L. Mencken.
  • Article from Precious Nonsense (The Newsletter of the Midwestern Gilbert and Sullivan Society):
    • "Character Analysis 'Dick Deadeye'." by Larry C. Littlefield. A rather imaginative story about a scheme by Dick Deadeye and Buttercup to make some money. From the June 1987 Precious Nonsense.
  • Life on a 19th Century British Man of War — Life on a British man-'o-war in the 19th century was, of course, quite different from that portrayed in H.M.S. Pinafore. Get an idea of what it was really like from the H.M.S. Victory web site. H.M.S. Victory is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

Page updated 25 April 2015. Copyright © 2007-15 The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive. All rights reserved.