Friday, June 04, 2010

Sunday Classics Preview: "How quaint the ways of Paradox!"


Rex Smith as Frederic, Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, and Angela Lansbury as Ruth seem amazingly unembarrassed in the "Paradox" trio from the film version of the New York Shakespeare Festival production of The Pirates of Penzance. (Yes, that was the one with Linda Ronstadt as Mabel.) I'm not endorsing, just embedding.

by Ken

In case you're just coming in: Our hero, young Frederic (the slave of duty of the title The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty), has manfully honored, all the way up to the day of his 21st birthday, the unfortunate error of his hard-of-hearing nurserymaid Ruth in apprenticing him, not to a ship's "pilot," but to a "pirate," but now has put his unfortunate apprenticeship behind him and found true love with the most beautiful of Major General Stanley's many beautiful daughters, Mabel, and is sworn to destroy his onetime mates, the infamous -- and more than a little goofy -- Pirates of Penzance.

At this point fate intervenes, in the form of what Mr. Gilbert (the word guy) may already have known, at this relatively early stage in their collaboration, that Mr. Sullivan (the music guy) did better than most anything, and better than most anybody: a trio.

GILBERT AND SULLIVAN: The Pirates of Penzance: Act II,
[1] Recit., Now for the pirates' lair . . . [2] Young Frederic . . .
[3] Trio, When you had left our pirate fold

Now for the pirates' lair! Oh, joy unbounded!
Oh, sweet relief! Oh, rapture unexampled!
At last I may atone, in some slight measure,
For the repeated acts of theft and pillage
Which, at a sense of duty's stern dictation,
I, circumstance's victim, have been guilty!

[2] PIRATE KING and RUTH appear, armed.

KING. Young Frederic! (Covering him with pistol.)
FRED. Who calls?
KING. Your late commander!
RUTH. And I, your little Ruth! (Covering him with pistol.)
FRED. Oh, mad intruders,
How dare ye face me? Know ye not, oh rash ones,
That I have doomed you to extermination?

KING and RUTH hold a pistol to each ear.

KING. Have mercy on us! hear us, ere you slaughter!
FRED. I do not think I ought to listen to you.
Yet, mercy should alloy our stern resentment,
And so I will be merciful. Say on!

RUTH. When you had left our pirate fold,
We tried to raise our spirits faint,
According to our custom old,
With quip and quibble quaint.
But all in vain the quips we heard,
We lay and sobbed upon the rocks,
Until to somebody occurred
A startling paradox.
FRED. A paradox?
RUTH. [laughing] A paradox!
A most ingenious paradox!
We've quips and quibbles heard in flocks,
But none to beat this paradox!
ALL. A paradox, a paradox, etc.

KING. We knew your taste for curious quips,
For cranks and contradictions queer;
And with the laughter on our lips,
We wished you there to hear.
We said, "If we could tell it him,
How Frederic would the joke enjoy!"
And so we've risked both life and limb
To tell it to our boy.
FRED. [interested] That paradox?
KING. [laughing] That most ingenious paradox!
We've quips and quibbles heard in flocks,
But none to beat that paradox!
ALL. A paradox, a paradox, etc.


For some ridiculous reason, to which, however, I've no desire to be disloyal,
Some person in authority, I don't know who, very likely the Astronomer Royal,
Has decided that, although for such a beastly month as February, twenty-eight days as a rule are plenty,
One year in every four his days shall be reckoned as nine and twenty.
Through some singular coincidence -- I shouldn't be surprised if it were owing to the agency of an ill-natured fairy --
You are the victim of this clumsy arrangement, having been born in leap-year, on the twenty-ninth of February;
And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you'll easily discover,
That though you've lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays, you're only five and a little bit over!
RUTH. and KING. Ha! ha! ha! ha!
Ho! ho! ho! ho!
FRED. Dear me!
Let's see! [counting on fingers]
Yes, yes; with yours my figures do agree!
ALL. Ha! ha! ha! ho! ho! ho! ho!
FRED. [more amused than any] How quaint the ways of Paradox!
At common sense she gaily mocks!
Though counting in the usual way,
Years twenty-one I've been alive,
Yet, reckoning by my natal day,
I am a little boy of five!
RUTH and KING. He is a little boy of five! Ha! ha! ha!
ALL. A paradox, a paradox,
A most ingenious paradox!
Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!, etc.

RUTH and KING throw themselves back on seats, exhausted with laughter.

[1-3] Jon Mark Ainsley (t), Frederic; Donald Adams (bs), Pirate King; Gillian Knight (ms), Ruth; Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. Telarc, recorded May 4-6, 1993

[2-3] James Milligan (bs-b), Pirate King; Monica Sinclair (c), Ruth; Richard Lewis (t), Frederic; Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 30, 1958-Jan. 2, 1959

GILBERT AND SULLIVAN: The Pirates of Penzance: Overture

This isn't the first time at Sunday Classics that we've gone backward instead of forward. I thought this would be a good time to go back to the Overture to Pirates, as usual an artful (in this case, we might say, an especially artful) medley of tunes from the operetta. Listen for a familiar one at 5:46 of the Godfrey recording, 5:25 of the Sargent.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded Dec. 4-8, 1967

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Feb. 6, 1958


We revisit our old friends the Bad Baronets of Ruddigore -- and hear another trio.


A reminder that the March 21-23 posts focusing on the first two of Chopin's preludes, with performances of them by (count 'em) seven distinguished pianists, have been upgraded to include (I hope) actually playable audio clips! (What'll they think of next?)


No, it's not the posts that are new and improved. They are, for better or worse, what they are, or rather were. However, the new and boldly improved version of the list is here.

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