Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore (subtitled The Lass that loved a Sailor) premièred in London in 1878. Although it was eventually extremely successful (and also the pair’s first international hit) initial audience figures were poor, perhaps owing to a mini heatwave making the theatre auditorium uncomfortably hot. This all changed after Sullivan conducted a selection of the show’s numbers in a Proms concert. Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas (as they become known) were highly influential in the development of modern musical theatre, especially Pinafore.
The opera’s humour focuses on love between people of different social ranking and pokes good-natured fun at the British class system, patriotism, party politics, the Royal Navy, and unqualified people placed in positions of authority. Even the opera’s title playfully couples the name of a girl’s dress with that of a mighty naval warship.
As was to become his usual practice in his later operas, Sullivan left the overture to the last moment, merely sketching it out before handing it over to the company’s music director to complete.