Gilbert and Sullivan Ephemera

The Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas of the late 19th century got their start in London, and were wildly popular in the English-speaking world and beyond -- so much so that the characters and references to these works permiated popular culture in ways that can often surprise and delight us, showing up on items that have nothing to do with the operas themselves. 

America has had a long love affair with H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado in particular, as seen in much of the printed ephemera of the era. The items shown here include typical theater ephemera, such as programs, as well as some surprising items like a shirt label, a condom packet and some soap.

The materials in this case were curatedby and are on loan from RBSCP from Dr. Harold A Kanthor, and feature selections of ephemera of all types from H.M.S. Pinafore and The Mikado. 

Dr. Kanthor's ongoing gifts are accessible in the Harold A Kanthor Collection of Gilbert and Sullivan and the Corney Grain Archive, both in RBSCP. 

The Mikado, or the Town of Titipu, is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W.S. Gilbert, their ninth of fourteen operatic collaborations. It opened on March 14, 1885, in London, where it ran at the Savoy Theatre for 672 performances, the second-longest run for any work of musical theatre and one of the longest runs of any theatre piece up to that time. By the end of 1885, it was estimated that, in Europe and America, at least 150 companies were producing that opera. 

The use of foreign locales has not been without some controversy. Since the 1990s, some prodcutionsof the opera in the United States have drawn criticism for promoting stereotypes of East Asians. Changing the place and time of the opera, and modernizing many of the linguistic terms used have helped to keep the story accessible to 21st century audiences. 

H.M.S. Pinafore; or The Lass that Loved a Sailor is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by W.S. Gilbert. It opened at the Opera Comique in London, on May 25, 1878 and ran for 571 performances, which was the second-longest run of any music theatre piece up to that time. H.M.S. Pinafore was Gilbert and Sullican's fourth collaboration and their first international sensation.

Pinafore's extraordinary popularity in Britain, America and elsewhere was followed by the similar success of The Mikado. Their works, later known as the Savoy operas, domiinated the musical stage on both sides of the Atlantic for more than a decade and continue to be performed today. The structure and style of these operas, particularly Pinafore, were much copied and contributed significantly to the development of modern musical theatre. 

Gilbert and Sullivan Ephemera