Space Pirates of Penzance

I can’t say that I’m a Gilbert and Sullivan fan but when I came across the nearly complete operettas for under $20 I bought them. I spread them over two cds. Number 1 has Pinafore/Trial/Pirates/Patience/Iolanthe. Number 2has  Mikado/Ruddigore/Yeomen/Gondoliers. I have memories of seeing productions of some of these growing up in Sydney. The Rotary Club did annual week long runs of such shows. From light operetta to Desert Song to Oklahoma!

I’ve even Mikado at Stratford. Movie versions of some but they have left little memory. In fact most of the operettas are more memory than modern. This set are all by D’Oyly Carte & as such, are hide-bound by tradition. Copyright for many years stipulated exactly how these were to be produced – right down to costumes. Copyright has lapsed but there hasn’t been a rush for Space Pirates of Penzance.

The texts are more political than one expects with sharp comments on current events, comments that are still relevant today. The music is fun but I can’t name one big hit from any one of them – though these were immensely popular at the time. The patter song is the template for what became hip-hop rap though. Check it out if you don’t believe me.

Like such populist & successful composers they wanted to be taken seriously & this conflict of intent was a constant between them – money or art. Sullivan longed to write ‘serious’ works like Tosca.

To add a serious touch & for contrast I rounded out the cds with Ernest Bloch’s Chamber Music with Viola – haunting elegant & spiritual. Also Constant Lambert’s film music – his Anna Karenina score: properly cinematic work by a British composer who deserves a revival, if only for his influence on The Who (his son was Kit Lambert).

Silence

Mike stood in the centre of the empty hotel room. The bed was made, the waste basket empty, everything in place as if no one had been in the room for days, as if he hadn’t been in this very room only hours ago. How long? Less than ten hours since he bid Robert a fond good night.

It was the same room. There was that small mark on the carpet. A brownish stain from spilt coffee. It was the right room. He was sure of that.

The windows were shut tight. Blinds drawn aside. Morning sun fell bright on the tightly made bed. The sheets looked as if a quarter would bounce off them.

‘As you see there is no one is this room. It has been vacant for the past week.’

‘Yes. I see.’

Mike didn’t turn to look at the clerk who had let him into the room. It was this room. He had been in this room several times in the past week. In this vacant room, in this never occupied room.

‘Perhaps it was another room you’re friend was in, sir?’

‘Perhaps.’

‘What was his name again? We can check in the register. The floors are laid put the same so it is easy to make such a mistake. Even our guests frequently try to get into the wrong rooms. Of course,’ the clerk gave a little laugh, ‘no one ever complains about that.’

Mike followed the clerk down to the lobby in silence. The hotel was only four floors and Robert had been staying on the second. 206. That back corner room overlooking nothing. He wouldn’t forget that. He wouldn’t forget that stain.

‘Now you are sure this is the hotel?’

‘Yes I’m sure. I’ve been here often over the past few days.’

‘Ah … I have been on duty much of that time yet I do not recall you.’

‘Nor I you.’

‘So you believe your friend was in room 206.’

‘I don’t believe. I know. I know that room. I can tell you about that leak in the bathroom.’

‘Not an unusual feature. Your friend’s name was  … ?’

‘Robertino De Saint-Zexpris. A large black man.’

‘When did he check in?’

‘I don’t know. He was staying here when I met him.’

‘Ah …’ The clerk frowned. ‘There is no one by that name in the register. Then again, I hate to say it, but sometimes people don’t always give their real names, now do they.’

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