Fun With Gilbert and Sullivan

One of my dearest friends and I fell in love early in our lives with the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Their songs were catchy and fun, and we listened to them over and over on my little record player. My parents had taken me to see “The Gondoliers” one year, and in the following year, the “Mikado.”

Years later when I lived in Texas, I joined a light opera company where they put on Gilbert and Sullivan shows every year. It was a fabulous experience. My friend majored in theater and later on went on to summer stock. She starred in many Gilbert and Sullivan performances playing major leads. I was (and am still) so proud of her.

But now that we are older and don’t belong to singing groups any longer, we still enjoy singing from the operettas together. One of our favorite “patter” songs comes from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe.” It’s a real tongue-twister and is very fast paced. We like singing it together and whoever flubs up a line, the other one wins (BTW, I am the one who usually flubs up!). If you love Gilbert and Sullivan as we do, here are the lyrics from Iolanthe’s “The Nightmare Song:”

‘Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest’.
Recit: Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest:
Love, hopeless love, my ardent soul encumbers:
Love, nightmare like, lies heavy on my chest,
And weaves itself into my midnight slumbers!

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache,
And repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose
To indulge in, without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire – the bedclothes conspire –
of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes, and uncovers your toes,
And your sheet slips demurely from under you;
Then the blanketing tickles – you feel like mixed pickles-
So terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you’re hot, and you’re cross, and you tumble and toss
Till there’s nothing ‘twixt you and the ticking.

Then the bedclothes all all creep to the ground in a heap,
And you pick ’em all up in a tangle;
Next your pillow resigns and politely declines
To remain at its usual angle!
Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze,
With hot eyeballs and head ever aching,
But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams
That you’d very much better be waking;
For you dream you are crossing the Channel,
And tossing about in a steamer from Harwich –
Which is something between a large bathing machine
And a very small second class carriage –
And you’re giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat)
To a party of friends and relations –
They’re a ravenous horde – and they all came on board
At Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.

And bound on that journey you find your attorney
(Who started that morning from Devon;)
He’s a bit undersiz’d, and you don’t feel surpris’d
When he tells you he’s only eleven.
Well, you’re driving like mad with this singular lad
(bye-the-bye the ship’s now a four-wheeler,)
And you’re playing round games, and he calls you bad names,
When you tell him that “ties pay the dealer;”

But this you can’t stand, so you throw up your hand,
And you find you’re as cold as an icicle;
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks,)
Crossing Sal’sbury Plain on a bicycle:
And he and the crew are on bicycles too –
Which they’ve somehow or other invested in –
And he’s telling the tars, all the particulars
Of a company he’s interested in –
It’s a scheme of devices, to get at low prices,
All goods from cough mixtures to cables
(Which tickled the sailors) by treating retailers,
As though they were all vegetables –

You get a good spades-man to plant a small trades-man,
(First take off his boots with a boot-tree,)
And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot,
And they’ll blossom and bud like a fruit tree –
From the green-grocer tree you get grapes and green-pea,
Cauliflower, pineapple, and cranberries,
While the pastry-cook plant, cherry brandy will grant,
Apple puffs, and three-corners, and banburys –
The shares are a penny, and ever so many
Are taken by Rothschild and Baring,
And just as a few are allotted to you,
You awake with a shudder despairing –

You’re a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck,
And no wonder you snore, for your head’s on the floor,
And you’ve needles and pins from your soles to your shins,
And your flesh is a-creep, for your left leg’s asleep,
And you’ve cramp in your toes, and a fly on your nose,
And some fluff in your lung, and a feverish tongue,
And a thirst that’s intense, and a general sense
That you haven’t been sleeping in clover;

But the darkness has pass’d
And it’s daylight at last,
And the night has been long –
Ditto, ditto my song –
And thank goodness they’re both of them over!”

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