H.M.S. Pinafore opened on 25th May 1878. When it first opened it was regarded as essentially a Gilbertian piece.
The critics praised the eccentricity and wit of the libretto but were critical of Sullivan’s music. The Daily Telegraph found ‘the music of the new opera disappointing’. Though the opera, based on material from three of Gilbert’s Bab Ballads, was a first night success, it did not take immediately with subsequent audiences and business was worryingly slow for the first few months.
However, Sullivan included a selection from Pinafore at the Covent Garden Proms and this seemed to work in popularising the score
Things were different in America. Pinafore was an immediate success. Companies, both amateur and professional, performed versions of the opera in halls and theatres throughout America. By the time Richard D’Oyly Carte brought the original version to New York in 1897 the words and music were as familiar as nursery rhymes.
Pinafore played in London until 20th February 1880.