Pineapple Poll

Background | Recordings


In 1950, the copyright on Sullivan's music expired. Gilbert's words would still enjoy another eleven years of protection, but the music was now fair game. One of the first to exploit it was Sadler's Wells, who mounted a ballet called Pineapple Poll based on Gilbert's Bab Ballad "The Bumboat Woman's Story" and set exclusively to music by Sullivan, arranged by a young Charles Mackerras. The ballet premiered in March, 1951, to coincide with the Festival of Britain. It caused an immediate sensation and remained in the Sadler's Wells repertoire for years to come.

During the war, Mackerras had played oboe in the pit of a Syndey theatre, where they produced all the G&S operas except for Utopia and Grand Duke (the only two not represented in Poll). Mackerras also played piano for a ballet arrangement of Offenbach's Gay Parisienne, and it occurred to him that G&S would be similarly well-suited to dance.

Mackerras's arrangement weaves tunes from the Savoy Operas together brilliantly. The orchestration bounces from one tune to the next so quickly that the listener can scarcely keep up. His arrangement uses a much larger orchestra than Sullivan's forces — three each of woodwind and trumpets, plus lots of percussion. (A suite from the score that Chappell published reduced the orchestration to a more manageable size for amateur performers.)

Excerpts from the forty-five minute ballet have been recorded numerous times and are available as filler material on several currently-available CDs. Much as I enjoy listening to Mackerras's tuneful potpourri, I find the ballet itself tedious and dated. I'd far rather hear a recording than watch the video.

Pineapple Poll has been recorded at least seven times, including four alone by its creater, Charles Mackerras. I am also aware of one video performance by the Sadler's Wells Opera, the company that originated Poll in the first place. Known recordings are listed below.


1951 Sadler's Wells Orchestra / Mackerras 78 LP CD
195-? London Symphony Orchestra / Irving LP
195-? Royal Opera House Orchestra / Lanchbury LP
1958 Pro Arte Orchestra / Hollingsworth LP Cass CD
1959 Eastman Wind Ensemble / Fennell LP
1962 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Mackerras LP Cass
197-? Sadler's Wells Video / Wordsworth TV
1977 London Philharmonic Orchestra / Mackerras LP Cass CD
1983 Philharmonia Orchestra / Mackerras LP Cass CD
1988 Edmonton Wind Ensemble / Pinchin CD
2002 Band of The Irish Guards CD
2006 Royal Liverpool Philharmonic CD