"A British Tar" is from the operetta "HMS Pinafore," which opened at the Opera Comique in London, on 25 May 1878 and ran for 571 performances, the second-longest run of any musical theatre piece up to that time. It is a type of type of part song known as a "glee," written for three men with lyrics describing the ideal sailor.
"The Mikado" is Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular opera and "Tit Willow" is one of the most famous songs in it - so popular in fact, that the famous 70s children's TV show The Muppets recorded their own version. The song describes a bird who dies of heartbreak. Ko-Ko, who is Lord High Exceutioner, sings it in Act 2 in order to persuade the elderly Katisha to marry him.
"I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" (often referred to as the "Major-General's Song" or "Modern Major-General's Song") is a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. It is sung by Major-General Stanley at his first entrance, towards the end of Act I. The song satirises the idea of the "modern" educated British Army officer of the latter 19th century. It is one of the most difficult patter songs to perform, due to the fast pace and tongue-twisting nature of the lyrics.
"The Mikado," a comic opera in two acts, was the ninth operatic collaboration between librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. It is one of the most popular music theatre works written, running for 672 performances from its opening in 1885 at the Savoy Theatre and widely performed to this day. Perhaps the most beloved number in the work is the first act comic trio "Three Little Maids," ironic given that it was nearly cut from the original production, the cast successfully begging for it to be reinstated.
The rollicking aria "Pirate King" (or "Oh! better far to live and die"), is sung by the leader of a gentlemanly band of pirates near the beginning of "The Pirates of Penzance" (1879). Having been invited by the young Frederic, who has just been released from his pirate apprenticeship, to give up their criminal way of life, the Pirate King explains that, in comparison with every day life, piracy is relatively honest:
Oh, better far to live and die Under the brave black flag I fly, Than play a sanctimonious part, With a pirate head and a pirate heart. Away to the cheating world go you, Where pirates all are well-to-do; But I'll be true to the song I sing, And live and die a Pirate King.
"A Wandering Minstrel I" is sung by Nanki-Poo, who is the son of the Mikado of Japan but in disguise as a minstrel, near the opening of the opera. It is one the best known songs from the work, appearing often in other contexts, for example in the film "The Producers" and in episodes of the original "Batman" series, "Topcat" and "Blakadder Goes Forth."
"With Cat-Like Tread" is sung towards the end of "The Pirates of Penzance" as the pirates steal onto the estate of the Major-General, intending to take revenge on him. The song was catchy enough for Sullivan to include it in the overture to the opera and it has appeared elsewhere in popular culture, having been used in the song "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here' and in the soundtrack to the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire."
"When I was a Lad" is sung by The Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty as he hubristically recounts his rags-to-riches career. It may have been based upon the life of W.H. Smith, founder of the still-extant UK chain of newsagents, who, as well as selling books and newspapers, rose to become the First Lord of the Admiralty in 1877.
"A Policeman's Lot," sung by a Sergeant and Chorus of Police, is performed towards the end of "The Pirates of Penzance" as they contemplate the arrest of the Pirates. It is a richly comic song, often performed separately as a concert piece. The Sullivan scholar Gervase Hughes also identified it as quintessentially Sullivan, remarking: "There could never be any doubt as to who wrote that, and it is as English as our wonderful police themselves."
"I Have a Song to Sing" tells of a lovelorn merryman who is jilted by a maiden in favour of an arrogant lord, but the latter rejects her, and she returns on her knees to the merryman to beg for his love, with all ending happily. It occurs in Act 1 of "Yeomen of the Guard" (1888), the 11th of 14 collaborations between Gilbert and Sullivan. Sullivan had difficulties setting the lyric of this song, with its increasing length in each stanza. In spite of this, it is now one of the best-loved arias from the opera.