Pirates of PenzanceDetail from Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty is perhaps the most widely recognized Gilbert and Sullivan opera known today.  It was performed for a century by the D’Oyly Carte company in Great Britain, and was brought to wide mainstream attention by Joseph Papp’s Broadway acclaimed production, starring Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline, in 1981. Somewhat ironically, due to copywrite piracy concerns, The Pirates of Penzance was the only Gilbert and Sullivan opera to open in the United States prior to opening in Great Britain.

Story Synopsis

For this opera, Gilbert has set the scene in Cornwall, where the famous Pirates of Penzance are discovered in their rocky cove with their rather muddle-headed King.  They have gathered to say farewell to Frederic, their apprentice who at mid-day will be out of his indentures and, because he is leaving, feels justified in telling them that the reason they fail so often in their raids is because word has got about that they never attack smaller vessels than theirs nor one manned by orphans; he also tells them that once he has left them, it will be his duty as an honest citizen to hunt them ruthlessly and exterminate them.  Frederic imagines he must be in love with Ruth, who is the only woman he has ever seen and is, in fact, his nursery-maid who apprenticed him as a child to the pirates instead of to a pilot, but suddenly a crowd of beautiful girls (Major-General Stanley’s daughters) arrive for a picnic with their father, and Frederic instantly loses interest in poor Ruth and gives his heart to Mabel, the most beautiful of the daughters.

In Act II we see Frederic set on his determined path of exterminating the pirates, assisted by his gallant band of policemen when, unfortunately for him, the Pirate King and Ruth appear with distressing news:  apparently he was born in a Leap Year on February 29 and was apprenticed not, as he had thought, until his twenty-first year, but until his twenty-first birthday which of course will not be for many a long year — in fact 1940!  However, the Opera ends on a happy note as the pirates are really not as evil as they seem but are all noblemen who have gone wrong and consequently perfectly suitable as husbands for many of General Stanley’s daughters.  It seems as though Ruth will be left alone, but happily she and the Police Sergeant discover each other and all is well.

High Resolution Photographs

Please include photo credits when using these photographs.

Pirate King & Major General
Bob Young Photography (1.7 mb)
The Police
Robert Millard (1.9 mb)
The Major General
Robert Millard (2.0mb)

Program Copy

Please contact Opera A La Carte for the most recent program for this production.

Press Release

Please contact Opera A La Carte for the most recent press release for this production.

Technical Materials

Pirates of Penzance Tech Package  – (268kb pdf)

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