After the pair's previous opera, H. Pinafore , achieved success in London in , approximately American companies quickly mounted unauthorised productions that often took considerable liberties with the text and paid no royalties to the creators. Fiction and plays about pirates were ubiquitous in the 19th century. Sullivan had written a comic opera called The Contrabandista , in , about a hapless British tourist who is captured by bandits and forced to become their chief. Gilbert had written several comic works that involved pirates or bandits. In Gilbert's opera Princess Toto , the title character is eager to be captured by a brigand chief.
Gilbert had translated Jacques Offenbach 's operetta Les brigands , in While Pinafore was running strongly at the Opera Comique in London, Gilbert was eager to get started on his and Sullivan's next opera, and he began working on the libretto in December Bang was mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate band as a child by his deaf nursemaid. Also, Bang, like Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance , had never seen a woman before and felt a keen sense of duty, as an apprenticed pirate, until the passage of his twenty-first birthday freed him from his articles of indenture.
Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte met by 24 April to make plans for a production of Pinafore and the new opera in America. Ford  to present, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre , the authorised productions. He then returned to London. Carte formed a new partnership with Gilbert and Sullivan to divide profits equally among themselves after the expenses of each of their shows.
In November , Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte sailed to America with a company of strong singers, to play both Pinafore and the new opera, including J. They then tailored their operas to the particular abilities of these performers. For until then no living soul had seen upon the stage such weird, eccentric, yet intensely human beings He sought naturalism in acting, which was unusual at the time, just as he strove for realistic visual elements.
He deprecated self-conscious interaction with the audience and insisted on a style of portrayal in which the characters were never aware of their own absurdity but were coherent internal wholes. When he arrived in New York, however, he found that he had left the sketches behind, and he had to reconstruct the first act from memory.
Some scholars e. Tillett and Spencer, have suggested that Gilbert and Sullivan had planned all along to re-use "Climbing over rocky mountain," and perhaps other parts of Thespis. They argue that Sullivan's having the unpublished Thespis score in New York, when there were no plans to revive Thespis , might not have been accidental. In any case, on 10 December , Sullivan wrote a letter to his mother about the new opera, upon which he was hard at work in New York.
Pinafore opened in New York on 1 December and ran for the rest of December. After a reasonably strong first week, audiences quickly fell off, since most New Yorkers had already seen local productions of Pinafore.
On the one hand, Penzance was a docile seaside resort in , and not the place where one would expect to encounter pirates. Pinafore in America. The cast, which was performing Pinafore in the evenings in Torquay , received some of the music for Pirates only two days beforehand. Having had only one rehearsal, they travelled to nearby Paignton for the matinee, where they read their parts from scripts carried onto the stage, making do with whatever costumes they had on hand.
Pirates opened on 31 December in New York and was an immediate hit. The music is infinitely superior in every way to the Pinafore — 'tunier' and more developed, of a higher class altogether. I think that in time it will be very popular. After a strong run in New York and several American tours, Pirates opened in London on 3 April , running for performances there. The critics' notices were generally excellent in both New York and London.
- Sullivan, A: The Pirates of Penzance.
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The biographer Michael Ainger, however, doubts that Gilbert intended a caricature of Wolseley, identifying instead General Henry Turner, uncle of Gilbert's wife, as the pattern for the "modern Major-General". Gilbert disliked Turner, who, unlike the progressive Wolseley, was of the old school of officers.
Nevertheless, in the original London production, George Grossmith imitated Wolseley's mannerisms and appearance, particularly his large moustache, and the audience recognised the allusion. Wolseley himself, according to his biographer, took no offence at the caricature  and sometimes sang "I am the very model of a modern Major-General" for the private amusement of his family and friends.
On the coast of Cornwall , at the time of Queen Victoria 's reign, Frederic celebrates the completion of his twenty-first year and the end of his apprenticeship to a gentlemanly band of pirates "Pour, oh pour the pirate sherry". The pirates' maid of all work, Ruth, appears and reveals that, as Frederic's nursemaid long ago, she made a mistake "through being hard of hearing": Mishearing Frederic's father's instructions, she apprenticed him to a pirate, instead of to a ship's pilot "When Frederic was a little lad".
Frederic has never seen any woman other than Ruth, and he believes her to be beautiful. The pirates know better and suggest that Frederic take Ruth with him when he returns to civilisation. Frederic announces that, although it pains him, so strong is his sense of duty that, once free from his apprenticeship, he will be forced to devote himself to the pirates' extermination. He also points out that they are not successful pirates: since they are all orphans, they allow their prey to go free if they too are orphans.
Frederic notes that word of this has got about, so captured ships' companies routinely claim to be orphans. Frederic invites the pirates to give up piracy and go with him, so that he need not destroy them, but the Pirate King says that, compared with respectability, piracy is comparatively honest "Oh! The pirates depart, leaving Frederic and Ruth. Frederic sees a group of beautiful young girls approaching the pirate lair, and realises that Ruth misled him about her appearance "Oh false one!
You have deceived me! Sending Ruth away, Frederic hides before the girls arrive. The girls burst exuberantly upon the secluded spot "Climbing over rocky mountain". Frederic reveals himself "Stop, ladies, pray! One of them, Mabel, responds to his plea, chiding her sisters for their lack of charity "Oh sisters deaf to pity's name for shame! She offers Frederic her pity "Poor wand'ring one" , and the two quickly fall in love.
The other girls discuss whether to eavesdrop or to leave the new couple alone "What ought we to do? Frederic warns the girls about the pirates "Stay, we must not lose our senses" , but before they can flee, the pirates return and capture all the girls, intending to marry them "Here's a first rate opportunity".
Mabel warns the pirates that the girls' father is a Major-General "Hold, monsters! He appeals to the pirates not to take his daughters, leaving him to face his old age alone. Having heard of the famous Pirates of Penzance, he pretends that he is an orphan to elicit their sympathy "Oh, men of dark and dismal fate". The soft-hearted pirates release the girls "Hail, Poetry!
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The Major-General sits in a ruined chapel on his estate, surrounded by his daughters. His conscience is tortured by the lie that he told the pirates, and the girls attempt to console him "Oh dry the glist'ning tear". The Sergeant of Police and his corps arrive to announce their readiness to arrest the pirates "When the foeman bares his steel". The girls loudly express their admiration of the police for facing likely slaughter at the hands of fierce and merciless foes.
The police are unnerved by this but finally leave. Left alone, Frederic, who is to lead the police, reflects on his opportunity to atone for a life of piracy "Now for the pirate's lair" , at which point he encounters Ruth and the Pirate King.
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They have realised that Frederic's apprenticeship was worded so as to bind him to them until his twenty-first birthday — and, because that birthday happens to be on the 29th of February in a leap year , it means that technically only five birthdays have passed "When you had left our pirate fold" , and he will not reach his twenty-first birthday until he is in his eighties.
Frederic is convinced by this logic and agrees to rejoin the pirates. He then sees it as his duty to inform the Pirate King of the Major-General's deception. The outraged outlaw declares that the pirates' "revenge will be swift and terrible" "Away, away, my heart's on fire". Frederic meets Mabel "All is prepared" , and she pleads with him to stay "Stay Frederic, stay" , but he feels bound by his duty to the pirates until his 21st birthday — in They agree to be faithful to each other until then, though to Mabel "It seems so long" "Oh here is love and here is truth" ; Frederic departs.
Mabel steels herself "No, I'll be brave" and tells the police that they must go alone to face the pirates. They muse that an outlaw might be just like any other man, and it is a shame to deprive him of "that liberty which is so dear to all" "When a felon's not engaged in his employment". The police hide on hearing the approach of the pirates "A rollicking band of pirates we" , who have stolen onto the estate, intending to avenge themselves for the Major-General's lie "With cat-like tread".
Just then, Major-General Stanley appears, sleepless with guilt, and the pirates also hide "Hush, hush! The girls come looking for him "Now what is this and what is that". The pirates leap to the attack, and the police rush to the defence; but the police are easily defeated, and the Pirate King urges the captured Major-General to prepare for death. The Sergeant has one stratagem left: he demands that the pirates yield "in Queen Victoria's name"; the pirates, overcome with loyalty to their Queen, do so. Ruth appears and reveals that the pirates are "all noblemen who have gone wrong".
The Major-General is impressed by this and all is forgiven. Frederic and Mabel are reunited, and the Major-General is happy to marry his daughters to the noble pirates after all. The notices from critics were generally excellent in both New York and London in It will play in the audio player at the top of the page next to the menu. To download all the MP3 recordings for a part, click the button corresponding to your choral part below.
The Pirates of Penzance | Gilbert & Sullivan Society of South Australia
You will also need the Tutti zip file. Besides the sound files, each zip file contains one or more playlists for playing relevant groups of individual recordings in sequence. In a some cases, the Tutti file stands in place of a part file for unison singing. Playlists in the part. Nevertheless, these additions fit perfectly, and enhance the enjoyment of the familiar score and the appealing silliness of the plot. I even detected the paw of a Pink Panther with cat-like tread across the score at one point.
Flawlessly integrated with this silliness is the inventive choreography by Linda Williams. The Policemen need to be seen to be believed!
From the beginning, it was clear that there are some fine voices in this company.