The Pirates of Penzance

   

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Poster c. 1920
Poster

After the sensational success of H.M.S. Pinafore, many American performing companies presented unauthorized versions of that opera. Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte decided to prevent that from happening again by presenting official versions of their next opera, The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty simultaneously in England and America. The opera premiered on December 31, 1879 at the Fifth Avenue Theater in New York with Sullivan conducting, but a single performance had been given on the previous day at the Royal Bijou Theatre, Paignton, England, to secure the British copyright. Finally, the opera opened on April 3, 1880, at the Opéra Comique in London, where it ran for 363 performances, having already been playing successfully for over three months in New York.

On December 10, 1879, Sullivan had written a letter to his mother about the new opera, upon which he was hard at work in New York. "I think it will be a great success, for it is exquisitely funny, and the music is strikingly tuneful and catching." True enough! The Pirates of Penzance was an immediate hit and takes its place today as one of the most popular and enduring works of musical theatre.

In The Pirates of Penzance, Frederic was as a child apprenticed to a band of tenderhearted, orphaned pirates by his nurse who, being hard of hearing, had mistaken her master's instructions to apprentice the boy to a pilot. Frederic, upon completing his 21st year, rejoices that he has fulfilled his indentures and is now free to return to respectable society. But it turns out that he was born on February 29 in leap year, and he remains apprenticed to the pirates until his 21st birthday. By the end of the opera, the pirates, a Major General who knows nothing of military strategy, his large family of beautiful but unwed daugters, and the timid constabulary all contribute to a cacophony that can be silenced only by Queen Victoria's name.


INTRODUCTION

  • Introduction adapted from the book "Tit-Willow or Notes and Jottings on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas" by Guy H. and Claude A. Walmisley
  • Plot Summary From Henry Lytton's Secrets of a Savoyard

THE WORDS

PROMPT BOOKS

  • Two D'Oyly Carte prompt books for early productions have been digitised and can be downloaded as PDF files:
    1. In copy book with green paper covers [5.15MB],
    2. With black leather cover [ 4.30MB]
Richard Temple as Pirate King in the first production of The Pirates of Penzance at the Opéra Comique, London.
Engraving by M. Stretch from The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, June 26th 1880.
Click to enlarge.

THE MUSIC

To the Web Opera

All the music
and
all the lyrics
from this Opera

Illustrated with Historic Photographs of D'Oyly Carte Opera Company Productions

  • The Morgan Library and Museum has put a digitised copy of Sullivan's autograph score on its website as well as a contemporary copyist's score.
  • Internet Archive: A nineteenth century edition of the Vocal Score published in the U.S. by Stoddart can be downloaded in a variety of formats.
  • IMSLP has a set of band parts, early American vocal scores and piano arrangements for four hands available as PDF files.
  • Scores: Other sources of The Pirates of Penzance Scores
  • Schirmer Piano/Vocal Score Errata List
  • Dance Arrangements
    • Galop (arr. Charles d'Albert)
    • Lancers (arr. Charles d'Albert)
    • Polka (arr. Charles d'Albert)
    • Quadrille (arr. Charles d'Albert)
    • Waltz (arr. Charles d'Albert)
  • Discography: Marc Shepherd's The Pirates of Penzance Discography
  • Musical Solutions — G&S MIDI Rehearsal Files — David Cookson's site includes MIDI rehearsal files for all the G&S Operas, plus Cox and Box and Haddon Hall.

RECORDINGS

Recordings:  

EARLY PERFORMANCES

ILLUSTRATIONS

  • D'Oyly Carte Opera Company Productions
  • Eight watercolours by W. Russell Flint. Some of these have also been made into jig-saw puzzles which you can solve on your computer.
  • 'Bab' drawings illustrating The Pirates of Penzance.Gilbert's own drawings from Songs of a Savoyard.
  • Clip Art: An illustrated catalogue of copyright free clip art of scenes from the Opera. (Page made up of 65K of files)
  • Illustrated Music Covers — The melodies of Pirates were arranged as dances and these arrangements were provided with colourful and decorative illustrated covers.
  • Photographs of the plaque on the building which now stands on the site of the hotel in New York where Sullivan composed most of The Pirates of Penzance.

BACKGROUND

  • A chapter on The Pirates of Penzance from the book Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, A History and a Comment, by H. M. Walbrook, published in London in 1922.
  • Transcript of a discussion of The Pirates of Penzance by members of the Savoynet distribution list. This extensive discussion provides substantial background information on this opera, and is a must for anyone wanting to understand it better, produce it, or perform in it. Compiled by Bill McCann.
1880 Poster advertising New York production restored by Adam Cuerden.
Download a printable version.
1880 Poster

ADAPTATIONS

  • Di Yam Gazlonim is Al Grand's Yiddish adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance. The New York based Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre’s production received a 2007 NY Drama Desk nomination in the Outstanding Revival of a Musical category. 


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