The Pirates of Penzance

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Performed 2007, 1995, 1979, 1971, 1963, 1958, 1938.

The Story of the Opera

Act 1— A rocky beach on the coast of Cornwall. A pirate band is celebrating the 21st birthday of Frederic, who is just ending his term of indenture to them. When a babe, he had been apprenticed to them by his nurse, who, being a bit deaf, had misunderstood his father’s request that he be apprenticed to a pilot. Realising her mistake, she has remained with the pirates. Frederic admits that, while he loves the pirates individually, he loathes them collectively and that once free he will devote his energies to their eradication. The Pirate King defends his calling. The pirates move off, Frederic hides when he sees a picnic party of beautiful girls — the daughters of Major-Stanley — approach. Frederic reveals himself to them and begs for one– any one– to marry him. None responds save Mabel. The pirates return and seize the girls. The Major-General enters, taking advantage of the known soft spot of these dreaded pirates, he pleads falsely that he is an orphan. The men, all orphans themselves , would not dream of depriving him of his daughters, who are returned to him.

Act 11
—A ruined chapel at night. The Major-General broods over the lie he told the pirates and Frederic tries to calm him. The local constabulary have been sent for, they will march against the pirates. Led by the Sergeant, the timid policemen enter. The police and the girls leave Frederic alone, the Pirate King and Ruth slip in. They have discovered an anomaly—Frederic had been apprenticed until he reached his 21st birthday, but he was born on February 29th! This means that he will not be out of his indenture until 1940. Since he is thus still a member of the band, his sense of duty forces him to reveal the Major-General’s lie. The Pirate King is enraged. The pirates will attack immediately and exact terrible vengeance. Mabel, told of what has happened, calls upon the police. The Sergeant laments his lot and then the police hide when the pirates enter. The pirates pounce on the unsuspecting Major-General, the police leap upon the pirates but are quickly bested. Only quick thinking by the Sergeant saves the lives of his men and the Major-General: he commands the pirates to surrender in the name of Queen Victoria — they obey instantaneously.

Ruth rushes in to reveal that all the pirates are really nobleman who have gone wrong. That being the case, the Major-General bids them wed his daughters.

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