“The Pirates of Penzance,” or “The Slave of Duty,” a comic opera in two acts with text by W. S. Gilbert and music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, was first produced in New York Dec. 31, 1879, under the personal direction of both Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Gilbert, some of the music being finished after their arrival in this country.
Richard, a pirate chief. Samuel, his lieutenant. Frederic, a pirate apprentice. Major-General Stanley of the British Army. Edward, a sergeant of police. Mabel, General Stanley’s youngest daughter. Kate, Edith, General Stanley’s daughters. Isabell, Ruth, a piratical maid-of-all-work. Pirates, policemen.
It is discovered soon after the rising of the curtain that the festivities in progress in the pirate’s camp are in honor of the termination of the apprenticeship of their loved Frederic, which makes him really one of them. What is the general consternation when the youth tearfully announces that he is among them only owing to a mistake and that now he is free to do so, he must leave them. Thereupon the remorseful Ruth, his one-time nurse, who has been allowed to accompany him, confesses that it was all her fault, that being a little hard of hearing, when his father told her to apprentice her charge to a pilot, she understood him to say ” pirate.” Frederic declares that although individually he loves them all with an affection unspeakable, collectively he looks upon them with a disgust which amounts to absolute detestation and that so keen is his sense of duty that once out of his indentures, he shall feel it incumbent upon him to exterminate them. All weep and deplore the fact that they can offer him no temptation to remain owing to the fact that they can’t seem to make piracy pay. Frederic declares it to be owing to faulty business methods, that as they make it a point never to attack a party weaker than themselves, naturally when they attack a stronger one they get thrashed, and that it is also a bad thing that their rule never to capture an orphan has been noised about, for the last three ships they tackled have been entirely manned by orphans.
Ruth urges Frederic to take her along with him as his bride and, as she is the only woman he has seen since he was eight years old and as she assures him, upon being questioned that, compared with other women, she is quite beautiful, he consents, especially as the pirates generously refuse to deprive him of his middle-aged darling. Shortly afterward, he sees the numerous pretty daughters of Major-General Stanley, and denouncing her as a deceiver, becomes deeply involved in a love-affair with Mabel, the youngest of them. The rest of the sisters are surprised by the pirates, who each seize one and propose to conduct them at once to a doctor of divinity located near by.
The military parent appearing, expresses an objection to pirates as sons-in-law but the pirates return that, although they have a similar objection to major-generals as fathers-in-Iaw, they will waive the point. Just as the way seems clear to happiness, the Major-General announces that he is an orphan, and the pirates gnashing their teeth at the sound of the fatal word, give up their brides.
The second act discloses the Major-General sitting in a draughty old ruin he has just purchased, with all the illustrious ancestors thrown in. He is a prey to remorse over his prevarication about being an orphan and confesses as much to Frederic who is marshaling his trembling police to march against the pirates. That young gentle-man is surprised by the vindictive Ruth and the pirate chief, who inform him that they have discovered that he was born on the 29th of February, which makes him only a little over five years old. They remind him that he was bound to the pirate chief until his twenty-first birth-day. They do not mean to hold him to anything but merely leave it to his sense of duty. Of course, when it is put that way, Frederic has to go with them, duty also forcing from him the confession that the father of his beloved Mabel ignobly escaped on the false plea that he was an orphan. He bids his bride-elect a fond adieu, promising to return to her when he is of age, which will be in 1940. The rest of the story is devoted to the struggles between the scared policemen and the pirates, the former conquering because they order their braver enemy to give way in the name of the queen. When all seems lost, the chief tells General Stanley that most of his band are noblemen gone wrong. This brings about a miraculous change in the general’s attitude. He says :
No Englishman unmoved that statement hears, Because with all our faults we love our House of Peers.
I pray you pardon me, ex-pirate king, Peers will be peers, and youth will have its fling. Resume your rank and legislative duties, And take my daughters, all of whom are beauties.
The principal numbers are Ruth’s recountal, ” When Frederic was a little lad) ” the song of the pirate king, beginning, ” Oh better far to live and die; ” Frederic’s song, “Oh! is there not one maiden breast?” Mabel’s song, “Poor wandering one;” the amusing number of General Stanley, “I am a very pattern of a modern Major-General;” the ” Tarantara ” of the Sergeant; the pirate king’s song, “For some ridiculous reason;” Mabel’s ballad, “Oh! leave me not to pine” and the Sergeant’s song, “When a fellow’s not engaged in his employment.”