In Ellsworth, Maine (February 11, 2017) [Some Images Affected by Difficult Lighting Conditions]

The Pirates of Penzance was the only Gilbert and Sullivan opera premiered in the United States, where it opened to rave reviews in New York City on December 31, 1879. Soon after, it played in London, where it also was well received during a lengthy run. This wonderful comic opera of the absurd is now having a good run at The Grand in Ellsworth, where it is being performed by members of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Maine. The final performances will be given on February 17, 18, and 19.

Pirate King (Roland Dube)

Pirate King (Roland Dube)

The two-act opera takes place in Penzance, a southern England port in Cornwall, where there is a pirates’ lair. One of the central characters is the Pirate King who is exuberantly softhearted. He’s well known for letting any of his captives go if they are orphans. His pirate business is failing because the people he tries to hold hostage always claim to be orphans and he releases them.

Frederic (Zachary Fisher)

Frederic (Zachary Fisher)

Another central character is Frederic, a young man on the verge of adulthood. When he was a boy, Frederic was mistakenly indentured to the Pirate King by his hard-of-hearing nurse, Ruth.

She thought Frederic’s father told her to apprentice the young boy as a “pirate,” when the father really said “pilot.” But, she has stayed with Frederic during his piracy indenture.

The opera begins when Frederic is about to become 21 years of age, which he believes is when his indenture as a pirate is to be concluded.

The only woman he has seen is the 47-year-old Ruth, who deceives Frederic into thinking she is what a beautiful woman looks like. On this basis, he promises to marry her when he is released.

However, while traveling alone in the countryside, Frederick meets a bevy of young maidens, all of whom are more beautiful than Ruth.  

Frederic falls in love at first sight with one of them, Mabel, and she reciprocates. He revokes his promise to Ruth, and he and Mabel make plans to marry after his imminent release from piracy.

Some of the Young Maidens Found by Frederic

Some of the Young Maidens Found by Frederic

Below: Frederic's Sweetheart Mabel (Kayla M'Lynn Gayton) and Nurse Ruth (Debra Hagge)

Major-General Stanley (Maurice Joseph Marshall)

Major-General Stanley (Maurice Joseph Marshall)

But then Frederic’s fellow pirates arrive and announce that they forcibly will take the young maidens as wives. Mabel warns the band that the women are the wards of Major-General Stanley of the British Army. Stanley then conveniently appears to find out what is going on with his daughters.

He sings the best known song of the opera: the difficult and funny “Modern Major-General Song.” The song, about Stanley’s immense store of useless knowledge, is a series of clever, alliterative lyrics delivered at a machine-gun-bullet pace. (“I am the very model of a modern Major-General / I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral….”)

All this is of no avail in convincing the pirates to free the Major-General and his daughters. But then, the Major-General remembers something important – he announces that he is an orphan and needs his daughters.  The softhearted pirates, of course, release the lot of them and celebrate.

Major-General, Frederic, The Sergeant (David Porter)

Major-General, Frederic, The Sergeant (David Porter)

In Act Two, Major-General Stanley suffers sleep-deprived remorse for telling a falsehood and has to be comforted by his daughters, all of whom are in nightclothes. Stanley decides to cope with his conscience by destroying the pirates.

Frederic, who now believes that he has been released from his indenture, agrees to lead the charge against his former comrades in arms. A squad of the cowardly local police and their vocalizing Sergeant reluctantly agree to join the attack.

As soon as they hear the pirates, the police desert Frederic and hide. The Pirate King and vengeful nurse Ruth (now in full pirate gear) get the drop on Frederic and then give him a big surprise.

The Pirate King shows Frederic the indenture agreement, which says that Frederic shall apprentice as a pirate “until his 21st birthday.” The King points out that Frederic was born on February 29, a “birth day” that only occurs each leap year; that is, the boy will be 84 years old when he is released on his 21st birthday.

Frederic agonizes, but finally agrees that he has a written duty to serve as a pirate for an additional 63 years. (This is why the opera also is known as The Slave of Duty.) The reunited pirates celebrate.

However, because he switched sides and once again owes his allegiance to the pirates, Frederic informs the Pirate King that the Major-General is not an orphan. The enraged King vows to kill the Major-General.

Meanwhile, Frederic tells Mabel the bad news, but she's a good sport and pledges to wait 63 years for the wedding. While this wedding planning is going on, the pirates attack the Major-General and his daughters – who are all still in their nightclothes, except the ever-ready Mabel who somehow got dressed when we weren't looking. The bumbling police arrive and are quickly overpowered by the pirates. The Major-General is about to die.

At this point, the police Sergeant cleverly asks the pirates to stop “in Queen Victoria’s name.” The pirates, all ultra-loyal British subjects of course, desist immediately and kneel in honor of the Queen. They then are captured in patriotic subservience by the Major-General and police.

Just when we think the opera is over, old deceptive Ruth (Frederic’s not-so-young nurse, you'll remember) announces that the pirates really aren’t pirates after all; they’re noblemen who have gone astray somehow. This greatly pleases the Major-General, who allows all the pirates to marry his daughters and takes Ruth for his own. Frederic’s indenture evaporates and he and Mabel apparently will live happily ever after.


There were no tears during the performance, but there were smiles, humming, and mouthing of some of the more familiar lyrics.

For larger versions of the above images, as well as additional images of scenes in the splendid performance, click on the link below. (We recommend that your initial viewing be in full-screen mode, which can be achieved by clicking on the Slideshow [>] icon above the featured image in the gallery to which the link will take you.) Here’s the link to the performance images:


Barbara and Dick

1 Comment