Opera Scotland

Pirates of Penzance The Pirates of Penzance, or The Slave of Duty

Tours by decade

Tours by location

Scotland, UK - 32 entries

England, UK - 4 entries

Wales, UK - 1 entry


Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (born London, 13 May 1842; died London, 22 November 1900)


William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911)





First Performance (run through): Paignton (Royal Bijou Theatre), 30 December 1879.

First Performance: New York (New Fifth Avenue Theater), 31 December 1879.

First Performance in UK: London (Opéra-Comique), 3 April 1880.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Royalty Theatre), 20 December 1880.

Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 15 May 2013..



The unprecedented success of HMS Pinafore presented Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte with a problem, since, owing to the laxity of copyright law, it had been widely performed in unauthorised productions of variable quality, from which the owners earned nothing. For the next piece, the premiere therefore took place in New York, at the hands of the top Pinafore touring company. The authors were present, the new work had been thoroughly rehearsed, and was an immediate success. The night before, to establish British copyright, the British touring company, with minimal rehearsal, had mounted a performance of their own, which probably differed substantially from the New York, or any other, version. Sets and costumes were likewise improvised from what was to hand. The official rehearsed UK premiere took place in London a few months later.

Pirates shows considerably more musical sophistication than Pinafore, without losing much of the freshness that particularly characterises the earlier piece. The objects of Gilbert's satire are now the army and the accepted convention of doing one's duty in all circumstances.


Main Characters

Pirate King (bass)

Frederic, an apprentice pirate (tenor)

Ruth, a piratical maid-of-all-work (contralto)

Major-General Stanley (baritone)

Mabel, his daughter (soprano)

Sergeant of Police (bass)


Plot Summary

Frederic, when a lad, was sent by his father to be apprenticed to a pilot. Sadly his nursemaid Ruth misheard, and apprenticed him to a pirate instead. Discovering her mistake she has remained with the band, and is the only woman Frederic has encountered while growing up. He takes her word for it that she is young and attractive.

On reaching the age of twenty-one, Frederic is released from his indentures by the Pirate King. Released also from any duty  of loyalty to his pirate colleagues he announces that he must leave them and work in future towards their destruction. Left alone on the beach he hides as a group of girls enters, all clearly younger and more attractive than Ruth, whose veracity is now open to question. He offers himself in marriage to one of them - to any one of them - but only Mabel accepts, seeing it as her duty to rescue him. The girls' father, Major-General Stanley, arrives, followed shortly by the pirates, who threaten to take advantage of the situation. They release their captives on hearing that the Major-General is an orphan (which he tacitly admits is untrue).

That evening, Frederic is about to set off with a band of police officers to arrest the pirates, when Ruth and the Pirate King arrive. They break the news that Fred was born on 29th February and that his articles refer specifically to birthdays - he will not reach his 21st birthday until 1940, and is therefore a pirate until then. He rejoins them, revealing the news that Stanley lied - he is not, and never has been, an orphan. The pirates swear vengeance. They defeat the policemen easily, and are only conquered by  being asked to yield in Queen Victoria's name - which, being good patriotic Brits, they immediately do.

The Cast

 Gen Stanley's Daughter
 a Pirate Apprentice
 Gen Stanley's Daughter
 Gen Stanley's Daughter
 Gen Stanley's Youngest Daughter
Major-General Stanley
Pirate King
 a Piratical Maid of all Work
 a Pirate Lieutenant
Sergeant of Police

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