Utah Opera

The Story of The Pirates of Penzance

The Story of The Pirates of Penzance

University of Utah Credit Union

Synopsis by Michaella Calzaretta

Act I:

A rocky seashore on the coast of Cornwall
A group of pirates celebrate and toast Frederic, who is turning 21 and thus ending his apprenticeship with the pirate band. Ruth, his nursery maid turned piratical maid-of-all-work, confesses that she accidentally apprenticed Frederic to a pirate, instead of a pilot as instructed by Frederic’s father. All is forgiven, but then Frederic informs the group that since he’s no longer indentured to them, he feels bound to see their extermination. The sympathetic pirates accept this fate, and admit they cannot make piracy pay. Frederic explains that they are too tender-hearted and, because they’ve decreed to never attack orphans, word has spread and everyone they come up against claims they themselves are orphans! Still, even with this revelation, the pirates agree that their way of life suits them. Ruth begs Frederic to take her with him as he leaves, hoping to become his wife. She assures him that she is a fine woman in spite of her age, although Frederic has never seen another woman and cannot compare. Just as he agrees to their union, he spies a group of young women in the distance. Remarking at their beauty, he rejects Ruth for deceiving him.

The young women, all of whom are sisters, are shocked to encounter Frederic and horrified to learn that he is a pirate. His attempts to express his love and devotion to them are shunned, except by Mabel, whose sympathy quickly turns into romance. Frederic warns the sisters about the approaching pirates, but it’s all too late as the pirates appear and anticipate taking them as wives. Their father, the Major-General Stanley, arrives, introduces himself, and objects to his daughters marrying pirates. He fends them off by claiming he is an orphan, so the tender-hearted pirates release his daughters. Ruth tries in vain to reconcile with Frederic, while he and Mabel look forward to their wedding.

Act II:

On Major-General Stanley’s estate: a ruined chapel by moonlight
The Major-General is upset that he lied about being an orphan, and worries that he has shamed the family ancestors. In an attempt to cheer him up, Frederic shares that he will lead a group of police against the pirates. The daughters give the police a hero’s send-off. Just as Frederic is about to follow them to the pirates’ lair, the Pirate King and Ruth arrive with surprising news: it turns out that Frederic was born on February 29th in a leap year, and therefore has only had five birthdays and is still indentured to the pirates. Frederic has no choice but to respect his sense of duty and, now that he’s back to the life of piracy, shares that Major-General Stanley lied about being an orphan. The Pirate King and Ruth swear revenge.

Frederic tearfully tells Mabel of his predicament but she supports him and swears her faithfulness. When he leaves, she calls upon the police and explains they will no longer be led by Frederic. They are understandably confused, and express the difficulties of life in the force. The pirates begin their not-so-stealthy infiltration of the estate, observed by the hidden police. The Major-General appears, afflicted with insomnia, which arouses suspicion from his daughters. Suddenly, the pirates attack, seize the Major-General, and overcome the police. The Police Sergeant implores the pirates cease in the name of Queen Victoria, and all swear devotion to their beloved sovereign. Ruth reveals that the pirates are really noblemen-gone-wrong and, as they are all peers, the Major-General pardons them and grants permission to marry his daughters.

PBS Utah

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