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The Pirates of Penzance
Pirates of penzance restoration.jpg
Poster, ca. 1880
Written by W. S. Gilbert (words)
Arthur Sullivan (music)
Characters Major-General Stanley
Pirate King
Sergeant of Police
Date of premiere 31 December 1879 (New York)
3 April 1880 (London)
Place of premiere Fifth Avenue Theatre
New York City, New York
Opera Comique
London, England
Original language English
Subject Duty
Genre Operetta
Setting Penzance, Cornwall, England, ca. 1879

The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty is a two-act operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. It is the fifth of their fourteen operettas. The London premiere was 3 April 1880 at the Opera Comique. It ran for almost a year, closing on 2 April 1881. It had 363 performances.

American copyright

Gilbert, Sullivan, and their manager Richard D'Oyly Carte arrived in New York in October 1879 to present an authorized version of H.M.S. Pinafore. During this time, Sullivan continued work on the team's next operetta, Pirates, and completed it on 28 December.

In order to secure the American copyright, the operetta premiered in New York City at the Fifth Avenue Theatre on 31 December 1879. Sullivan conducted. The operetta was a great success.

In order to secure the British copyright, the operetta had been performed at the Bijou Theatre in Paignton, Devon, the day before the New York premiere on 30 December. The singers wore their costumes from Pinafore (they were performing this operetta in nearby Torquay) and sang from hand-written sheets of music newly delivered from the United States.


American director and producer Joseph Papp adapted the operetta for summer performances in Central Park, New York City, in 1980. The production was then staged on Broadway and in the West End with great success. In 1983, a movie version of the Papp adaptation was released, starring Angela Lansbury, pop singer Linda Ronstadt, and Kevin Kline.


  • Pirate King (bass-baritone)
  • Samuel (baritone), his lieutenant
  • Frederic (tenor), a pirate apprentice
  • Ruth (contralto), a "piratical maid of all work"
  • Sergeant of Police (bass)
  • Major-General Stanley (comic baritone)
  • Mabel (soprano), Stanley's daughter
  • Edith (mezzo-soprano), Stanley's daughter
  • Kate (mezzo-soprano), Stanley's daughter
  • Isabel (speaking role), Stanley's daughter
  • Bradley, Ian. 2001. The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. Oxford University Press. pp. 189-191.
  • Brahms, Caryl. 1975. Gilbert and Sullivan: lost chords and discords. Little, Brown. pp. 88-96.

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