Gilbert and Sullivan steamed across the Atlantic from England to the United States to present their world premiere of the Pirates of Penzance. The pirates in the show weren’t the only pirates that the duo were concerned about. Copyright was at the top of their list. At the time, American law offered no copyright protection to foreigners. Gilbert and Sullivan’s previous opera achieved great success in London, and was immediately swept up by 150 American companies for unauthorized productions that paid no royalties to the creators. For Pirates, they set out to prevent history from repeating itself. They succeeded in keeping the direct profits from the first American production by opening it themselves on Broadway.
In the operetta, a young man is mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate (instead of a pilot) by his nursemaid Ruth at the age of eight. The handsome Frederic is now twenty-one and, though quite fond of the group of joyous and fun-loving pirates, chooses to abandon his profession and “lead a blameless life henceforth,” dedicating himself instead to their eradication. After falling in love with a fair maiden, Frederic is ready to lead a band of lily-livered policemen to take out the Pirate King and his men. But a secret is uncovered that will change his fate forever.
A cherished hit since its premiere in 1879, The Pirates of Penzance (or The Slave of Duty) is a delightful farce of a classic. Tune in to IPR’s Opera in October on Saturday, October 28th at 8 p.m. and again on Sunday, October 29th at 3 p.m. to hear the University of Iowa Opera Theatre’s production of The Pirates of Penzance. The operetta was directed by Bill Theisen, Wayne Wyman served as vocal coach and the University of Iowa’s orchestra was conducted by William LaRue Jones.