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ACT II. Weeping in the ancestral tomb of his (newly acquired) estate, Major-General Stanley is wracked by guilt over his lie to the pirates. Frederic is now to lead an expedition against the pirates accompanied by a squad of loyal but rather timid policemen. However, before he can depart on his mission, the Pirate King and Ruth appear with a curious paradox: Frederic was apprenticed to them until his 21st birthday—which is significant because having been born in a Leap Year on February 29th, he has technically had only five birthdays and thus still a Pirate. Ever the slave of duty, Frederic reluctantly agrees to return to the gang to finish his apprenticeship. He feels bound also to reveal that Major-General Stanley is not, in fact, an orphan.
The Pirate King, furious that their tenderness has been abused, vows a terrible vengeance and rushes off with Ruth to prepare the attack. Frederic lingers to say a teary farewell to Mabel, who promises to stay faithful (even though Frederic will not have 21 birthdays until the distant 1940). The police return in time to hide, for a series of roars and crashes herald the pirates' imminent "sneak attack." Soon, Major-General Stanley, his daughters, and the policemen are overcome and held at sword-point. The police sergeant calls upon the ruffians to surrender in the name of the Queen. The command acts like magic. Loyally the pirates kneel to their captives, for it transpires that they are all in fact noblemen who have gone wrong. Major-General Stanley bids them rise as peers are entitled their youthful indiscretions and promises that if they return to their duties in the House of Lords, all will be forgiven. Frederic and Mabel are re-united, and the pirates and other daughters pair off as everyone imagines a very large wedding.
Kevin Kline, Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose, Estelle Parsons.
Original Broadway cast recording. Elektra/Wea (2 discs).
This was my introduction to G&S as a kid, and despite the scorn heaped upon it by purists, it remains my favorite Pirates recording. It's the original cast recording of the legendary 1980 Broadway production starring Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt (yes, that Linda Ronstadt). Indeed, those who prefer opera to musical theatre may well be advised to skip ahead to the next pick: to make the opera more suitable for a Broadway audience, producer Joseph Papp's creative team wrote new orchestrations for a synthesizer-based orchestra. Musical tags were expanded or contracted, verses were transposed, and two songs from other G&S operas were interpolated. BUT, while there are plenty of liberties, this is an affectionate treatment by people who obviously love Gilbert and Sullivan. If you can get past the Broadway-style singing and some of the cheesy 80s elements, you'll find this is the most energetic, heartfelt, frenetically funny Pirates on record. Kevin Kline's swaggering Pirate King made him a star, and rightly so. The late George Rose's Major-General is superb (he manages to sing the patter song even faster than most traditional interpreters), and Estelle Parsons – while about as far from an opera singer as one can get – is screamingly funny as Ruth. Rex Smith (former pop-rock heartthrob who recently toured through Charlotte in Kiss Me Kate) is charmingly earnest as Frederic (we won't discuss Ms. Ronstadt). All of the dialogue is included, sharp-witted and well-paced. If you can listen with an open mind, I promise you'll be delighted.
NOTE – the infamous movie version (with much the same cast, except for Angela Lansbury as Ruth) pales in comparison, due to drastic cuts and poor production values. If you're looking for a video, the original Central Park performance of the stage show is available on DVD.
For the full list of recommended recordings visit Chad's Choice.
Both natives of London, Sullivan studied at the Royal Academy of Music and the Leipzig Academy, and went on to compose numerous oratorios and other sacred and orchestral works. Gilbert, six years older, made his name both as a poet and playwright as well as a satirist and caricature artist (his humorous drawings often appeared in the fashionable magazine Punch). Both men strived for fame and acceptance as "serious" artists, Gilbert with his play Pygmalion & Galatea, and Sullivan with his grand opera Ivanhoe. However, it was their work together that would secure them a place in history.
Introduced by the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte, their collaboration began in 1875 with the one-act Trial by Jury. They would go on to write many more operettas together (although, being serious men, they always referred to their works as "operas"), including H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Iolanthe (1882), The Mikado (1885), Ruddigore (1887) and The Yeoman of the Guard (1888). Nearly all of these were first performed at D'Oyly Carte's Savoy Theater, and have become known as the "Savoy Operas."
Despite their differences in personal temperament—they were never good friends and often collaborated only by correspondence—they were as ideal a librettist-composer team as ever existed, with Gilbert's poetic and satiric gifts finding a perfect match in Sullivan's genius for delectable melody and musical parody. Although the Savoy "Operas" never achieved the same kind of fame abroad as in English-speaking countries, the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are still performed all over England and the U.S., delighting people over a hundred years later.
No Language Barrier!
Enjoy the beauty of the original language and understand it all with English translations. The English text is projected on a screen above the stage for each opera. Easy to follow, and easy to understand every twist and turn of the plot!