In Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta “The Pirates of Penzance,” love is forsaken for a false sense of duty — resulting in great laughs and glorious music.
“Gilbert and Sullivan wrote their operas, with their light breezy arias and frolicking group numbers, to be ‘for the people’,” Kurt Domoney, who is directing the Opera North production, writes in his notes.
“Everyone can relate in some way to the often hilarious situations that can ensue when one follows the duty of their heart in pursuit of such winsome and often ridiculous quests.”
Opera North will present Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” fully staged with orchestra conducted by Artistic Director Louis Burkot, “under the big top” at its new home at Blow-Me-Down Farm in Cornish, N.H. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 28. (Verdi’s “Macbeth” will be performed at the Lebanon Opera House Aug. 4-10.)
Opera North’s new outdoor facility is a sophisticated circus tent on the Blow-Me-Down Farm. The 48-acre property is located across Route 12A from the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, on the Connecticut River and facing Mount Ascutney.
English dramatist Sir William S. Gilbert and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan collaborated on 14 satirical operettas 1871-96. In addition to “The Pirates of Penzance,” “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Mikado” are the best known. Gilbert’s libretti skewered the pomposity of English society, set to timeless tunes created by Sullivan.
“The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty,” interestingly, was premiered in New York City in 1879 rather than London, and was a hit with audiences and critics alike, playing for more than three months. The London debut was four months later, where the operetta ran for 363 performances.
The tale concerns Frederic, who, having just turned 21, has been released from his apprenticeship to a band of tenderhearted pirates — or so he thinks. After falling in love with Mabel, the daughter of the Major-General, he is informed that his indenture isn’t completed until his 21st birthday — and he was born on Feb. 29. Bound by his overpowering sense of duty, Frederic’s only hope is that Mabel will remain faithful to him for the 63 years. Mayhem ensues.
“We get to see a series of ‘stock characters’ who are constantly playing the opposites of what their duty calls them to do,” Domoney wrote. “This topsy-turvy world is a common theme and fascination in many of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
“If everyone did as they ‘should,’ we would have no play!” he said. “Instead, we are treated to the delightful antics of characters who unapologetically play their given roles while subtly testing the limits of what those roles actually are.
“However, let us not think too much!”