There’s a music CD in a wallet of audio CDs in our Nissan Latio that’s a recording of The Pirates of Penzance. One of the most well-known songs in this work is sung by a self-professed Pirate King, and part of his song goes like this:
But I’ll be true to the song I sing, And live and die a Pirate King.
For I am a Pirate King!
Personally, I think Johnny Depp’s very gay Jack Sparrow in the Pirates trilogy is at least partially inspired by the very jolly Pirate King from Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta. Oh, this pirate operetta is nothing of the bloody or tragic kind. It’s a comedy about a coming-of-age young pirate, a bunch of supposedly cutthroat pirates, a bunch of timid policemen who’s charged to stopped them, a bunch of sisters with a Major-General character of a father thrown into the mix. Like Mozart’s comic operas, no one dies in this story, boy gets the girl, and it’s a happy ending.
Pirates, 1900 version
Funnily, my first association with this operetta wasn’t in music but on TV. Back in the semi-early 80s, Kevin Kline, Angela Landsbury and Linda Ronstadt starred in a little-known movie called The Pirates of Penzance that was based on the Broadway production of this operetta. The movie was broadcast on the old SBC Channel 5 one holiday afternoon, and boy did that movie leave an impression! Yeah, who would have thought Kevin Kline could sing. The production was incredibly infectious in its outpouring of fun and spirit, and the cast looked like they enjoyed themselves in their over-the-top roles.
Here’s a Youtube video of the track:
Pirates, 2007 version. The Pirate King looks so Jack Sparrow-esque.
On a more general view, Gilbert & Sullivan’s operas aren’t musically sophisticated, but they’re rich with memorable songs and melodies. The sort that you can hum and sing along. They’re not really considered ‘serious’ classical music repetiore though.
A couple of songs from their comic operas are also adapted for piano learners at around ABRSM Grades IV to VI, e.g. “A Wandering Minstrel” from The Mikado, or “I am the Captain of the Pinafore” from HMS Pinafore. That said, there aren’t nearly as many productions and recordings of these works as say an opera by Mozart or Puccini for example. They’re typically performed on stage by opera companies like Sadler’s Wells Theatre or D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (until some years ago).
Till then though, there’re a few recordings of this opera that I’ve got…
- The Pirates of Penzance by the D’Oyly Carte Opera
- The Pirates of Penzance by the Welsh National Opera
… which are really recommended for car listening. Even Ling hums along.:)