Atlanta Opera's light-hearted performance Of 'Pirates of Penzance' opens this weekend

Pirates Of Penzance 1.19.21
"Pirates Of Penzance" at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre begins Jan. 22. (Photo by Rafterman)

If you think you don’t like opera, you probably haven’t yet been introduced to Gilbert and Sullivan, the celebrated dramatist duo whose hilarious satires of the British social class system have won over audiences for over a century. The last time the Atlanta Opera performed their “Pirates of Penzance,” all five shows sold out. A new production of the Gilbert and Sullivan hit will fill Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre once more, directed by Seán Curran. Curran joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom, along with lead tenor Santiago Ballerini, who plays the role of Frederic, to talk about the fanciful music, dancing and comedy of this tried-and-true crowdpleaser.

Interview highlights:

The characteristic madcap, twisting plot style of Gilbert and Sullivan:

“When this Frederic character was a little boy, his father said to his nursery mate or governess, ‘I’d like you to apprentice young Frederic to a pilot,’ meaning the pilot of a ship. But Ruth, the nursery maid, is hard of hearing, and she thought he said pirate,” recounted Curran. “So Ruth … gets him involved with a bunch of comically useless and tenderhearted pirates.”

“The pirates realized that the contract that Frederick signed says that he can leave them on his 21st birthday, and because Frederic was born on Feb. 29, leap year, technically his 21st birthday isn’t for decades,” Curran said. “[Frederic] decides he must go back to the pirates and wait decades before he can come back and marry his love, Mabel. And with that topsy-turvy plot and twist, hilarity ensues, and we have lots of great singing and dancing and comedy, and a great time hopefully is had by all.”

How choreographer Curran came to direct opera:

“As a choreographer, I am music-driven. Some choreographers are interested in telling stories or being about movement invention, but I respond to music. Kinetically, music makes me want to move. Now the storytelling part that you need to be if you’re a director I think, comes from maybe my Irish heritage. We’re supposed to be good storytellers, and something about this love of music — I call music my best friend — this need, this want to tell a story vividly and clearly drew me to the opera.”

“I do love coming to the opera because I call it creative crop rotation,” said Curran. “I get to deal with narrative and text and wordplay in the Gilbert and Sullivan, and it nourishes me in a different way.”

The versatile and adventurous tenor Ballerini in the role of Frederic:

“English is my third language, and I’m Argentinian and half-Italian,” said Ballerini. “So when I was proposed this role, I really thought about this. It was really challenging. I was trying to get into new projects that are going to put me in an uncomfortable place as an artist, and I think that it’s really interesting when you can create something in the language that is not your mother language.”

“I have beautiful music. I have to say, you know, the role of Frederic is more like a lover, and the writing, the music is more legato, more expanded,” said Ballerini. “So I have great melodies, and my favorite is the main aria that I have in the first act … also to play with all the pirates [and] the dancing that Seán created. It’s super fun. But I think that the aria, the main aria, ‘Is There Not One Maiden Breast,’ I think that’s my favorite part to sing.”

The Atlanta Opera’s production of “Pirates of Penzance” takes place on select dates from Jan. 22 – Jan. 30 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Tickets and information are available at All audience members must show proof of vaccination or a negative test taken within 48 hours of arriving at Cobb Energy Centre, and masks are required.