The Center for the Arts Offers "The Pirates of Penzance" Audiences an Immersive Journey into the World of Gilbert & Sullivan


Audience members attending Virginia Opera’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance on November 12 or 13 can begin their journey with the opera before the curtain even rises through a November 11-16 exhibit of authentic Gilbert & Sullivan memorabilia and discussions about the operetta.

Sheet music for Pirates of Penzance shows a mustached pirate pointing, against a background of a black pirate flag with a skull and crossbones.
Sheet Music for The Pirates of Penzance Galop features Richard Temple as the original Pirate King. Courtesy of David and Ann Stone.

The experience will begin as soon as individuals enter the main lobby of the Center for the Arts, where they will encounter an extensive display of authentic Gilbert & Sullivan memorabilia from George Mason University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center. George Mason University benefactor David Stone has spent years gathering a treasure trove of items related to the wildly popular duo of English playwright and humorist W.S. Gilbert and English composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, who created 14 comic operettas together. In 2014, Stone and his wife Ann gifted part of their extraordinary collection—including original manuscripts, posters, photographs, letters, and many other items—to George Mason University Libraries. The David and Annabelle Stone Gilbert and Sullivan collection, now housed in the in Fenwick Library, currently contains more than 200 items and donations will be ongoing through 2026.

Marion Hood in Pirates of Penzance
Photograph of Marion Hood in The Pirates of Penzance (1880/1881). Courtesy of David and Ann Stone.

In 2017, the University held a series of events to celebrate the creative genius of Gilbert & Sullivan. With great enthusiasm, the collection was exhibited and appreciated on both the Fairfax and SciTech campuses, and a catalog of the works was also created. Since that time, the collection has not been on view to the public. Now, dozens of items related to The Pirates of Penzance operetta will be on display in the Center for the Arts, presenting a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the lives and works of this Victorian-era team, considered the forefathers of modern musical theater.

In addition to the exhibit, there will also be pre-performance discussions prior to both performances, featuring Virginia Opera Resident Scholar, Joshua Borths, in Monson Grand Tier on the third level of the Center for the Arts. The discussions will commence 45 minutes prior to the start of the performances, exploring insights about the music and production. A post-performance discussion led by Borths and featuring members of the cast and creative team will also follow the November 13 matinee.

The Gilbert & Sullivan exhibit and The Pirates of Penzance discussions are perfect supplements to Virginia Opera’s production, allowing audience members to become completely immersed in the world of Gilbert & Sullivan and fully appreciate the performance.