The Pirates of Penzance

The New York City Opera on Saturday, March 10.

The Pirates of Penzance is as frothy as any Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, but years ago, it taught my brother and me the meaning of the word paradox, the seemingly impossible contradiction in which, for example, a young man might have lived twenty-one years but, having been born on leap year, celebrated only five true birthdays. In a weird way, that one little personal fact encapsulates Pirates for me. The story is completely ludicrous (the leap-year twist figures into a bit of intrigue surrounding a contract of apprenticeship to pirates), but underneath that goofiness is a real satiric edge, a kernel of substance that sticks with me, like that memorable vocabulary word, even as I giggle at the matrimony-obsessed buccaneers and primly bloodthirsty maidens.