A poster for The Pirates of Penzance at Virginia Opera

We are more than a decade into the musicalization of opera, a trend that blurs the lines between musical theater and opera. Opera companies have been hiring more Broadway-adjacent directors, putting more emphasis on staging and costumes, and demanding singers know how to act as well as, well, sing. This trend rankles some traditionalist opera fans. But it’s far from a new one. Operas were, of course, the original musicals, a form of low art meant to titillate audiences of regular people and appeal to their basest appetites for innuendo and adventure. The very genre of opera comique exemplified this, and few did it better than dramatist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. Their Pirates of Penzance, which has since been adapted to a movie and, yes, a Broadway musical, is built around a silly premise—a pirate’s apprentice who can’t leave his 21-year apprenticeship for 63 years because he’s born on leap day—and it only gets sillier. Its famous centerpiece, “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” mocks the British military officer corps, while “Come Friends, Who Plough the Sea” is a direct parody of the Anvil Chorus in Il trovatore (see above). Virginia Opera, which has successfully done satiric operas before with Die Fledermaus, is counting on drawing a broad, theatrically inclined audience to this kid-friendly operetta. The Virginia Opera’s Pirates of Penzance runs Nov. 12 and 13 at George Mason University Center for the Arts. vaopera.org. $45–$115.

For more theater recommendations, check out our calendar.