Friday, November 17, 2000
Theater review: The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan Savoyard Light Opera Company
November 17, 18 at 8 p.m.
November 19 at 2 p.m.
"The Pirates of Penzance, or the Slave of Duty," was first produced at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York on December 31, 1879. The first performance in London was on April 3, 1880, when it was produced at the Opera Comique.
Sullivan wrote much of the score of "The Pirates of Penzance" at a hotel in New York while he was in America with Gilbert, trying to stop the pirating of "H.M.S. Pinafore."
In an extract from one of his letters Sullivan gives his impressions of The Pirates. "The libretto", he says, "is ingenious, clever, wonderfully funny in parts, and sometimes brilliant in dialogue, beautifully written for music, as is all Gilbert does, and all the action and business perfect. The music is infinitely superior in every way to Pinafore'tunier' and more developed, of a higher class altogether. I think in time it will be more popular." There is some speculation that this tale of a boy who is mistakenly apprenticed to a band of pirates may have been inspired by Gilbert's own experience. Gilbert had been captured by a gang of Italian brigands at the early age of two, and had been ransomed for £25.
The orchestra for this production under the direction of Philip Lauriat is first-rate. While the entire ensemble is unmistakably professional, the small brass section is particularly pleasing. There are moments, however, when the instrumental music competes with the singers' voices, making it impossible to understand the lyrics.
The scenery is well-constructed, particularly the Gothic ruins that are the setting for the second half of the production. A full moon watches over the antics in the ruins until the end when a disapproving image of Queen Victoria appears in place of the moon - a delightful touch.
Fred Furnari looks fittingly piratical in his role as the Pirate King. His extraordinary facial expressions and bearing are both entertaining and amusing. He appropriately "overplayed" the role, making it larger than life.
Craig Hanson is a sincere, dutiful Frederic (the Pirate Apprentice), with his sweet tenor voice. His former nurse, Ruth (now Pirate Maid-of-all-work), is Amy Allen, another outstanding singer. Their duet "Oh, false one, you have deceived me" is one of the finer moments in the production.
Molly Jo Bessey in her SLOC debut as Mabel, added range and drama with her extraordinary operatic voice. Mabel's three sisters Kate (Christine Hamel), Edith (Elaine Crane), and Isabel (Beth Fielding) show proper Victorian restraint, playing off against girlish desire for excitement and intrigue. Their performance of "How Beautifully Blue the Sky" with the Major-General's wards and Frederic is done with essential timing and wit, with the choreography embellishing the scene.
Eric Ruben is a natural in the role of Major-General Stanley. He takes command of the stage with a presence that fits his "exalted" position. Not quite the heartless commander, Ruben is able to pull off the somewhat whimsical sensitivity of the Major-General that defines the second half of the opera.
The bands of pirates and policemen were the color of the production. The scurvy-looking pirates with sensitive souls are an amusing contradiction. The band of policemen is delightfully slapstick, playing up the role of bungling, nervous officers. Slumped and sloppy, dosing off at inappropriate moments, these overlapping groups of men are the glue that holds the production together.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito