Monday, 24 August 2009

Pirates of Penzance (G&S Opera Company)

We couldn't get seats for the show, but managed to get, not a private box, but a private suite - to be precise, the Paxton Suite. The video link was provided, but oddly, we were the only two people there. As when we saw the Irish Gondoliers, the view was far from perfect, but enormously better than missing out on the show altogether.

The show opened with a slightly modified overture - a few bars of Away Away and Cat-like Tread were attached to the start. Then the curtain went up on an impressive set: we were not in a rocky cove, but actually on board the pirates' ship. After the Pirate King's song, there was a brief blackout, a little bit of music to cover the transition, and then we saw Frederic on the beach, no more ship, and Ruth chasing after him. Worked splendidly.

Both choruses (I suppose I should say all three; the men were pirates, then police, then split, as is often done) demonstrated remarkable precision, moving in near-perfect synchronization - even in dialogue (all the pirates move simultaneously to look at the time). The off-stage chorus of girls (before "False one") worked perfectly - no raggedness - and again when the pirates sang about penalties.

The principals were of equally high standard. Frederic (James Elliot) demonstrated strong emotion in his duets, both with Ruth and with Mabel, and kept everything moving along. Ruth (Jill Pert) brought her own particular take to the dialogue with Frederic, and sang with feeling but without losing clarity and diction. The Pirate King (James Cleverton) commanded his crew and the stage with equal ease, as a pirate king should do; all three of the above were absolutely over the top hams, making an enormously fun trio scene in the second act. (Is it really believable that the PK and Ruth can so totally "not get it" as Fred tells them that Stanley - is - no - orphan? Hardly. Is it fun, when played that way? Undoubtedly!) The Major General (Richard Suart) had exceptional dialogue and patter skills, although his acting sometimes left a little to be desired - on the other hand, competent direction meant that this was seldom an issue. When he appeared, we knew at once why the girls were so precise in their movement - he clearly drills them regularly, leading his troops through footwork almost on par with the knighthood scene from The Court Jester. Mabel (Victoria Joyce) was very operatic, and definitely wanted the downstage center position as much as possible - which fits Mabel completely. During Poor Wand'ring One, Edith and Kate took Frederic aside when she began the "chook bit" (all the Ab, Eb, Db "Ah ah ah"s); they seemed to have almost persuaded him that they were as eligible as she, until she started on the cadenza. For some weird reason, Fred liked the idea of marrying someone who could sing like that... doesn't he know how irritating it'd be to wake up to that every morning? Although Mabel did sing it very well; as did Edith (Victoria Byron), in the finale, where they sing the chook duet. Most of the Stanleys looked plausibly sisters, but it was amusing to see Kate (Sioned Ellis) dancing with the Major General in the finale; she looked like she could possibly have been his wife. At the other extreme, Isabel was clearly the youngest - she had a funny, although slightly affected, "It's the vewwy pwace for mermaids" voice. Samuel (Michael Kerry) had an excellent tenor voice, taking the higher notes in "Take your file, and your skeletonic key" with ease. Rounding off a competent cast, the Sergeant of Police (Bruce Graham) has the same command of his troops as the Major General, leading his men through some pretty complicated footwork, through which they followed him perfectly.

Throughout the show, the entire cast showed energy and interest in what was going on. I'm glad to have had a chance to see this show, and will await eagerly the arrival of the DVD. Congratulations, all!


David England said...

Congratulations, too, to you for a splendid series of reviews.

Chris Angelico said...

Thanks David!

chucko50 said...

Thanks for the excellent reviews and snapshots on some of the Festival activities. I have attended five or six of the festivals in past years but couldn't make it the last two years. I certainly miss it and always look for blogs(especially the good ones) that get into the fabric of the performances in terms of the stagecraft,musical and theatrical qualities--- and love for G&S I suppose.
I did see Richard Suart this summer in Chicago at our summer festival in Grant Park doing highlights of Mikado,Penzance. Terrific,also had Frances McCafferty in the mezzo roles-- she has done a lot at ENO in the Mikado over the years with Richard. "Hail Poetry' was as good as I have ever heard(big orchestra,professional chorus)for the dozens of times I seen it over the past 50 years. Richard, Simon Butteris, and it sounds like the fellow in TBJ and ODL's(Parson's Pirates) production are about the best around in terms of 'patter' men.
Richard Suart spoke at one of the fringe events on his "List Book:They'd None of Em Be Missed"..he has done some very clever lists over the years. You might find it entertaining if you do a google search with some of those references.
Thanks again for taking the time to write such an comprehensive blog. I did notice the information on Savoynet about the webcasts that they weren't able to make operational during the Festival. Disappointed but the Smiths have really done a remarkable job for G&S over the last 16 years.
Hope that everyone heading back to Australia has recovered from the jet lag. Chuck Burkhead