Thursday, 4 August 2011

Peak Opera: HMS Pinafore

I never tire of listening to the Festival Orchestra play the lovely overtures to Sullivan's operas (I can't say "Sullivan's overtures" of course). Every night a different G&S, every night a different musical director to work under; and every night, beautiful music. Pinafore rollicks along with the promise of a fun evening, and that promise was not left unfulfilled.

There've been a few last-minute changes to cast lately, and tonight, Gareth Edwards was unable to play Dick Deadeye. When there's naught else to cast, he casts himself... yes, Ian Henderson took the part. Must have made the dress rehearsal tricky, but the show looked fine. Ian is an excellent performer; at short notice, it would be difficult indeed to find anyone better fitted to step into Deadeye's shoes.

Ensemble work was passably good all through, and excellent in places. The men were a little sloppy with their salutes and hat movements early on, but once they met up with the Sisters/Cousins/Aunts brigade, they sharpened up somewhat. Typical... they'll do anything to impress the girls! Speaking of hats, the chorus hats in "A Many Years Ago" moved in clean unison from watching Buttercup while she sang to facing front in the chorus responses; this followed a fairly consistent pattern of everyone facing front to sing - excellent for audibility and was mostly done without looking crude. Everyone sustained a level of energy and watchfulness that kept the show moving in the right direction, although at times we could have hoped for a little more pace.

The second act had an uncredited addition to it. Cousin Hebe (Elaine Bishop) sang "Why am I always a bridesmaid", solo on an empty stage - a privilege few Hebes get. Her part was considerably expanded from the Jessie Bond version that we're familiar with, but not by giving her the "Crushed again!" dialogue that is better known as Lady Jane's. Instead, she became Josephine's confidant; most of Josie's asides in the first act ("Oh, if only I dared", and so on) were delivered to Hebe, as were some of her monologues-to-the-audience (the whole "Sir Joseph's attentions nauseate me" speech, for instance). This was an interesting take on the scene, but unfortunately it was not backed up by future staging. Since Hebe clearly knows exactly what's going on, she should be in a privileged situation at the beginning of the finale; when Ralph is trying to kill himself, Hebe ought to know that it's unnecessary. But she acted with the rest of the chorus, not knowing any more than any of them. There, that's what my note tells me to say, and in my rough, common, sailor fashion, I've said it. Now I can get on with saying all the many things that I enjoyed about the show.

And foremost among the shows qualities has to be the music. Some excellent singers, most notably a strong Captain Corcoran (Ben McAteer), whose stage presence was so powerful that by merely *looking* at a cat-o'-nine-tails he could scare the sailors! His most attractive daughter Josephine (Roma Loukes), edging out Celerity and Impunity for the title, had vibrato enough to share, but a beautiful top range. Gracious enough to share the stage with Hebe for her second act aria, or flatly refusing to offer a common sailor her love, she carried herself with energy throughout the performance. Opposite her, Ralph (Harry Bagnall) gave us a clear and lovely tenor voice, and he matched Josephine in energy. He knew how to sing in an ensemble as well as in solo work, and the vocal balance in "A British Tar" was superb - all three parts could be heard. Likewise the Bosun (David Thomson, if I'm reading the programme aright) in the first act finale; being heard over a chorus without majorly dominating them takes some care - unless your character is the type to simply cut through and be heard, as Buttercup (Lucy Appleyard) was to an extent. The bumboat woman didn't seem to do a very good trade in the snuff and tobacco and so on that she brought to sell, but she quite probably has, well, another source of income. (And perhaps there's something to be done along the lines of reading weather reports in people's hands ("Warm, winds light to variable, and there is a cool change in store for you")? But, I digress.) Sir Joseph (Adam Bishop) was quite a Pooh-Bah of ego and flatterability, who seemed genuinely surprised that Josephine didn't fall for him. His good diction, decent sense of comedic timing, and the fun by-play between him and various other characters - mostly Corcoran - kept the show bouncing along Finally, and in a very successful violation of the "Never work with animals or children" rule, two young boys (whose mother was singing in the chorus) added a fun touch to the show. Tom Tucker (Max O'Brien) was joined by a short John Silver (his brother Daniel); they scurried about hither and yon, running small errands, bringing information, or whatever else was necessary; one of them even carried Ralph's loaded pistol off stage after he decided he wouldn't use it!

Overall, the show had the appearance of a final dress rehearsal. It could have done with a little more polish, and there were some unfortunate mishaps of dropped lines, but had there been a longer season these would have been corrected. The company clearly enjoyed what they were doing, and it translated well to our enjoyment in the audience.


Basso Cantante said...

Just a tiny note Chris.... Hebe did indeed know how Josephine felt about Ralph, but I made sure that she was ladylike enough to return to the cabin when Ralph began to declare his love. Hence (allowing for a little suspension of disbelief), she didn't know what Josephine's RESPONSE to him had been. To me, this made sense of his addressing his remarks to her as the finale began - she'd witnessed the beginning, but didn't know the end, as Josephine was too upset to tell her anything in the minute between her coming back in, and Hebe subsequently being called back on deck in response to Ralph's cry to the Company. I hope I make myself clear, my Lord? Ian H :o)

Chris Angelico said...

Ah, I see what you mean. It didn't really communicate itself to me effectively, but perhaps that's my fault more than yours/Hebe's. I was most interested to see this as a variant excuse for Josephine's timely arrival, but that didn't quite happen. Anyhow, it was a neat way of giving Hebe some more stage time!

PrSBlake1 said...

Where did the song "Why Am I Always a Bridesmaid" come from. I would love to have seen/heard that.

Chris Angelico said...

I believe it's found in a 1930s musical or film, but it may pre-date that. Not sure, to be honest.

Basso Cantante said...

It's a Music Hall song dating from circa 1917 - I think that you read my fuller explanation on Savoynet? Thank you so much for your interest.... Best regards
Ian :o)

Chris Angelico said...

Yes, thanks! And for the benefit of anyone reading this comment thread who isn't on Savoynet, the post is on the Savoynet archive.