Vancouver Opera
The Pirates of Penzance
by W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan

Dates and Venue 1 - 9 December 2012, 7.30pm (Sunday matinees at 1.30pm) | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Frederic Roger Honeywell Mabel Rachel Fenlon The Pirate King Aaron St. Clair Nicholson Ruth Judith Forst Sergeant of Police Giles Tomkins

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Director Christopher Gaze Associate Director/Choreographer Allison Grant Chorus Director & Associate Conductor Leslie Dala Lighting Designer Harry Frehner Principal Répétiteur/Assistant Chorus Director Kinza Tyrrell Fight Director Nicholas Harrison Stage manager Sheila Munn

Performed In English

Reviewer John Jane

While full professional productions like this one are rare, on any given day there is sure to be at least one mounting of The Pirates of Penzance on offer somewhere in the English speaking world by an amateur Gilbert and Sullivan society.

For those as yet unacquainted with the deliciously satirical world of Gilbert and Sullivan, Pirates yields the most instantly recognizable tunes and is genuinely perceived as Gilbert and Sullivan’s best. The pair were peerless at probing parody at established British institutions. In Pirates they chose to lampoon social rank and sense of duty.

The deliberately preposterous premise has our hero Frederic, convivially played by Roger Honeywell, deciding upon leaving the company of pirates to whom he has been indentured since being orphaned, albeit mistakenly. Now a free man, he sees that his moral duty is to arrest his former comrades for piracy. Over the 21 years of his life, his nurse Ruth (Judith Forst) is the only female he has had contact with. So, when he stumbles across a group of maidens he asks Oh, is there not one maiden breast? Mabel (Rachel Fenlon) the youngest of the Major-General’s daughter’s answers his petition with her showpiece aria Poor wand'ring one. But alas, Frederic has not seen the last of his former captain and nurse. Ruth and the Pirate King explain in the campy trio song When you had left our pirate fold that since he was born on a February 29th he is in fact only five years old and thus bound to the pirates until his 21st birthday – in another sixty years!

Most Vancouverites will know Christopher Gaze as the Artistic Director of Bard on the Beach. When Vancouver Opera invited him to helm this production, the temptation was obviously too much to resist. Mr. Gaze would certainly appear to have genuine fondness for the Gilbert and Sullivan brand of operetta and in this production, it might seem like the director throws a bunch of ideas into the mix and hopes most of them work – fortunately, for audience and director – most of them do.

In his role of Major-General Stanley, Gaze’s singing hardly shows to be his strong suit. Nonetheless, he does rise to the occasion with the famously hilarious patter song, I am the very model of a modern Major-General; even adding an encore verse that gives a nod to Canadian politicians.

I have to say, I really enjoyed Rachel Fenlon’s performance as Mabel. She brings personality and operatic range as the show’s heroine. Aaron St Clair Nicholson tries his best to bring some swagger to the Pirate King and while he performs I am a pirate king with gusto his acting is over-shadowed by that of more flamboyant co-stars.

Giles Tomkins handles his role as Sergeant of Police with glorious goofiness, combining with members of the Vancouver Opera Chorus with that ludicrously charming character song A Policeman’s Lot Is Not a Happy One.

The orchestra was superb in what certainly will not be the densest score they will perform this season, though arguably the liveliest.

© 2012 John Jane