by Gilbert & Sullivan
UBC Opera Ensemble and Vancouver Opera Orchestra
Sea Vancouver Festival
I have to confess that I’m no fan of
opera, not even of operetta. I can’t remember the last time
I saw Gilbert and Sullivan performed. And my lack of familiarity
with the standards and conventions of the genre means this review
will be even more subjective than usual. Caveat emptor.
The nice thing is that it is being performed.
Whereas once G&S would have been as regular a component of Vancouver’s
theatre scene as Neil Simon became in the 1970s and Norm Foster
is now, the quintessential English standard has become a rare beast
indeed in these parts. Not even ultra-anglophilic Metro Theatre
does them anymore.
It’s doubly nice to have the show staged
outdoors at Kits Beach as part of the Sea Vancouver Festival, with
the tall ships anchored just offshore, in sight of the bandstand.
Too bad the weather isn’t better.
Performed by the UBC Opera Ensemble under the direction of Nancy
Hermiston with Richard Epp conducting the Vancouver Opera Orchestra,
the show is a delight. Written around 1880, HMS
Pinafore sends up the conventions of Victorian romantic melodrama,
and Victorian opera too, for all I know. It’s The
Importance of Being Earnest on a boat with music. That means
the acting is broad, gestural and parodic. Even so, the weaknesses
of some of the cast are evident when they are speaking rather than
singing. Even some of singing seemed shaky to my untutored ear.
Still, the overall effect of the show is jolly good!
The best character, who has the best song, also delivers the very
best performance in this production. Diminutive Michael Mori is
Sir Joseph Porter KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty, who hilariously
sings of how he worked his way up through the ranks with an utter
lack of qualifications for the job in “When I Was a Lad.”
His attempts to pseudo-democratize life aboard the ship and to woo
Josephine, daughter of Captain Corcoran, are equally delicious.
As Josephine, soprano Katie May gets to show off her impressive
pipes. Andrew Jameson has his moments as the Captain and so too
Stephen Bell as Ralph Rackstraw, the common tar in love with Josephine.
The show feature some great songs and terrific production numbers
involving the crew of the Pinafore
and the many “sisters and cousins and aunts” of Sir
Joseph: “My Gallant Crew,” “The British Tar,”
“Never Mind the Why and Wherefore,” the lively finales
of both acts, and more. It’s almost enough to convert this
philistine into an oper(ett)a lover.