by Gilbert & Sullivan
UBC Opera Ensemble and Vancouver Opera Orchestra
Sea Vancouver Festival
Vanier Park
July 7-10

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.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Friday, July 8, 2005 4:19 PM
website design by Linda Fenton Malloy