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H.M.S. Pinafore Anchors in Phoenix

Symphony Hall
10/12/2013 -  & October 12*, 13 (Phoenix), 19, 20 (Tucson), 2013
William Schwenck Gilbert & Arthur Seymour Sullivan: H.M.S. Pinafore
Sara Gartland (Josephine), David Portillo (Ralph Rackstraw), Robert Orth (Sir Joseph Porter), Curt Olds (Captain Corcoran), Susan Nicely (Little Buttercup), Andrew Gray (Dick Deadeye), Chris Carr (Bill Bobstay), Beth Lytwynec (Cousin Hebe), Calvin Griffin (Bob Becket)
The Arizona Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Henri Venanzi (Chorus Master), Rob Fisher (Conductor)
Tara Faircloth (Director), AT Jones & Sons (Costumes), Douglas Provost (Scenic Designer), Gary Eckhart (Lighting Designer), Tri-Cities Opera Company (Sets)

(© Tim Trumble)

Arizona Opera sets sail for its 2013-2014 season with ever so joyous and silly Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore; or, the Lass who Loved a Sailor. This crowd-pleasing comic opera, with its dynamite tunes, saucy social satire, and gleefully whimsical story line (even the title is fairly impertinent) was greeted at final curtain with waves of applause.

While Tara Faircloth makes a gallant effort with an upbeat and fluid direction, she chooses a farcical approach that is not quite in keeping with Gilbert and Sullivan’s gentle, yet subtle, humor. The works of the two Brits can be a delightful blend of eccentric exuberance and lightheartedness if done with a light touch, and this is not exactly what we get here, at least for three of the main parts. Sara Gartland has a beautiful soprano, but she plays - or is asked to play - the part of the ingénue with a heavy hand. Where is the wit, the innocent bantering, the sheer delightfulness of Josephine, the well-heeled but winsome Victorian flower? Curt Olds’ Captain Corcoran is of the same metal. The baritone voice is superb but the acting is overstated. Last but not least, Robert Orth portrays – or is asked to portray - Sir Joseph Porter as a buffoon and a clown. Absurd characters, such as an admiral who has never sailed a day in his life, must take themselves very seriously. Performers who play this part for laughs miss the point. Sir Joseph should never lose his sense of self-importance and snooty dignity. Restrained hauteur would have served the character much better, especially with such deliciously clever lyrics.

And now the good stuff. David Portillo as Ralph Rackstraw is totally convincing. His tenor is clear, warm, and his rendition never loses momentum. Likewise, thumbs up to Susan Nicely’s creditable Little Buttercup and Andrew Gray as Dick Deadeye. The best moment of the performance was most likely the Act II trio (Sir Joseph/Josephine/Corcoran) “Never mind the why and wherefore.” It is sung with gusto and the idea of having Josephine step backstage three times during the number and return with a new bottle of champagne each time is properly hilarious.

R. Orth & C. Olds (© Tim Trumble)

The unadventurous set, rented from Tri-Cities Opera Company, represents the forecastle of a frigate with two flights of stairs leading to the main deck. Sir Joseph Porter’s “sisters, nieces and aunts” don the most colorful Victorian costumes in striking contrast with the sailors’ uniforms.

As always with Arizona Opera, the chorus, excellently prepared by Henri Venanzi, delivers a sterling performance. In the pit, Rob Fisher is not trying to steal the show. He leads Arizona Opera Orchestra with clarity and manages to convey the humorous, deadpan liveliness required by the music.

Regardless of the aforementioned reservations, it was an enjoyable evening. All efforts combined, the performance is breezy enough to truly sail this H.M.S. Pinafore.

Next up at Arizona Opera is The Flying Dutchman in November. We will remain at sea but the waters will be stormier.

Christian Dalzon



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