Boston Academy of Music, presents the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, The Pirates of Penzance at the Emerson Majestic Theatre November 28-30. The show is not a musical, yet it is great fun in its lighthearted wittiness. It doesn't take itself too seriously, in fact, not seriously at all. It has a strong comedic flair which becomes slapstick at times. This is in sharp contrast to the heavy formalization of the orchestral scoring and the vocal arrangements which are incredibly strong and some of which are very memorable though not particularly understandable due to the operatic nature of it.
The sarcasm of the show may yield viewers who either love it and appreciate the comedic humor or ones who disdain the shallowness. This show intentionally breaks all the rules with Gilbert and Sullivan pointing fun at the inept "pirates" who were using their material, specifically the widespread "HMS Pinafore", free of charge due to nonexistent international copyright laws. The dialogue is outlandishly clever and the rhyme schemes and lyrics are practically rococo. The action is sometimes reminiscent of British comedy group, Monty Python.
Robert Towne plays reluctant pirate Frederic dramatically and yet without the silliness that shows so clearly in his shipmates. He adequately carried the melodic structure of his parts. Anna Maria Silvestri is outstanding as Ruth, who only desires to be loved, but knows she may pale in comparison to other women. She has incredible vocal power and flair and matches The Pirate King (Stoneman) well, especially in their duet of "Paradox" sung to Frederic (Towne) who almost disappears into the background in their flamboyance and vocal power.
Michelle French as Mabel has incredible vocal range, carrying out Sullivan's wildest vocal dreams with her clarity even at the top of the soprano range. She and Towne make a good pair and harmonize well together as she promises her faithfulness to Frederic during his unexpectedly long indenture.
David Stoneman is very impressive as Richard, The Pirate King, performing the part with enthusiasm and charm. He cunningly gives depth to his performance with an enormous amount of cleverly used exaggeration. Charles Baad does a good job as Samuel, the Pirate King's lieutenant, flipping onto the stage first with acrobatics typical of the freewheeling clownish behavior of these zany Pirates of Penzance.
Richard Conrad does a good performance as Major General Stanley, as well as being the show's artistic director, costume coordinator, and in charge of musical preparation. (Whew!) Conrad has come a long way since his vocal injury in the early 80s. Conrad certainly looks the part of the Major General both in his uniform and even in his nightshirt holding a teddybear. He did a fairly good job presenting "Modern Major General", delivering all the words in very rapid tempo, with the proper humor, but had difficulty making the many multi-syllabic words clear at that speed.
A huge skull and crossbones of light appears midway through the overture on the still unopened curtain and provides a good effect. The lighting was particularly effective at highlighting whoever was singing and light changes were smooth and nearly unnoticeable. The show begins with a tiny cartoonlike ship moving jerkily across the back of the stage followed by a slightly larger version of the same moving across the other way seemingly moving closer, and then finally the set pieces are dropped onto the stage in full view of the audience, presumably with the intended effect of humor. The two sets, one of a rocky seashore with the section of the pirate ship in the background and the other of a ruined gothic chapel, are minimalist and rather nonprofessional, though perhaps that is the point.
The actors perform this show well, but keep in mind that this is not a serious opera, but a satirical parody of one. If you go to this show, enjoy it and take it lightly - and most definitely not as seriously as reviewers.
Libretto of the Opera