Opera CNU visualizes the trade-offs of romance and adventure

Discover a review on the humurous production of “The Pirates of Penzance”

Typical pirate life used to be harsh and dreadful, but Opera CNU’s performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s timeless classic “The Pirates of Penzance” was anything but that.

Last Friday, the Peebles Theatre held the first of two shows brought to life by Opera CNU and the Department of Music. It was directed by Dr. John McGuire and conducted by Professor J Lynn Thompson. McGuire discussed why the hilarious production was chosen: “It would be a good crowd pleaser and would get a lot of students involved, and that’s what is most important.”

With a run time of roughly two hours, the operetta hosted two very Victorian sets: the first being a pirate fortress on a rocky seashore scattered with wooden crates and bottles of rum, and the next a ruined chapel containing a singular looming lapidarian wall surrounded by comedic gravestones. The production staff overall accomplished a polished, yet worn in, atmosphere for the pirates and the surrounding community. The cast donned either mismatched swashbuckling attire, pastel Victorian dresses or police uniforms, with the exception of the Major-General who wore a proper Major-General suit accessorized with an outrageous hat and feather. The costuming in turn provided an elegant or comedic essence that complemented the surrounding stage. 

The operetta begins with a band of pirates celebrating the pirate apprentice Fredric’s 21st birthday, but announces his disdain for piracy and sings of leaving his life as an indentured servitude to find a wife and more suiting occupation. Ruth (Emma Robinson), his nurse and now maid, offers to become his wife, but Frederic (Brian Blair) is skeptical of her beauty.

The duet between Ruth and Frederic was a dramatic, dynamic and comedic conversation that defined their relationship; poor Ruth wanted to be taken away by him, but Frederic was hesitant, for he has never seen another woman before and believes Ruth may be too conventionally ugly. Robinson’s alto paired very well with Blair’s tenor; regardless of the humorous tone of this song, this combination of voices and orchestra exuded emotion, conveying their relationship with both elegance and grace.

While on his way to shore, Frederic walks upon a large group of girls who think they are alone on the island. They start removing their stockings as to play in the water until they notice Frederic and recoil in perfect unison. All of the girls strongly disliked Frederic except for one: Mable.

The girls sing in unison about their hatred of Frederic, with their syncopation being one of the more humorous parts of the show. Among the girls, however, was Mable (Amanda Knight), who sang of her attraction to Frederic. Knight’s soprano really cut through the orchestra and chorus, hitting nearly glass-shattering notes effortlessly as she moved around the stage. This gave the music an entire new layer, as her single voice could be heard among the entire cast.

While Frederic and the girls were liaising, the band of pirates crept upon the girls with the intent of “finding” their own romances; however, in this scenario, “abducting” may be a better word choice. Before any travesty occurred, Major-General Stanley (Colin Ruffer), who is the father of the girls, shows up to scare the pirates. He sings of how he is “the very model of a modern Major-General,” reciting a plethora of tongue twisters at a very rapid pace. Ruffer’s annunciation of every syllable proved to be very difficult, but it was pulled off with perfection. The syncopation of Ruffer’s solo and the orchestra was very impressive, as the song ebbed and flowed in tempo, with many rapid beats strung together; keeping in time was displayed to be a great challenge.

The Major-General discourages the pirates from abducting his daughters when he tells them of his life as an orphan (the pirates swore to never harm other orphans) and thus, the pirates depart empty-handed and the first act is over.

In the beginning of the second act, the Major-General is shown to be troubled by the fact that he had lied to the pirates about being an orphan, but he also had hired a team of police to arrest them. This team of police was certainly the most comical group of the entire show, as each individual had a very distinct personality, all the way down to how they walked. Their postures and gestures were all very reminiscent of clutz, with very prominent facial expressions and accents; this team definitely had the most individuality of the classes.

Frederic wanted to join the team of police to help arrest the pirates, but  he later discovered that his contract ended on his 21st birthday. Unfortunately for him, Frederic was born on a leap year, and would not reach his technical 21st birthday for another half a century. Before returning to his duty as a pirate, Frederic sings with Mabel about her promising to wait for him until he comes of age. This duet was one of the most emotional parts of the orchestra, as the setting was somber and the mood was serious. The song ended with a dramatic kiss, symbolizing their love and uplifting the tone. 

Immediately after, the pirates learn about the Major-General’s lie and decide to assault him and his daughters. A clash ensues, with one of the most extravagant kinds of fighting being that of swords clashing. The connection of the swords could be heard throughout the entire theatre and was in time with the music, mesmerizing the audience with a feat of syncopation.

The ending of “The Pirates of Penzance” felt quite abrupt in that it was an immediate happy ending, but overall, this operetta was full of comedy and surprise twists, with a bit of romance mixed in. The orchestra was flawless in setting the tone and all of the actors were so expressive that, even sitting in the back row, their emotions could be felt. 

Throughout it all, the choreography appeared militaristic but relaxed, and everyone was in unison in each routine. “A new challenge for the operetta was the size of the cast— having over 20 people dancing and working with their class schedules,” McGuire discussed. Regardless of the large cast, the operetta was successful in having numerous students to be involved in this community-focused production. 

Though this production was intended to be very lighthearted, it is certainly a serious operetta played by a very talented cast and one I found to be very entertaining.

~Riley Barringer, Staff Writer~

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