|Cast of The Pirates of Penzance -- a Utopia Opera production|
We have often written about how rare it is to find a composer who can set the English language in a musical way. One must capitalize upon its punchy rhythm and unique rhymability. Who beside Stephen Sondheim has done that? One must go all the way back to Victorian days to the works of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan to find such heights of delight.
As many times as we have seen Pirates of Penzance, the production by Utopia Opera was the absolute best, hands down. For one thing, the small theater at Hunter College (the Lang Recital Hall) permitted an up close and personal viewing. For another thing, the enunciation of the language was so crisp that we didn't miss a single clever rhyme. Also, the performances were filled with energy, thanks to some dynamic direction by the super talented William Remmers and some excellent casting of singers with comedic chops. Furthermore, the staging was filled with so much invention that we never missed the sets.
Musical values hit the mark with Music Direction shared by Mr. Remmers with John Cuk who conducted the lively score, placing the string quartet plus bass at ground level and the winds and percussion on one side of the stage.
The singers were superb. As the Pirate King, Erik Contzius created a lovable rascal to whom Frederic (fine tenor Daniel Kamalic) was apprenticed at a very young age. For those of you who don't know the story, Frederic's nursemaid Ruth (a very funny Amy Maude Helfer) thought she was apprenticing him as a pilot, not a pirate.
Having reached his 21st birthday, Frederic assumes he has fulfilled his duties and is free to abandon the crew of pirates whom he loves individually but deplores as a group. This crew is a strange lot, never attacking a weaker party and having a soft spot for orphans, a feature which becomes an interesting plot point.
Frederick falls in love with Mabel, one of five daughters of Major-General Stanley, hilariously portrayed by Mr. Remmers, thus absenting himself from his usual task of conducting the orchestra. This role is the most challenging one of the opera, involving a patter song ("I am the very model of a modern Major-General") that we have never heard sung so rapidly, nor so crisply.
The role of Mabel was sung by the splendid soprano Kathleen Norchi who was given songs that seemed to send up the tropes of bel canto opera. She easily negotiated the elaborate fioritura and made a worthy love object for young Frederic.
Trey Sandusky created the character of the Sergeant of Police who adopted a "dese, dem, and dose accent" whilst singing "When a felon's not engaged in his employment". We don't know why a cockney accent wasn't chosen to contrast with the plummy British accents of the other characters but it worked and was very funny.
Juan José López Delgado was equally excellent as Samuel, the Pirate King's lieutenant and the second in command to the Sergeant of Police. As Major-General Stanley's other daughters we had a comely group of young women--Kayla Faccilongo, Leslie Ratner, Shannon Gaffney, and Jane Hoffman.
We love seeing imagination taking the place of major expenditures and give credit to Eric Lamp and Angel Betancourt for their clever costuming.
Perhaps one reason that this comic opera is so successful in the United States is that the objects of skewering are not as unknown to Americans. Satirizing a sense of duty is more familiar than the inner workings of British political bodies. As a matter of fact, the work premiered right here in New York in 1879, shortly before it played in London. It has been popular ever since.
We are thrilled that Utopia's audience voted to see this work. By now, we hope you know that the audience selects works for Utopia Opera to produce. Although the audience is always enthusiastic, we have never heard such wild applause. The production absolutely deserved that acclaim.
We urge you to attend the final performance--today's matinée-- if tickets are still available. Photos of the performance are on our Facebook page, Voce di Meche. Utopia Opera's ninth season continues with a Mozart/Salieri double bill in the Spring.
© meche kroop