Story: On the coast of Cornwall in southern England young Frederic is turning 21, which means that his apprenticeship with the jovial band of brigands known as The Pirates of Penzance is about to end. He’s been apprenticed by pirates because as an infant his hard-of-hearing nurse Ruth thought his father wanted him to work for a “pirate” instead of the “pilot” actually referenced.
Now officially an adult, Frederic warns the genial Pirate King and his men that he will, naturally, work to eradicate them once he is a free man. That’s the noble thing to do, says Frederic, even though his pals all are orphans and have a reputation for letting their captives go free once the defeated foes inform them of their own orphaned status, real or not.
Frederic spends his first day of freedom in a secluded place where he comes upon a group of young women, the first women he has ever seen apart from Ruth, whom he had considered ‘beautiful.’ One of the girls, Mabel, falls in love with Frederic, who soon learns that the women all are daughters of the local Major-General Stanley of Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s Army in this year 1880.
When the Pirate King realizes that Frederic actually was born on Leap Day and, therefore, won’t be 21 for another 60 years, he attempts to recapture the young man. With the help of some bungling police and a most unlikely ally, though, Frederic’s freedom is secured.
Highlights: Winter Opera Saint Louis opened its 13th season of “Performances that warm the soul” last weekend with a spirited and amusing rendition of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic comic opera, highlighted by soprano Chelsea Friedlander’s winning portrayal of the willful Mabel.
Other Info: Conductor Scott Schoonover and director John Stephens merged their artistic talents together to deliver an easy-going, entertaining production strong on comedy as well as an inspired reading of Sullivan’s score by Schoonover and the accomplished Winter Opera orchestra.
Friedlander has an impressive soprano voice which superbly shaped several numbers in the show. Of course, the highlight of Pirates frequently is I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General, which requires a singer to not only hit all the right notes but also knock off W.S. Gilbert’s complicated, witty and topical (for their day) lyrics in proper patter fashion, something Gary Moss handled with aplomb as the stiff-upper-lip English military man.
Andrew Pardini put his rich bass-baritone to fine work as the dapper Pirate King, while Robert McNichols Jr. was an audience favorite lending his deep and persuasive baritone to the comic role of the blundering Sergeant of Police, who helps rescue Frederic despite the ineptitude of him and his brigade.
Tenor Pedro Barbosa made for a dashing Frederic and exhibited amusing stage chemistry with Friedlander as well as playing off the comic tones of accomplished contralto Sara Couden in the role of the oafish Ruth.
Scenic designer Scott Loebl’s colorful set captured the mirth and whimsy of the story, including a pirate ‘ship’ carried on a stick by a performer in the background. Natalie Arco added some sumptuous lighting while Felia Davenport’s costumes were bright, festive and suitably underscored the story’s light-hearted themes.
Stephens’ cast also included Jason Mallory as pirate second-in-command Samuel, Ryan Crost as a clergyman, Erin Haupt, Rebecca Hatlelid and Sarah Vlodek as Mabel’s sisters Edith, Kate and Isabel respectively and Mary Pillsbury Wainwright as the gently-waving Queen Victoria herself. All of them acquitted themselves nicely under Stephens’ tender guidance in the well-paced rendition.
Winter Opera Saint Louis will return January 24 and 26 with its version of Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment (The Daughter of the Regiment). For more information visit www.winteroperastl.org or call 314-865-0038.
Opera: The Pirates of Penzance
Group: Winter Opera St. Louis
Venue: Skip Viragh Center for Performing Arts, Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 South Lindbergh
Dates: Run concluded
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Riq Dilly and Winter Opera St. Louis