H.M.S. Pinafore hove into the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend and it was immediately obvious that the “sober men and true” who sailed her were not exaggerating a bit when they sang, “Our saucy ship’s a beauty.” Peter Compton’s set of the foredeck of a British Navy square rigged sailing ship was a masterpiece.
I had the privilege and the pleasure of attending regular performances on both Saturday and Sunday and also of seeing the Technical Rehearsal on Friday evening. As a result I was able to see all of the double-cast singers.
Let me tell you first a bit about the Technical Rehearsal. The Lamplighters had presented Pinafore at different locations for the last 3 weekends, so they didn’t need a rehearsal for the acting or the music. But each theater had it’s own lighting system, so all the lighting cues had to be redone. It would be somewhat similar to performing it in a different language. Director Jane Erwin Hammet and Lighting Designer Robert Ted Anderson could do a certain amount in advance, but they needed a final rehearsal with the actual actors moving about the actual stage under the actual lights to do all the final adjustments.
From the viewpoint of the small audience (there were only about a dozen of us) it was totally different from an actual performance. The most obvious differences were replacement of the orchestra by a piano (played by Conductor Brett Strader) and that the singers were not in costume. It was really funny when Josephine (Lindsay Thompson Roush) made her entrance clad in Capri pants and a oversized t-shirt and twirling a lacy parasol. Very different impression than in the actual performance Sunday afternoon.
When Hammet spotted something she didn’t like she’d stop the action, move the actors up- or down-stage and/or try some different light arrangements. Then she might repeat the scene, or she might have them skip to the next place she anticipated a problem. Oh, and the singers were not singing at full throttle. It was fascinating to get a glimpse into how much detail goes into producing the final lighting of the performance that I had just taken for granted at the actual performance. But the evening did not provide any of the intense joy of an evening at the opera.
That pleasure was left for Saturday and Sunday. And pleasure it was. As an old (ancient?) Savoyard my requirements for a good G&S performance are simple: it should be well-staged, well-acted, and well-sung. Any deviations from the original 19th century manuscript should be in good taste and should be in the same spirit as the original. Above all, the characters must all take themselves seriously, else the spoof and the satire built into Gilbert’s words and Sullivan’s music is sorely compromised.
Lamplighters passed all the tests with flying colors. F. Lawrence Ewing played the part of Sir Joseph Porter KCB to perfection. In addition to his precise enunciation of the clever lines, he added another dimension with gestures of his exquisitely-gloved hands. For example, in Act II he assures Captain Corcoran’s daughter Josephine with, “Madam, I desire to convey to you officially my opinion that love is a platform upon which all ranks meet.” But his hands are laying out a tilted platform with his end still noticeably higher than hers.
Later, during the finale when Captain Corcoran has become a common sailor he calls the engagement off because love “does not level them as much as that” while his hands lay out the tilted platform high-to-low; but instead of stopping to indicate the low end, his hands flutter downward to indicate a level so low that it’s no longer part of the platform.
Michael Belle sang the lead tenor role of Ralph Rackstraw in both casts and was still in excellent voice both times I heard him. After the Sunday matinee he admitted to me that he was glad he didn’t have another show that night — after 3 complete performances in less than 27 hours he was glad to have a rest.
Both of the Josephines (Jennifer Ashworth and Lindsay Thompson-Roush) were lovely to see and hear and wore their hearts on their sleeves. Sitting near the front I didn’t need their words — love for Ralph and distaste for Sir Joseph was totally evident on their faces.
Behrend Eilers and Jonathan Spencer each did a fine job as Captain Corcoran including the lovely aria Fair moon, to thee I sing which opens Act II. And both clearly conveyed their relief at being demoted from Captain and hence being free to marry Buttercup.
This was at least the fourth opera I have seen this year in which Sonia Gariaeff had a significant supporting role — in this case Little Buttercup. She had been in both parts of Pocket Opera’s Cav & Cat double bill (read my review), and had sung Flora in La Traviata in Fremont (read my review). She was as delightful as I had anticipated.
Robby Stafford’s Dick Deadeye was properly evil and received a special accolade during the curtain call: enthusiastic hand-clapping for Stafford as a performer and a chorus of smiling “boo’s” for the villainous Dick Deadeye as a character.
Despite wearing granny-glasses and a severe hat, Michele Schroeder seemed rather young to be a cousin of the ancient Sir Joseph — but even that is in keeping with G&S tradition where the opening night role had been the debut of 25-year old Jessie Bond who went on to a distinguished 20-year career singing most of the major female roles in the G&S repertory. Judging by what I saw, I can hope Schroeder will have similar success in the future. I only saw her alternate, Eliza Leoni during one act of the Tech Rehearsal.
Chris Uzelac made a convincing Boatswain and combined with Carpenter’s Mate Ryland Hale and Ralph in some good close harmony singing A British Tar.
The choreography was imaginative and well carried out. For example when the opening curtain goes up the sailors enter with mops, rags, etc. and engage in seemingly random motions to orchestral accompaniment. But by the time they start singing “We Sail the Ocean Blue,” the mops are all moving in a synchronous pattern to the music.
A bit later the Captain and crew sing their cute dialog:
Well, hardly ever
He’s hardly ever sick at sea
With each line the sailors bend uniformly in one direction or another with a precision one associates with the Rockettes.
A G&S production can be no better than its chorus and the chorus of
Katherine Leah Feller
Megan K. Fleischmann
Abram St. Amand Poliakoff
Holly van Hoey
fully lived up to the soloists.
And, of course, the whole show was held together by the Production Staff
Judy Jackson MacIlvaine
Robert Ted Anderson
There is one more opportunity to see this excellent production of Pinafore. It will be playing at the Bankhead theater in Livermore on Saturday and Sunday, August 20 and 21, 2011. Call 925-373-6800 for details or visit lamplighters.org.
The Opera Nut
This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on August 16, 2011