Satire and Pathos—Opera Company Extends its Stylistic Range

CanadaCanada Gilbert and Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance: Vancouver Opera, soloists, Jonathan Darlington (conductor). Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, British Columbia. 9.12.2012 (BJ)


The Pirate King: Aaron St Clair Nicholson
Samuel: Aaron Durand
Frederic: Roger Honeywell
Ruth: Judith Forst
Edith: Cassandra Warner
Kate: Sylvia Szadovszki
Isabel: Melanie Krueger
Mabel: Rachel Fenlon
Major-General Stanley: Christopher Gaze
Sergeant of Police: Giles Tomkins



Director: Christopher Gaze
Set: Peter Dean Beck
Costumes: Richard St Clair, adapted by Deanna Finnman
Lighting: Harry Frehner
Chorus Master and Associate Conductor: Leslie Dala

The Vancouver Not-Just-Opera company has been extending its stylistic range of late. Last season, moving into the genre of musicals, it presented an absolutely splendid production of Bernstein’s West Side Story. This time around, we were offered Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance—not quite as far removed from the classic operatic canon—and the result again was a notable success.

Rather like Die Fledermaus, Gilbert and Sullivan light opera, on first acquaintance in my youth, did not grab me. I think a certain degree of sophistication, and a certain backlog of experience, may be needed before one can appreciate the satirical aspects of these two very special theatrical genres. Perhaps if, instead of only hearing G. & S. on the radio, I had witnessed a production like this one, I might have been hooked much earlier.

At any rate, seen on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage, this production by the British-born Christopher Gaze, with sets and costumes borrowed from the Edmonton Opera, totally delighted me. The stage picture was handsome, the marshaling of the cast skillfully handled, the lighting unfailingly effective. There was one hilarious piece of visual invention after another, among the most amusing being a troop of policemen who fell down at the slightest provocation. And backed by polished orchestral playing under Jonathan Darlington’s baton, with lusty contributions from Leslie Dala’s chorus, the cast sang and acted splendidly.

Gaze himself, as the Major-General, ranged convincingly between pithy satire and affecting pathos. (The details of his famous song, by the way, were entertainingly glossed in the program book by company staff member Selina Rajani.) Roger Honeywell made a suitably attractive figure of the long-suffering hero, with his dedication to duty that inevitably evokes disbelief in these materialistic days. As his beloved Mabel, Rachel Fenlon, a member of the company’s Yolanda M. Faris Young Artists’ Program, revealed a soprano voice of impressive promise. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson was dramatically and vocally impeccable as the Pirate King. As his lieutenant, Samuel, Aaron Durand sang and acted strongly. Giles Tomkins’s portrait of the Sergeant of Police was a comic triumph. Everybody else, including the Major-General’s rather improbably numerous bevy of daughters, and Judith Forst as a touchingly acted if vocally somewhat subdued Ruth, played their parts with complete conviction. And there was a highly effective walk-on part for Queen Victoria, uncredited in the program book, and necessarily so, since it would have been a pity to tip the audience off in advance.

It was, altogether, an evening to make me regret all the years I have wasted not enjoying Gilbert and Sullivan. “More, please,” might be a not unreasonable reaction—though perhaps Vancouver Opera has done its duty sufficiently with this charming production.

Bernard Jacobson