Refreshing shower of theatrical delight and fun
By Erik Abbott
Mike Leigh laments that too many productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operas are, in his words, “boring, bland, sentimental, self-conscious, often gratuitously camp productions which entirely miss the point.” With this understanding he delivers a Pirates of Penzance with none of those traits.
The production, co-produced by the English National Opera, the Saarländisches Staatstheater Saarbrücken and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, opened October 16 and continues on October 18. It is a refreshing and invigorating shower of theatrical delight and fun. The stage world Leigh creates bristles with energy, the broadness of the characters rooted in a quirky reality where the abrupt changes in direction and emotion in the slim and wonderfully ridiculous plot are delivered with such aplomb and whimsy that the audience can’t help but merrily and gratefully ride along.
Leigh keeps the potential pitfalls of preciousness and earnestness far at bay, allowing the characters to revel innocently in their strange, but oddly believable predicaments. The result is pure charm.
Duty, love, pirates with a soft spot
Frederic, (Robert Murray), has just turned twenty-one, ending his apprenticeship as a pirate. Honour and duty—the central theme, if theme is not too ponderous a notion here—now require him to bring to justice the pirate crew that has been his only family since childhood. The pirates, who aren’t very good at their profession, lacking the requisite streak of cruelty to be effective, understand their protégé’s moral dilemma and wish him well.
Almost immediately, Frederic meets Mabel (Claudia Boyle) and her twelve sisters and falls in love. They are set on by the pirates, but allowed to go free when Mabel’s father, Major-General Stanley (Adrian Powter), tells the Pirate King (Joshua Bloom) he is an orphan. This particular pirate band never “molests” orphans—another obstacle to their “piratical” activities.
But the Major-General is overcome by remorse at lying to the pirates, while Frederic learns he is still a pirate apprentice because he was born on February 29 in a Leap Year and therefore will not reach his twenty-first birthday for some decades. Duty requires his return to a life of unsuccessful criminality. A few more twists and it all turns out fine.
Stunning set, glorious vocals, a real treat
Leigh stages the piece on Alison Chitty’s stunningly beautiful set, all geometric shapes in bold colours that form and frame the various locales. A large circle is the central image, opening and closing to sculpt the space. Chitty’s lovely costumes, in contrast, are of the period and are filled with clever visual details—the Pirate King’s coat, for example, is a faded reflection of the Major-General’s vivid red one.
But this is (light, comic) opera and the true splendour of the event is the music. The Grand Théâtre soars with the glorious vocals. All the roles are beautifully sung and superbly backed by the chorus. The excellent performances from the cast seamlessly blend character and song and dialogue into a marvellously effervescent whole.
It was all a joy to watch and hear, although I was particularly taken with Powter’s turn as the Major-General. From his stroking of the voluminous feathers on his dress uniform hat as if it were a favourite spoiled fat cat to his whimsical mini-ballet during Sighing Softly to the River, Powter is hilarious throughout, delivering a richly detailed comic performance underlined by a beautifully sung musical one.
Leigh has brought a treat of a production to life. It is joyous and visually dazzling and oh so gorgeous to hear.
When and Where
Pirates of Penzance continues at the Grand Théâtre, Sunday, October 17 at 17.00
For more information go to: www.theatres.lu
For tickets go to: www.luxembourg-ticket.lu
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