Gilbert and Sullivan opens Arizona Opera

Although the work had been seen once in Britain for copyright
purposes, it was officially premiered on New Year’s Eve of 1879 at New
York City’s ‘Fifth Avenue Theatre,’ which was actually
located at 28th street and Broadway. Reviews were extremely favorable even
though some critics noted that Gilbert had used some story elements from his
one act piece, Our Island Home, and Sullivan took the music for the
chorus, ‘Climbing over Rocky Mountain,’ from his earlier
composition, Thespis. In December 1879, Sullivan wrote: ‘I think
it will be a great success, for it is exquisitely funny, and the music is
strikingly tuneful and catching.’ He may not have been all that modest,
but over a century later the statement is still true.

Since, at that time there was no copyright protection in the United States,
having the official premiere there allowed Gilbert and Sullivan to keep
American theatrical companies from assembling their own productions and
stealing the creators’ profits. Of course, American companies did
eventually tour with the operetta, but at least the first production’s
profits went to the work’s librettist and composer. The Pirates of
opened at the Opera Comique in London on 3 April 1880 and ran for
an entire year.

David Ira Goldstein, who has headed The Arizona Theater Company for the past
nineteen years, directed Arizona Opera’s presentation. In this, his first
stint with an opera company, he told the story in a manner that put a great
deal of emphasis on visual values and there were times when he had his singers
executing complicated moves while singing. For example, Sarah Jane McMahon who
sang Mabel turned cartwheels during an aria. She has a fine voice, however, and
her parody of Lucia di Lammermoor made one wonder what she could do
with a serious rendition of that role. Brian Anderson has a rich, clear tenor
voice and he was a good-looking Frederic who did not perform any acrobatics but
proved to be a skilled swordsman. The best dancer of the cast was Curt Olds as
the Pirate King who also sang with excellent diction and a secure line.

The real revelation of the evening was hearing veteran mezzo Korby Myrick,
who often sings comprimario parts, in the major role of Ruth. Her smooth
chocolate tones enveloped the audience in a wonderful elixir while she made use
of her precise comic timing to put her zany character across. Hers was
definitely the biggest voice on that stage. Baritone Steven Condy, well known
for his ability with ‘patter’ songs and his portrayal of buffo
characters was a stentorian Major General Stanley who sang the final stanza of
his aria at incredible speed. With a bright red jacket covering a
well-upholstered figure, he was the picture of a military man who directs his
soldiers from afar. Bass baritone Craig Phillips made an impressive debut as
the Police Sergeant. In a role that demanded excellence in both dancing and
singing, he proved to be the master of both.

With their strong performances in this show, Arizona Opera’s Pullin
Studio artists: Rebecca Sjˆwall, soprano, as Edith, Stephanie Foley-Davis,
mezzo-soprano, as Kate and Kevin Wetzel, tenor, as Sam proved that they are
worthy heirs of the operetta stage. We can look forward to hearing Sjˆwall as
Frasquita in next month’s Carmen. Foley-Davis will be Mercedes
in Carmen and Emilia in the March performances of Otello. One of the
true joys of this performance was the outstanding choreography by Melissa Lowe,
a professor at the University of Arizona School of Dance. The movements she
designed melded perfectly with both story and accompaniment. Joel Revzen led
twenty-six instrumentalists of the Arizona Opera Orchestra in a virtuoso
rendition of Sullivan’s score. Although the players had less rehearsal
than usual, they played with admirable precision and brought out the many
romantic colors of this venerable work.

Maria Nockin

image_description=Brian Anderson as Frederic, Curt Olds as Pirate King and Korby Myrick as Ruth [Photo by Tim Fuller / Arizona Opera]
product_title=Gilbert and Sullivan: The Pirates of Penzance
product_by=Mabel: Sarah Jane McMahon; Frederic: Brian Anderson; Pirate King: Curt Olds; Major General: Stephen Condy; Police Sergeant: Craig Phillips; Ruth: Korby Myrick; Sam: Kevin Wetzel; Edith: Rebecca Sjˆwall; Kate: Stephanie Foley. Conductor: Joel Revzen. Director: David Ira Goldstein.
product_id=Above: Brian Anderson as Frederic, Curt Olds as Pirate King and Korby Myrick as Ruth [Photo by Tim Fuller / Arizona Opera]