Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Pirates Of Penzance

photo: Carol Rosegg

The new City Opera production of Gilbert and Sullivan's fabulously enduring The Pirates Of Penzance isn't empty-headed: unlike many productions I've seen, this one knows that the operetta is a satire on Victorian society. During the overture, we watch a row of Victorian ladies facing a shadow box stage, on which pen and ink cut-out drawings of Victorian heads and pirate ships sail by on sticks, Monty Python style, above a silhouette of the sea. When the show proper begins, the same silhouette runs the whole length of the City Opera stage, a nifty, unobtrusive directorial touch. If only all such touches in this production were as such; there's a bit too many of them by the time (unscripted) Queen Victoria herself is onstage serving tea. And while setting this Pirates in a Victorian shadow box is terrific for bringing its satirical elements to the fore, the visual result is a bit ugly. The production also suffers from operachorusitis, the inexplicable condition that encourages singers in groups to line up on stage in iron-footed concert formation. This production springs most to giddy, silly life when its principals are front and center: especially good are Marc Kudisch, a wonderful, sexy and smooth-voiced Pirate King with delicious comic timing, Marc Jacoby, terrific as the Major General whose patter song is this production's showstopper, and Sarah Jane McMahon, a soprano previously unknown to me whose Mabel is lively, flirty and witty. She even exits with a cartwheel. I don't remember Linda Ronstadt doing that!

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