By Gabrielle Johnson
Edmonton Opera’s presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore is, overall, a thoroughly entertaining way to spend an evening. The costuming, with full credit to Deanna Finnman, is stunning. The flapper dresses, with their bright solid colours, and the classic sailor suits all beautifully compliment the lighting design, which is well timed to the dramatic (and sometimes comical) shifts in mood. The set, which extends over the orchestra pit at the Jubilee, is expanded to make room for the massive two-tiered prow of the HMS Pinafore, complete with smokestack.
All of these visual components combine to create a harlequin spectacle that always offers something to engage the audience. The elementary students present at the preview and their clear wonder served to prove just how engaging and accessible the HMS Pinafore is to all viewers. In fact, the production would be a perfect first theatre performance for any child, and a perfect way for parents to encourage general interest in opera and musicals. The plot of the opera seemed to follow this trend, with a fun-filled romp straight out of a storybook:
The HMS Pinafore is a classic love-story of two separated by class. Josephine is the daughter of the ship’s captain (who intends for her to marry another), and Ralph is a lower-class sailor on the vessel. The tension between their classes leads to many hijinks, but is ultimately resolved to the satisfaction of all present – a true fairy tale.
Despite these accolades, there were still some kinks to be worked out in the performance. There were some minor sound issues, including a microphone cutting out and some issues with the sound levels which should hopefully be resolved by opening night. However, the movement and singing of the chorus which was, at times, sloppy, may be more difficult to nail down before this weekend’s shows. The chorus parts which would ideally be crisp and dynamic were instead lacklustre. At certain points it sounded more like mumbling than song.
The disappointing performance of the chorus was a tragedy because the musical parts, especially the call and response and counterpoint between the men and the women, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera are truly delightful.
The same seemed to occur with the choreography. Jason Hardwick did an excellent job of capturing the roaring excitement of the twenties and the lighthearted fun of the love story with his choreography. If the chorus can sharpen the movements up just a little, it will be sublime.
The major parts, on the other hand, were more skillfully handled. Though Bridget Ryan is no remarkable singer, she performed the role of Little Buttercup with the same charisma and liveliness that one would expect from the media personality. The roles of Sir Joseph (Glenn Nelson), Captain Corcoran (Geoffrey Sirett) and Dick Deadeye (Dion Mazerolle) were well cast and well performed and Adrian Kramer brought his strong and rich tenor to the role of Ralph Rackstraw.
However, it was Vanessa Oude-Reimerink, in the role of Josephine, who really shined. Her performance was clean and commanding and her voice remained steady and pure throughout (even while doing the Charleston).
Still, perhaps more than for its music, the HMS Pinafore is well loved for its playful comedy and ability to poke fun at the typical style of opera (with all its heavy-handed tropes and melodrama). The Edmonton Opera’s rendition throws this quality into relief. Their interpretation of the opera brings together skilled singers and actors with great comedic sense, to provide an experience that will provoke joy and laughter even in the most critical of opera enthusiasts. Simply put, if you like to laugh and have a good time, the HMS Pinafore is for you.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore is showing this week at the Jubilee auditorium on February 3, 6 and 9.
Photography courtesy of Nanc Price.