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Brian Anderson as Frederic, Curt Olds as Pirate King and Korby Myrick as Ruth [Photo by Tim Fuller / Arizona Opera]
24 Oct 2010

Gilbert and Sullivan opens Arizona Opera

On 16 October 2010 in Tucson, Arizona Opera opened it’s 2010-2011 season with an operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan.

Gilbert and Sullivan: The Pirates of Penzance

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 Sjöwall; Kate: Stephanie Foley. Conductor: Joel Revzen. Director: David Ira Goldstein.

Above: Brian Anderson as Frederic, Curt Olds as Pirate King and Korby Myrick as Ruth [Photo by Tim Fuller / 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 Penzance 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 Sjöwall, 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 Sjöwall 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

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