An Exciting “Pirates of Penzance” is Performed in Australia
After watching the mutilated “Gondoliers” as performed by Opera Australia, in which neither Gilbert’s lyrics nor dialogue was spared updating by those concerned, I was most reluctant to watch their 2007 “The Pirates of Penzance” on the Kultur label. So I played it safe and ordered it through Netflix…and I loved every moment of it! Now I have my own copy and will use it to play for friends and in my lectures.
For starters, it does not change any of the lyrics or dialogue, except for a few harmless ad libs. Although it is heavily influenced by the Joseph Papp rock version, the orchestration here is Sullivan’s. Costuming the Pirate King (Anthony Warlow) to closely resemble Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean” is a joke that wears out quickly butalso does no harm. But he does adopt a body language that is often curiously effeminate, perhaps not intentionally.
John Bolton Wood’s Major-General Stanley first appears in kilts and gives his patter entrance song at a fast clip. Only at the very end of the opera does he appear in his proper uniform. David Hobson’s Frederic looks a little older than a 21 year old (or 5.25, if we go by birthdays!), but sings well and has a good sense of humor. His Mabel (Taryn Fiebig) gets a good deal of comedy into her “Poor wand’ring one” without making it silly.
I was delighted to see that the Police are costumed in accurate uniforms without any clownish additions and no rubber-leg dancing. Also Richard Alexander’s basso is just right for the Police Sergeant. Suzanne Johnston makes a sympathetic Ruth in Act I, looking really older than 47. But in Act II, in a pirate costume and lipstick, she looks sexy and 100% piratical.
The scenery is minimal, with such items as the pirate vessel, trees, and tombstones being wheeled on by the cast. It all works beautifully, at one point to the accompaniment of an orchestral vamp.
A short introduction is given instead of the overture. But the full finale, which Gilbert wrote for the New York opening, using a reprise of the Major-General song followed by “Poor wand’ring one,” makes a great ending. So kudos to stage director Stuart Maunder and conductor Andrew Greene for the best “Pirates” on video yet.
The running time is 112 minutes, the picture is widescreen format, but alas no subtitles.