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Where Reviews: Vancouver Opera’s The Pirates of Penzance

By Louise Phillips

Roger Honeywell as Frederic (left) confronts Aaron St. Clair Nicholson (right) as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance. Photo by Tim Matheson

Christmas is a time of forgiveness and opera purists will just have to embrace an operetta on their December playbill. No-one confuses The Pirates of Penzance with grand opera, despite the casting of Vancouver mezzo diva Judith Forst as the nursemaid Ruth. This production is a mixed bag of vocal styles, but the theme is pure fun.

With his Bard on the Beach season wrapped, Christopher Gaze directs the rollicking Gilbert and Sullivan romp for Vancouver Opera. The staging is sometimes straight out of Loony Tunes, thanks to Gaze’s trademark love of physical comedy. Jonathan Darling wields his conductor’s baton as if he’s been shot from the buccaneers’ cartoon cannon. At under 2.5 hours, this pretty production packs a manic punch with a large cast of dopey pirates and dizzy dames on the move most of the time.

Ironically, the only person who gets to stand-and-deliver is the non-singer: Gaze himself, who also plays the Major-General for all the laughs he can extract from his character’s doddery forgetfulness. His famous patter song, “I am the very model of a modern Major-General,” is a tour-de-force of memory, timing and articulation.

As for the true singers, they are all easy on the ear, especially tenor Roger Honeywell as the romantic Frederic and rich-toned soprano Rachel Fenlon, lending Mabel welcome comic flair. Fine work too from baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson as a Johnny Depp wannabe Pirate King, and bass Giles Tomkins as a Mr. Plod−style Policeman. The chorus gets deserving deployment front and centre as the soppy piratical crew and the numerous husband-hunting maidens.

Remaining performances at Queen Elizabeth Theatre Dec. 6, 8, 9. Tickets 604-683-0222.

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