Settle in for a two and a half hour (including intermission) ride on the high seas. The Vancouver Opera and its Orchestra bring The Pirates of Penzance to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for four more performances through December 9. First performed at New York City’s Fifth Avenue Theatre in 1879, this is one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s best loved productions.

The absurd satire opens with a set containing ship sails, sea cliffs, and a treasure chest amid a blue sky. Text is shown on a screen above the stage to help decipher the songs and in many cases to hear the performers. As we’ve entered cold season, our performance included a lot of coughing Vancouverites.

Charismatic Pirate King (Aaron St. Clair Nicholson) does a fine job in leading the Pirates of Penzance through their paces. He has a beautiful voice that I fondly recall in last year’s Roméo et Juliette (in the role of Roméo’s close friend, Mercutio).

When the young maidens first appear on stage in act one, their off-white dresses perfectly complement the rocks in the foreground. Kudos to lighting designer Harry Frehner for lighting up the stage, especially in act two with dramatic night scenery complete with twinkling stars.

Judith Forst, Roger Honeywell
[Judith Forst, Roger Honeywell]

Mabel’s (Rachel Fenlon) gorgeous voice is introduced to the audience when the young maidens (aka General Stanley’s daughters) have met Frederic (Roger Honeywell) in a somewhat awkward moment. He’s in a less-than-fashionable outfit; they’ve started to comfortably undress a little thinking that they’re all alone. Frederic’s old friend and Pirate Maid Ruth (Judith Forst, an internationally recognized Vancouver-based superstar talent) can’t possibly compete with the young beauties for the role of Frederic’s future wife and is rejected by the handsome pirate apprentice. Due to Judith’s poor hearing, dashing Frederic is indentured to be a pirate rather than a pilot.

Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, Christopher Gaze
[Aaron St. Clair Nicholson, Christopher Gaze]

The story is very light and easy to follow, turning very animated when Director Christopher Gaze (Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival’s director) takes the stage and performs the Major-General’s Song. Compare this tongue-twister to Mary Poppin’s “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious“. It’s one of the musical’s highlights. An additional verse (used courtesy of Dr. Richard Loomer) forms part of the Vancouver Opera’s tradition of breathing new life into musical favourites by adding a passage here or there. As The Major-General, Gaze pulls this one off with ease.

Ruth, The Pirate King, and Frederic harmonize very well together during one particular number in act two, “When You Had Left Our Pirate Fold“. By this time, the tables have turned and Frederic’s impending marriage to Mabel gets put on hold. The whole story comes to a happy end: after all, when both sides are batting on the Queen’s team, it’s all good indeed.

The Vancouver Opera Chorus rounds out the production playing pirates, police, and General Stanley’s daughters, all costumed in Richard St. Clair’s original designs, adapted by Deanna Finnman.

Sylvia Szadovszki, Aaron St Clair Nicholson, Cassandra Warner
[Sylvia Szadovszki, Aaron St Clair Nicholson, Cassandra Warner]

The swashbuckling performance continues Tuesday, December 4; Thursday, December 6; Saturday, December 8, and Sunday, December 9 (matinée).

Photos by Tim Matheson.

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