Green and blue light pools on the velvet curtain. It soon lifts, revealing a boat, the sea and the sky. In the pit below, the orchestra begins to begin to set the scene. Then sailors march on stage, putting words to the melody; with all these elements in motion, the story begins…
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the premiere show of HMS Pinafore by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. As a newcomer to the opera scene, I was struck by the way in which a sense of the heightened, a sense of sheer dexterity but also effortless synergy seemed to underpin the performances on stage, behind the scenes and in the orchestra pit. Right from the opening, it was the coming together of these various elements and efforts that really pulled the audience in and invited me to wade into the world of HMS Pinafore.
Co-produced by Louise Stevenson and Louise Anderbjork, this production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera synergised the design, acting and musical elements in such a way that the storytelling felt holistic and truly multi-sensory. In the absence of actors, I would still be able to get a sense of the mood and the tone of different moments from the instrumentals. This opera’s tale is one of love and status, and how these two concepts can shape our outlook on society as well as our ideas of self. The tension between the two was the conundrum that troubled the star-crossed couple Maeve Mackstraw (Catriona Kadirkamanathan) and Josephine (Amy Dunn), which Kadirkamanathan hauntingly lamented in her first solo ‘The Nightingale Sighed’.
From the humorous exchanges between Dylan Swain’s Captain Corcoran and Georgie Duncan’s Buttercup, to the impressive swell of the full company and orchestra’s harmonies, Co-Music Directors Alasdair Richmond and Kylie Lam did a great job at conducting the musical numbers. For each of the principal actors, their solos brought out the best in their voices, impressing the audience with the richness, depth and heights they could achieve. One of my favourite scenes was the opening of the second act: as the curtains withdrew to reveal a moonlit backdrop with dozens of twinkling lights, the audience audibly gasped at beautiful simplicity of the set design. Dunn’s solo a few scenes later reached stellar heights, with the expressionistic red and blue spotlights on either side of her symbolising a nice symbolic touch by the lighting crew (led by Technical Director Robert Moran) and Artistic Director Peter Black. Costumier Julia Lisco’s choice of pieces also emphasised the contrast between the uniformity of the sailors and the opulence of the ladies and men of higher rank, again highlighting the impasse between the classes. Lisco also made colourful statements, with details such as the glittering brocade on the sleeves of Rt. Honourable Sir Joseph KCB (played by James Forshaw) or the plain, shimmering white of Josephine’s gown connoting either the pompous or understated natures of their characters.
There are moments of intrigue, suspense and shock; you root for the ensemble as they steal across the deck to the secret wedding, and hope that the attempts to thwart it by Dick Deadeye (Alex Dingley) do not succeed. Overall, HMS Pinafore is an opera with a timeless message about the folly of trying to box people into convenient roles: it shows, rather, how arbitrary things like social status are, and (by contrast) how and invaluable love and good character can be. With such a precedence set, I am certainly looking forward to G&S’ production of Princess Ida next semester, and a return to the topsy-turvy, wonderful world of Gilbert and Sullivan.