ankle ugg boots HMS Pinafore falls short in lacklustre affair
It was symptomatic of the muddle that is Edmonton Opera new production of Gilbert and Sullivan HMS Pinafore that the tenor Adrian Kramer as Ralph Rackstraw, responding to he is an Englishman, used a real British naval salute, while every other sailor gave the British army version.
Why they were using military salutes at all was unclear. For, following a long tradition of re envisaging the 1878 comic opera (including one placing it on a 1944 troop ship with swing music), director Robert Herriot and conductor Peter Dala decided to set the production, which opened at the Jubilee on Saturday, in the Roaring 1920s, on a civilian Cunard liner.
This concept had the potential for brilliance. The Cunarders, as they were called, were the luxury transatlantic ships of the day, the height of fashion and famous for their opulence. Through most of the 1920s, Cunard flagship the RMS Mauretania held the Blue Riband for the fastest westbound crossing (the RMS designated a civilian ship, standing for Royal Mail Ship).
Stage designer Camellia Koo responded with a vivid and attractive set, showing a funnel, the bridge, and the prow of one of these great liners, stretching out over the orchestra pit for the orchestra is the ship band, on deck, to play for the passengers and crew.
To further the transformation, Edmonton Opera had commissioned New York composer Ed Windels to create new arrangements of the music for a jazz band or orchestra. However, to muddy these waters, only some of the music associated with the younger characters in the cast was jazzed up. Sometimes Sullivan own orchestration associated with the older fogeys morphed mid song into jazz.
The genius of Gilbert and Sullivan creation is that it combines an entertaining comic love story with digs at operatic styles and very sharp satire specifically class prejudice and the gap between the very rich and the rest of us, the unthinking promotion of patriotism, and old men in positions of power harassing younger women.
The cast of Edmonton Opera’s HMS Pinafore performs on stage at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton.
Sound familiar? Here we have three of today major concerns, right down to MeToo prime material to reflect the themes of our own times in the opera satire.
The first confusion was that, instead of carrying the idea through, this production keeps the name of the ship a naval name and all the naval references in the text. This was in spite of much of that text being changed (easily noticeable from the surtitles when Gilbert is being used, the quality is palpably higher). Sir Joseph Porter is still the First Lord of the Admiralty.
None of this made sense, and simply negated the whole point of setting it on a civilian liner. How really easy it would have been to retitle the opera RMS Pinafore, rework the strictly naval references, and, for example, simply change Sir Joseph Porter to the chairman of the Cunard board.
The switch backwards and forwards from the original scoring to jazz was equally disappointing, in part because Windels arrangements were almost completely without flair or musical interest. The exception was the mournful saxophone that intruded into a couple of Buttercup numbers (she was engagingly played by Bridget Ryan), but this was a Film Noir effect.
There are so many 1920s jazz classical crossovers from whom Windels could have picked up cues, from German composers such as Hindemith, Weill, and K to those working in Paris such as Martinu and Milhaud just as Sullivan himself picked up cues from Italian opera.
Some of the cast struggled, too, with the switch Vanessa Oude Reimerink as Josephine, for example, was fine singing the Sullivan, but had problems finding any sort of jazz voice for the Windels sections.
Sir Joseph’s sisters, cousins and aunts in a scene from Edmonton Opera’s HMS Pinafore at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton. The show opened Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018.
As ineffective was the movement. The general staging was fussy, inconsistent, and with constant charging around and waving of hands. Jason Hardwick choreography seemed half implemented (there was only one convincing 1920s dancer in the chorus), and the visual opportunities to pick up on the disciplined patterned dancing styles of early American Broadway musicals were ignored.
Even Koo striking set showed its limitations here, placing almost all the action in one area, centre stage left and the incongruous moving staircases added little to the mise en sc disappointing of all, there was no attempt whatsoever to utilize the satirical possibilities. The opera was played as out and out farce in a British music hall style indeed, Sir Joseph Porter was played by Glenn Nelson in British style, losing some of the timing and punch of his one liners, and nullifying any potential MeToo resonances.
It was very difficult to see what the point of this production was. If it was simply entertainment, then that entertainment was pretty lacklustre. If it was to make one rethink the work, then the failure to carry any of that rethinking right through nullified that. If it was to update the satire well, there was no satire or social commentary here.
I have greatly admired the productions Herriot has done and doubtless will continue to do for Edmonton Opera. They have been imaginative, entertaining, and thought provoking. This had the potential to be all three, and one wondered whether the conception was simply too big to pull off in relatively short rehearsal times.
Starring: Adrian Kramer, Glenn Nelson, Bridget Ryan, and Vanessa Oude ReimerinkNext performances: Tuesday, Feb.