The Pirates of Penzance
If you don’t know what a Savoyard is, then you aren’t a fan of the comic operas of Sir W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. The operas are over 100 years old, and they don’t speak to everybody today. But I am a Sayoyard, big time. I have seen them all, and though the last ones were not prize-winners, most of them are. And the best of the lot are The Mikado, H.M.S Pinafore, and this one. The stories are ridiculous, on purpose, and poke fun at high culture and stuffed shirts, among many other things.
I have seen the movie that was made of this, and was delighted to see the original production, which took place at the open-air Delacorte Theater in New York’s Central Park, produced by Joseph Papp. It starred Kevin Kline as the pirate king, George Rose as the Major-General, Rex Smith as Frederick, the apprentice pirate, and Linda Ronstadt as Mabel, the soprano. It is a glorious production. Wilford Leach, the director, managed to update the play in various ways that did not interfere at all with the spirit of the thing. There were some different instruments in the pit, including a couple electronic keyboards, and two numbers were imported from Ruddigore and Pinafore, and they fit right in. All of the actor/singers were pitch perfect, and Rose did the best performance of “I am Very Model of a Modern Major-General,” probably the best-known of the G&S “patter” songs, that I’ve ever seen. Ronstadt was the draw here, and if you think her pop-star chops are not appropriate for comic opera, think again. She is wonderful. But Kevin Kline steals the show. He is fantastic.