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Monday, March 18,2013

'Pirates' can still please a crowd

MSU School of Music produces a lively version of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta

by Michael McCue
Tuesday, Nov. 22 -- Not often in contemporary conversation do we hear the words “opera” and “fun” used in the same sentence. The Michigan State University School of Music production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy operetta "The Pirates of Penzance" made it possible to use those two words together this past weekend. The company kept the operetta as fun now as it was over 130 years ago.
The story is well known. A young apprentice pirate with a slavish devotion to duty completes his contract with the Pirate King, or believes he has. Frederic leaves his nursemaid and fellow pirates, and falls in love with Mabel, the daughter of a major general.
With his strong voice and affable appearance, Johnathon Riesen tackled the role of Frederic well, capturing his youthfulness and naivety.' Nurse Ruth is a 47-year old Victorian-era cougar with some very non-maternal desires for her former charge, Frederic. Although Hannah Busch’s Nurse Ruth looks closer to 17 than 47, her youth lent credibility to Nurse Ruth’s desires for Frederic. Conversely, Busch’s vocal maturity reflected Ruth’s age and experience.
Hannah Stone, who plays Frederic’s love, Mabel, showed off the power of her soprano voice while retaining the comic flavor of the piece. Most refreshing was her ability to sing the soprano part with ease without upstaging the others on stage.
Perhaps the most well-known song from "Penzance" is the oft-parodied “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.” Connor Ralph deftly worked his way through the challenging patter, much to the pleasure of the audience. Ralph’s smile at the conclusion of the song signaled both his appreciation of the applause and the joy he had singing it.
Of particular note was Adrian Sanchez’s Keystone Kop-esque interpretation of the hapless Sergeant of Police. Sanchez’s clowning never detracted from his powerful and full-bodied bass. The energy he gave the role reflected the fun he had with it.
After a sustained ovation at the curtain call, it was unclear as to who had a better time with this production: the audience or the performers.
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