Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 15, 2021

REVIEW: Valley Light Opera, The Pirates of Penzance

Valley Light Opera, Northampton, MA
through November 14, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

"Penzance" Bobbies in Rehearsal
Returning to live performance after a two-year Covid hiatus with Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” must have been an easy call for Valley Light Opera: G&S are a house specialty here (all 14 of the duo’s comic operas – and even more of their music - are in VLO’s repertoire); this is their 7th production of “Pirates” since 1979; and “Pirates” audiences always leave the theater feeling happy. The November 14th performance was a full house.

Subtitled “The Slave of Duty,” this 1879 creation tells the convoluted story of how 21-year-old Frederic escapes his apprenticeship to a band of soft-hearted pirates and surmounts a “most ingenious paradox” involving the date of his birthday to find true love with Mabel, daughter of a major-general who wants to bring the pirates to justice. As Ruth, the pirates’ “maid-of-all-work” responsible for Frederic’s apprenticeship, Kathy Blaisdell was a hoot. Travis Benoit and Rory Mason as the lovers brought sumptuous singing voices and stylized acting skills to their roles.

The most impressive vocalist was Thom Griffin, whose brilliantly pompous Major-General Stanley negotiated the challenging patter of his big number, “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,” with flawless diction and dotty good cheer. Matt Roehrig was a close second, investing the pirate king with equal measures of swagger and compassion. But the strongest vocal highlight may have been the incongruously touching “Hail poetry” chorus, sung thrillingly by the entire 34-member ensemble near the end of Act I.

The comic high point was the hilarious Act II “Tarantara” chorus by the hapless troop of English “Bobbies” organized (but reluctant) to capture the pirates, enhanced by the clever choreography of Graham Christian. Reminiscent of the Keystone Cops, the men in full garb topped off their shenanigans from tapping toes to tall metal hats hilariously. Vibrant musical direction by Aldo Fabrizi drew spirited playing from the orchestra in the pit and kept them in clear balance with the company on stage in the warm acoustics of Northampton’s Academy of Music.

Straightforward stage direction by Steve Morgan, simple but imaginative set design by Chris Riddle, and appropriate period costume design by Laura Green further distinguished this crowd-pleasing triumph for VLO, whose next offering will be Mozart’s “Requiem” in April, 2022.