Sunday, March 04, 2007

How to Mess Up Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta

"The Pirates of Penzance" presented by the New York City Opera at the New York State Theatre, Lincoln Center

Of all the G and S productions, I always thought this one was as close to bullet-proof as any of them. NYC Opera has cast a number of well-established stage performers to round out some of the "lighter" presentations in their season. In this production are the very talented Marc Kudisch (Apple Tree, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Assassins, Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Mark Jacoby (Sweeney Todd, Ragtime, Man of La Mancha), but even their depth of skill can't raise this floundering mess.

Mr. Kudisch, singing the Pirate King, appears left to his own devices which works on when the action is between him and one or two other characters. Once the chorus sweeps in, he's lost in the crowd. Fortunately, his was one of the better voices in this performance. Mr. Jacoby, as Major General Stanley, also does well with the snippets of dialogue, but struggles a bit in his songs. To his defense, however, I think it's the responsibility of Conductor Gerald Steichen for so many weak and shaky musical moments.

I'm now a little more sympathetic to NYCO's complaints of poor acoustics in the NY State Theatre. Even with amplification, the orchestra, sitting in an open pit, sounded like they were playing in a room next door. Inconsistent miking helped none of the singers, either.

As Mabel, Sarah Jane McMahon is about the only one who manages to rise above the squalor. She allows Mabel to float through her music, resulting in a lovely and delicate performance.

As Ruth, Myrna Paris doesn't fare so well. She seems to be playing her own version of opera buffa, with only occasional appearances from correct pitch and tempi.

Matt Morgan's Frederic, callow, but not quite innocent also suffers from lack of directorial guidance. In his first meeting with Mabel, this shy and demure lad is suddenly a leering ape, all hands and sidelong glances.

Kevin Burdette, making his NYC Opera debut in the role of the Police Sergeant, does seem to fare rather well, borrowing heavily from Tony Azito's camped-up performance from Joseph Papp's 1981 production - all rubber legs and faces.

Director Lillian Groag appears to have spent much too much time staging a lot of fussy business with costumed stagehands moving about superfluous props and set pieces, and not enough time providing a vision and flow for her singers. Her bio is impressive. I can only wonder where she was for this show.

I had been really excited about NYCO's announcement of "Ragtime" for next season. Having seen what they did with "Pirates..." I'm not so excited anymore.

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