Palm Beach Opera closed its 2017 season with The Pirates of Penzance. The production takes a traditional approach, with a few hints of Mike Leigh’s direction for English National Opera and Joseph Papp’s Broadway version. Palm Beach’s staging is a shining example of vitality and interconnectedness; it originated at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and with other collaborators.
Alan Paul’s direction relies on the inherent humor of Gilbert & Sullivan’s plot and dialogue, which the excellent and well-traveled cast executed faithfully, and makes effective use of Stephanie Blythe’s commanding voice and comic timing to add a few outbursts and visual gags to her superb singing. Other standouts were Michael Todd Simpson, who looked, acted and sang the Pirate King to perfection, and Sarah Joy Miller, who dashed off Mabel’s coloratura with ease. Mark Schnaible was an amusing Sergeant of Police, Andrew Stenson’s Frederic appropriately naive, and Tobias Greenhalgh gave Samuel much personality. Also effective were Danielle MacMillan, Tara Curtis and Kasia Borowiec as Mable’s sisters. But Hugh Russell missed many opportunities to win laughs; the rapidity of his patter as he proclaimed himself “The Very Model of a Modern Major-General” ought to have been left for his encore.
David Stern led a rousing account of Sullivan’s score, his tempos well-judged generally – but too quick as the Pirates take their “first-rate opportunity” to seize the General’s daughters. The Chorus was terrific, particularly when the men and women simultaneously sing separate words and music. Those passages were perhaps the only ones in which supertitles were necessary, as the company was exemplary in making dialogue and lyrics clearly audible. Although, as always with PBO, the orchestra and singers were unamplified, it was impossible to tell whether the spoken discourse was electronically aided; if it was the unnamed sound designer deserves the highest praise.