The Student Opera Theatre presented a semi-staged production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” with the help of OperaSLO April 7 and 8.
Actors sang and moved about the bare stage in Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre while dressed in Victorian-age pirate attire. Behind the actors sat the ensemble chorus, making the performance partially staged, a term used to describe productions with limited props and set materials.
The show’s story centers around a young pirate, Frederic (Chris Wall), who has the misfortune of accidentally joining a band of thieves after a mistake made by his nurse maid. Luckily for Frederic, the pirates in question are not very good at their jobs and don’t harm anyone. After 21 years, Frederic left the pirates and fell in love with one of Major-General Stanley’s daughters (aerospace engineering senior Zachary Davis and music senior Corey Hable, respectively). Frederic is also on a mission to defeat the band of pirates he was part of in order to relieve himself of the guilt he feels for being associated with a distrusted and disliked group. However, things do not go as planned.
Sung in English — as opposed to traditional opera sang in Latin, French or Italian, “Pirates of Penzance” — served as a social commentary on the political systems in the late 1800s. By its farcical nature, much of the operetta relied on comedic timing, which the students delivered, much to the audience’s delight.
The opera was a learning experience for students, so the show was double-casted with some roles played by a different actor each night of the show’s two-night run.
Music senior Chris Wall played the admirable and adorable Frederic both nights of the show. His portrayal of Frederic was as strong as the character’s sense of duty in the opera.
Wall’s voice control and power made each song he performed more moving than the last. His inner conflict was sung with the same sincerity as a soliloquy in a play. Hitting all the right notes, Wall was among the strongest performers of the show.
Music senior Samantha Foulk played Frederic’s love interest, Mabel, on the first night of performances. Foulk’s range, which entered into the atmospheric high notes of sopranos, was displayed with the mastery needed for professional opera.
Students and professionals from OperaSLO provided additional vocals throughout, giving students the opportunity to learn from industry professionals in a collaborative way.
Though the opera focused heavily on the music, “Pirates of Penzance” delivered strong acting elements that added to the success of the overall performance. At times, the over-the-top reactions of the cast worked in their favor, adding to the comedic effect of the show. Like the accents used in spoken or sung lines throughout the show, each actor created a unique rendition of their character.
The show, which was chosen by founder and producer of Cal Poly Student Opera Theatre Jacalyn Kreitzer, was picked to honor choral director and professor Thomas Davies before he retires at the end of the year.