The Baylor Opera Theatre stages Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular 1878 operetta “H.M.S. Pinafore” Friday and Saturday at the Waco Hippodrome, but just because it’s in English doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake for its singers.
Rather, it’s a challenge of diction and style, said opera director Octavio Cardenas. W.S. Gilbert’s libretto brims with words and wordplay while Arthur Sullivan’s score mixes catchy melodies with the occasional staccato patter song to accommodate all those syllables.
The 27-singer Baylor production, appearing at the Waco Hippodrome Friday and Saturday night, is staged as a concert version, which means costuming and piano-accompanied singing with minimal sets and staging.
“It’s one of the best Gilbert and Sullivan comedies and it gives the vast majority of our singers a chance to be working with music and dialogue,” Cardenas explained.
The comedy lies not only in Gilbert’s witty lyrics, but its satire of 19th century British class distinctions and England’s navy. Captain Corcoran (Scott Clark), commander of the ship H.M.S. Pinafore frowns on the romance between his daughter Josephine (Casey Daniel) and common seaman Ralph Rackstraw (Zachary Barba, Friday, and Joshua Lee, Saturday).
A better match, in terms of social class, is between his daughter and Sir Joseph Porter (Brendan Boyle), the First Lord of the Admiralty, who, it turns out, knows precious little about naval command. Another seaman, Dick Deadeye (Andrew Eaton), complicates the course of true love as a cynical realist to talk of romance and “love levelling all ranks.”
Corcoran, too, struggles with class-spanning affection for the dockside saleswoman Little Buttercup (Julia Powers), who, it turns out, holds a secret whose revelation, in the way of most Gilbert and Sullivan plotlines, overturns all previous assumptions — and class divides — to allow a happy ending.
More than a century after its premiere, “Pinafore” remains one of the most popular works by the English music theater duo. Such songs as “When I Was A Lad,” “I Am The Monarch of the Sea,” “For He Is An Englishman” and “Sorry her Lot Who Loves Too Well” are part of the standard G&S repertory.
Like last year’s concert staging of “Man of La Mancha” at the Hippodrome, the family-friendly “H.M.S. Pinafore” continues Baylor Opera Theater’s efforts at community outreach, said Cardenas. The theater will open an hour before showtime to allow audience members time to order and eat dinner, he said.