Opera Santa Barbara has concocted a delicious family treat to brighten the darkening days of November, a special one-hour production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s madcap operetta The Pirates of Penzance, at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the Lobero Theatre.
Pirates stars Paul Sahuc as the Pirate King, Ani Maldijian as Mabel, Matthew Edwardsen as Frederick, J. R. Calvert as the Major General and Victoria Hart as Ruth. Robert Ashens will conduct and direct the musical numbers; Miller James will direct the stage action. The sets come from the Eugene Opera in Oregon, the costumes from the Theatre Company of Upland. Leigh Allen designed the lighting.
The “operas” of Gilbert and Sullivan provide overwhelming support for the hypothesis that the road to timelessness and universal appeal is through the time-rooted and the specific detail. Patience has delighted millions who never knew that the work is a satire of Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement in 1880s England.
Similarly, almost no one laughing and humming along with Pirates has any idea — nor, needs to have — that the character of Major-General Stanley, who sings one of the most memorable songs in the show, is based pretty closely on that of one of the most famous and decorated British soldiers of the 19th century, Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley KP GCB OM GCMG VD PC (1833-1913), whose very name became a synonym for efficiency (“I am the very model of a modern major-general / I’ve information vegetable, animal and mineral / I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical / from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical”).
Gilbert packed his works with veiled and not-so-veiled references to events and personages of his own time, and it is those clever details of current people and events that give the shows their edge and keep them alive. He was a genius of a lyricist, as Arthur Sullivan was a great composer, whose Irish Symphony in E Minor knocked George Bernard Shaw right out in the days when he was writing music criticism.
I won’t bother you with a rehash of the absurdities of the plot; better you should find and savor them one at a time yourself. It mainly concerns an innocent young man whose apprenticeship is to end on his 21st birthday — which means, since he was born on Feb. 29, that he has 63 years to go. His girlfriend promises to wait for him.
The Pirates of Penzance is free for children age 12 or younger and $18 for adults. To order tickets, call the Lobero box office at 805.963.0761.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.