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Ballenger, Maughan, Devlin; Faulk, Gordon, Christopher, Bershatsky, Hanlon; Ohio Light Opera, Thompson. Albany Records (Troy) 1459-60 (2)
The original H.M.S. Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on May 25, 1878, and ran for an astonishing 571 performances, its first run eventually surpassed in the canon only by Patience (1881) and The Mikado (1885). Gilbert and Sullivan had collaborated on three previous occasions — Thespis, Trial by Jury and The Sorcerer — but it was Pinafore's infectious combination of highly quotable lyrics ("What, never?" "Well, hardly ever!"), charming and hummable melodies ("I'm called Little Buttercup") and a gentle mockery of class distinctions that really put G&S on the English operatic map. Pinafore also boasts the recognizable characters and situations that populate future collaborations — the menacing contralto with a heart, young lovers with commitment issues, the patter baritone, the deus ex machina conclusion.
But Pinafore, despite its silly, babies-switched-at-birth topsy-turviness, is an earnest show, and this latest offering from Ohio Light Opera conveys, very well, both aspects of the piece. Characters may have ulterior motives, but they are pretty obvious, and the absurdity of Captain Corcoran's daughter Josephine loving a simple sailor her father's age seems believable. Even the hated, blunt-spoken Dick Deadeye (played here by the appropriately growly Edward Hanlon) is seen by many as the true voice of reason, who accurately forecasts the stay-true-to-your-rank untangling at the end. Love, indeed, levels most ranks.
The performances are terrific, across the board. Tenor Stephen Faulk is a warm, youthful and impassioned Ralph Rackstraw. (Nitpickers will gleefully note that, in a photo caption in the enclosed libretto, he is identified as Frederick!) Natalie Ballenger makes a self-assured Josephine, with a fluid, soaring soprano voice. Both young singers suffer minutely at the tiptop of their ranges, but Faulk has developed all the markings of an enduring leading man, and Ballenger's appeal, a combination of vocal excellence and sly humor, is evident.
Sir Joseph Porter becomes overly menacing in Act II, but, refreshingly, Ted Christopher really sings the role, with little of the annoying fussiness sometimes associated with the character. Alexa Devlin brings to Buttercup a lovely, mellow sound, mature and mysterious. Captain Corcoran, the fine baritone Stefan Gordon, is very much in command, with a slightly rough timbre that perhaps foreshadows his change in circumstances at the end of Act II. In smaller roles — Boatswain, Cousin Hebe and Mate — Ezra Bershatsky, Olivia Maughan and Nathan Brian round out the effective principal cast. Conductor J. Lynn Thompson sets a sprightly pace, with the always excellent OLO chorus and orchestra in his pocket. The Act I finale, "Let's give three cheers for the sailor's bride," is gorgeous.
H.M.S. Pinafore recordings abound, with wide variety in completeness and quality, but you will never find a clearer, more fundamentally honest recording than this Ohio Light Opera CD set. Well … hardly ever.
CAROL E. DAVIS
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