Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

SULLIVAN: The Pirates of Penzance

spacer Galván, Gariaeff; Vann, Brady, Ewing, Stafford; Lamplighters Music Theatre Orchestra and Chorus, Peeples. Lamplighters 888295227223 (2)

PiratesCD

At the news of yet another Pirates recording — even this one by San Francisco’s beloved Lamplighters — the surly Savoyard is sure to stir from his nap long enough to growl, “Are you kidding?” After all, we already have a number of excellent performances of this 145-year-old audience favorite available on disc, ranging from the 1968 D’Oyly Carte all-star version led by the incomparable Isidore Godfrey, with complete dialogue (reissued in 2003), and the equally superlative 1993 release, featuring Charles Mackerras and the Welsh National Opera (tragically minus overture and dialogue), to the 1981 Broadway cast recording of the wildly successful New York Shakespeare Festival Pirates that garnered seven Tony Award nominations after its transfer to Broadway. Bottom line: there’s already a whole lotta Pirates out there.

Lamplighters has elected to release this 2014 live Pirates recording just two years after the release of equally beloved Ohio Light Opera’s live recording of Pirates. Both groups feature performers largely in the salad days of their careers who receive little or no compensation for their efforts. Both groups specialize in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, or works of similar weight. Both groups tend to make live recordings every year or so. Let us hope that future release dates of their respective products will be set to avoid such cheek-to-jowl competition for the hard-earned Savoyard sou.

The good news is that despite potential drag from Pirates overexposure, Lamplighters’s offeringis delightful, sweetly sung and brimming with youthful energy. Performers have put in their time mastering their parts; as a result, Gilbert’s clever dialogue crackles and zips along through this largely traditional interpretation. Diction and timing of both male and female choruses are superb, especially in Act II’s double chorus “When the foeman bares his steel.” The Ladies similarly shine in their sparkling Act I entrance, “Climbing over rocky mountain.” And music director Baker Peeples is there with a sympathetic yet controlling baton, keeping the action moving. 

The Lamplighter Pirates principals give solid performances, in some instances rivaling the efforts of more seasoned players: Ben Brady’s Pirate King, for example, has the vocal gravitas necessary for the part, but he does not display the roguish wit that Kevin Kline brought to his nontraditional interpretation of the role on Broadway or the dark, commanding presence of Donald Adams, monarch for both D’Oyly Carte and Welsh National Opera. Given a little more time to develop, Brady may well prove outstanding. John Reed’s Major General Stanley in DOC’s 1968 Pirates is simply peerless — no fault of Lamplighters’s serviceable F. Lawrence Ewing. Robert Vann’s appropriately youthful Frederick at times approaches vocal over-delivery; but his glorious B-flat in “Oh is there not one maiden breast” is a true showstopper from a singer who easily packs the vocal goods for the part. And who could blame Elena Galván (Mabel) for sounding more than a little relieved at simply getting through the vocal minefield of Mabel Stanley’s entrance aria, “Poor wandering one,” a Donizetti parody (and coloratura killer)? Once over that hump, she’s fine, if not yet the equal of WNO’s Rebecca Evans.

Lamplighters’s Chris Uzelac serves up an atypical, lyrical Samuel, though I confess to preferring the zany Samuel of Broadway’s Stephen Hanan. Broadway’s Ruth, Estelle Parsons, simply eclipses Lamplighters’s “piratical maid of all work” in virtually all categories of comparison, despite Sonia Gariaeff’s nicely polished effort. Similarly, Lamplighter Robby Stafford makes a decent Sergeant of Police, but he’s no Tony Azito, whose Keystone Kops-style Sergeant burned down the Great White Way.

One final aural quibble: the challenges of capturing a live performance, alas, proved overwhelming here, yielding a recording veiled with unfortunate sonic sludge. Buy it anyway. spacer 

TODD B. SOLLIS

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