Photo by Cory Weaver
Review: THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE at Lyric Opera of Kansas City
By Bec Pennington
It seems I am of the ever-increasingly unpopular opinion that certain accolades should be reserved for only the very best of the best when it comes to live performance. I don’t know, maybe I’m stingy, but I just don’t want to stand and clap for anyone who didn’t completely knock my socks off. This is why I am practically giddy to say that the cast, production crew, Kansas City Symphony and director James Alexander all deserved the standing ovation and extra bows at the conclusion of opening night for Lyric Opera’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. My god, but that was a show!
PIRATES is the perfect gateway opera for those uninitiated in the genre. It’s in English, its Shakespearean-esque plot is easy to follow, and the music is memorable though demanding. Audiences who have never seen it will delight to recognize some of the tunes anyway, and should be impressed without being put off by the vocal gymnastics required for the parts.
It’s supposed to be funny of course, but this particular production had the audience roaring from the beginning to the very end. The only break in laughter was during the stunningly executed “Hail Poetry,” which really has to be heard to be appreciated. It was one of those magical moments in live performance that cannot be substituted by any other means. The entire audience hushed, the players stood very still and facing out toward the crowd, softly blended a perfect blessing of harmonious chorus.
James Schuette’s set pieces were simple and worked into the choreography well. The stage floor, part of the backdrop, and the legs were all the same very cheerful checkered blue and yellow – a little confusing with the first scene happening on and around a moored ship, but a cohesive and simple look. The color scheme worked well to energize the scenes, the actors’ costumes popped against the scenery. There was only one thing that bothered me: in one scene a couple of the sisters were placed next to each other for the duration of a song, and I hadn’t realized until that moment that they were costumed in identical dresses. I looked for reasons on stage for why that may be, but there really didn’t seem to be any, and it was somewhat distracting.
The players must be incredibly well rehearsed to pull off the scenes with such effortless levity, but every cast member was up to the challenge. Though Gilbert & Sullivan’s opera was first produced in 1879, in this day and age the role of Pirate King could easily become a cloned Captain Jack Sparrow; Kevin Burdette was hysterically fresh and original. Robert Gibby Brand brought down the house with his Modern Major General and all that tongue twisting, while Anya Matanovic was equal to her demanding singing role and held her own with comedic timing, nicely balancing Jonathan Johnson’s earnest Frederic. My companion for the evening, who immigrated to the U.S. as an adult, was very happy to be able to follow the dialog and lyrics and didn’t feel the need for the Kauffman’s closed captioning services, even with their charmingly affected accents.
Being able to write these things is the hope of any reviewer. After such a delightful evening, perhaps the only truly disappointing thing about this production is there are only four more chances to see it.