H.M.S. Pinafore by Sir Arthur Sullivan, libretto W.S. Gilbert, libretto adaptation JD Derbyshire

When & Where April 30 - May 8, Saturdays, Tuesday & Thursday at7:30pm & Sunday, May 8 at 2pm | Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Conductor Rosemary Thomson Director Brenna Corner Assistant Director and Choreographer Amanda Testini Libretto adaptation JD Derbyshire Associate Conductor & Chorus Director Leslie Dala Lighting Design Chris Malkowski Stage Manager Theresa Tsang

Buttercup Megan Latham Boatswain Luka Kawabata Bob Becket Jason Cook Captain Corcoran Jorell Williams Dick Deadeye Marcus Nance, Hebe Hillary Tufford, Josephine Caitlin Wood Sir Joseph Porter Peter McGillivray Ralph Rackstraw Ernesto Ramirez and the Vancouver Opera Chorus and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Vancouver Opera closed the season with HMS Pinafore, or the Lass that Loved a Sailor. One of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operas, Pinafore mocks Victorian memes - forbidden love and secret pining, class distinction and proper behaviour – and piles on Gilbertian ridicule of political incompetence and Sullivan’s musical parodies.

The opera plays out entirely on the picture book (courtesy Eugene Opera) quarter deck of HMS Pinafore. Josephine, the Captain's daughter confesses to her horrified father that she is secretly in love with a common sailor, Ralph Rackstraw, but she agrees not to let it go further. Captain Corcoran in turn announces to her that he has arranged her marriage to Sir Joseph Porter, the first Lord of the Admiralty. Josephine is horrified. Meanwhile, only his mess-mates know that Ralph pines for Josephine, until he decides to commit suicide, at which point she rushes to tell him the truth. They plot to run away together in dead of night, but they are discovered, Ralph is imprisoned and the Captain is under dire threat from Sir Joseph. A happy ending can only be achieved topsy-turvily.

Director Brenna Corner has chosen to update, or modernise, the original, which is fine and follows in many footsteps. Feminism is front and centre, though not aggressively so, and some language updated or explained. Bullying gets a reference, Justin Trudeau’s flowing locks and jazzy socks get an honourable mention and the great Victorian swear-word (D#*n) is amusingly high-lighted. The barge on the beach and atmospheric rivers provide local laughs. Hebe (Hillary Tufford) gets a terrific make-over from obnoxious older cousin to proto-modern woman. That said, some of the explanatory framework lacks Gilbert’s wit. And it seems an odd choice by adapting librettist, JD Derbyshire, to turn Dick Deadeye, originally the cynical realist amongst the characters, into children’s author.

Marcus Nance (Dick Deadeye) was nevertheless in fine voice and played his assigned part with keen fervour. Hillary Tufford (Cousin Hebe) clearly relished the role of independent female.

Caitlin Wood (Josephine) has a bright, flexible soprano voice, as lyrical in Sullivan's operatic arias as she is charming in the extra material written for her. Ernest Ramirez, her lower-deck swain overcome with emotion, slipped from passionate, but incomprehensible, Spanish to gorgeously long, lush romantic lines. Jorell Williams showed gentle comic flair as the beset Captain Corcoran, and a lovely lyric tone in "Oh moon to thee I sing." Comic sensibility married to musical understanding plus a sound stage presence in the capable person of Megan Latham made it a pleasure see extra stage time for Buttercup. It must be said though that, excellent as all these singers were, Peter McGillivray stole the show as the self-regarding, incompetent First Lord of the Admiralty, the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter. With impeccable timing, surprisingly delicate movement, and an accent to die for, McGillivray's over-the-top performance swept the decks.

All the cast engage well with each other, the chorus of hearty sailors and chattering female relations had lots of fun while maintaining vocal clarity, even behind masks, and the very Victorian costumes by Alaia Hamer addressed the original setting.

Despite the excellence of the cast and clean playing from the orchestra, the overall performance could have been more sprightly.Undoubtedly tension, especially at the dramatic `plot points’, and musical freshness will come in future performances.

© 2022 Elizabeth Paterson