Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 16
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
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New Territory for Boheme Opera Company In Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance”

Nancy Plum

For its 21st anniversary season, Boheme Opera Company has taken a new direction in its programming. Departing from the operatic standards, this year’s performances have included Handel’s Messiah, a preview of the Broadway-bound musical Warsaw, and this past weekend the company’s premiere production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Boheme Opera Company has been a staple of Trenton area stages for many years, providing operatic opportunity for seasoned professional singers, up-and-comers, and apprentices alike, and Saturday night’s performance of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic was no exception, with a cast including both international opera performers and students from area music schools.

The audience at Trenton’s War Memorial on Saturday night was in a festive mood beginning with the orchestra’s warm-up as familiar tunes arose from the pit before the opening curtain. Conductor Joseph Pucciatti kept the tempo moving in the opening overture, and the curtain rose on an impressively set stage. The War Memorial stage is a large space to fill, and the sets, provided by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, centered on a rocky shoreline against a backdrop of a colorful sea.

For this production, Boheme Opera compiled a choral ensemble of area singers, complemented by college-level students and the male chorus of the opening scene of Act I was animated and well-prepared. Although the chorus could have been louder in the vast space of the War Memorial, the singers interacted well with one another and the leads.

The Pirate apprentice Frederic is the focus of Arthur Sullivan’s tale of ludicrous coincidences and plays-on-words. Tenor David Gagnon, a veteran of opera companies nationwide, cut a dashing figure and vocally had no trouble with the role. The War Memorial is also a large space to fill vocally, but the principal leads of this production, Mr. Gagnon included, had mastered projecting to the back of the space. Mr. Gagnon was especially lyrical in his music with his romantic partner, Mabel.

To look at baritone William Andrew Stuckey’s biographical information, one might wonder why he chose to play the role of the Pirate King; he has an international opera career specializing in Verdi. As his performance progressed, it was clear that one of the reasons he chose this role was just to have a good time — the part was likely a piece of cake compared to the more demanding Verdi roles he has played, the music was no problem vocally, and he was obviously having fun. Stage Director Jamibeth Margolis came up with some clever staging actions between the Pirate King and his merry band of not-always-competent pirates, and both Mr. Stuckey and Mr. Gagnon commanded the stage well.

Like the men’s choral ensemble, the women’s chorus was animated and precise. There were a number of solid voices in the ensemble of Major-General Stanley’s numerous daughters, but Samantha Grenell-Zaidman, singing the role of Mabel, was a cut above the rest. Ms. Grenell-Zaidman comes from a background of opera combined with musical theater, and she brought a subtle sauciness and flirtatiousness to her role, with a solid coloratura voice carrying well into the upper stratosphere of the music.

Two other key roles were also well cast. Renee Claire Bergeron sang the role of Ruth with appropriate matronliness (reminding one of Angela Lansbury roles) and good control over a vocal range which was very low. Ms. Bergeron managed to handle the low notes without giving into the temptation to belt it out. Keith Jurosko has been a Principal Artist with the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players for thirty years and has no doubt performed the role of Major-General Stanley (the Modern Major General) numerous times before. Mr. Jurosko has obviously refined the part over the years, and his comic timing and vocal nuances fit in well with the overall lightheartedness of the production.

Gilbert & Sullivan operettas are ensemble pieces first and foremost, and the cast in this production worked particularly well together. The Police, led by baritone Grant Mech as the Sergeant, were well coordinated as Keystone Cop-type figures and the entire cast never lost sight of the production’s overall goal to give the audience a good time. Gilbert & Sullivan wrote their operettas as parodies on language, music, rank, and society as a whole, and can be appreciated still in these days of high technology and heavy-duty world events — after all, a little silliness never goes out of style.

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