'Pirates' pleases on many levels

When you think of opera, do you think long Italian arias, little dialogue and few laughs? While that often may be the case, Thursday night's performance of "The Pirates of Penzance" at the Lied Center was a pleasant exception.

Presented by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, this classic operetta was a comedy of amazing vocal proportions.

The show, first performed in 1879, tells the story of pirate apprentice Frederic, his love for a major general's daughter and the other colorful characters that infiltrate their lives. As a child, Frederic's nurse, Ruth, misunderstood his father's wishes for him to apprentice for a pilot, thus leaving him in the servitude of pirates.

And that was just the first incident in this delightful comedy of errors. Mayhem ensued as the pirates encounter a lovely group of maidens, their father, the eccentric Major General Stanley and an inept group of policemen.

The performance was a robust blend of physical and verbal comedy as well as a showcase for the operatic ranges of the players. It was even sprinkled with a few modern jabs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and our black-and-gold neighbors to the east (Mizzou).

Angela Smith as Ruth and Ariane Reinhart were the most notable divas because of their stunning elocution and endless musical range. Paired with the soothing tenor and baritone vocals of Frederic and the policemen, the musical numbers of this show were superb.

Another delight was playful dancing provided by the chorus. Excelling in this capacity was Robin Bartuner as the mischievous daughter, Isabel. It was often hard to concentrate fully on the main action because of the ballet-esque antics she provided. However the distraction was minimal and welcome.

The sword fighting between the pirates also was exceptionally well done. The policemen were notable in their few but funny scenes. A bumbling detective who just couldn't seem to keep up with the other officers garnered much laughter.

One of the high points came near the finale of the first act, when pirates, maidens and the Major General join together in a vigorous rendition of the show's most recognizable number, "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General." The increasingly fast-paced number was accented with precision choreography and the expert vocals of the cast. Stephen Quint in the role of the Major General earned the most laughs from the audience, and rightfully so.

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