Now that the gales of November have come early, and hopefully gone, we can perhaps have some smooth sailing for the upcoming Knoxville Opera Company’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s nautical comedy H. M. S. Pinafore, coming up this Friday at 8 and Sunday at 2:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.
Arthur Sullivan serves as one of three English composers of any renown linking the English Baroque of Purcell and Handel (ca. 1700) with late-Romantic bad boys Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, etc. (ca. 1900). Only the music of William Boyce (1711-1789) and John Field (1782-1837) have had anything resembling staying power on a popularity list, and had you heard of them? Not that the lot of them otherwise were bad composers, there just hasn’t been much call for them.
Sullivan’s collaborations with dramatist W. S. Gilbert, known as the Savoy Operas for the theatre that would eventually be built to stage them, have had a lasting appeal for their deft mix of silliness and passion. British and American audiences flocked to see light opera that originated in English, opera that “spoke their language.” That was my attraction to the music as a child, playing my parents LPs and coming to accept the complex English sentence structure as normal. Another spin-off from this operetta is this jaw-dropping rewording of I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General by comic singer Tom Lehrer: the entire Table of Elements, as it existed (102 elements) when the song was recorded in 1959.
Included in this production is an aria entitled I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls from the only known Irish opera, The Bohemian Girl by M. W. Balfe. You may have heard this version by Enya; I used to play it for our children at bedtime. Our soprano, Donata Cucinotta, will not put you to sleep, I assure you. Titles of numbers in the operetta are actually text cues from the dialogue. There are some unusual ones, such as Kind Captain, I’ve Important information, Sir Joseph’s Barge is Seen, and But Tell Me Who’s the Youth. Maritime slapstick and witty wordplay are all over this production. If you need a good laugh, you’re gonna get it here.
And I know some of are you are curious, so I'll just tell you, free of charge, that the English pop singer Gilbert O'Sullivan was not born with that name. He changed it thereto in 1967 on the advice of his manager, but he was born Raymond Edward O'Sullivan.