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Carolina Union Performing Arts Series Preview: The Pirates of Penzance Is Vintage Gilbert and Sullivan

January 30, 2003 - Chapel Hill, NC:


The Carolina Union Performing Arts Series will present The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players' production of The Pirates of Penzance (or The Slave of Duty), directed and conducted by Albert Bergeret and choreographed by Bill Fabris, at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, in Hill Hall on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. This world-famous English operetta by dramatist and humorist Sir W(illiam) S(chwenk) Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Sir Arthur (Seymour) Sullivan (1842-1900) originally debuted on Dec. 31, 1879 at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City. It is the only Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera to make its world premiere in these United States.

With its distinctive patter songs — a Gilbert and Sullivan specialty — The Pirates of Penzance sails on, almost 125 years later, a masterpiece of the distinctive form of English operetta that Gilbert and Sullivan created. Its cheeky lyrics, which include "I am the very model of a modern Major-General," sparkle with Gilbert's native wit; and its memorable melodies, which include the original tune from which "Hail, hail the gang's all here," demonstrate Sullivan's ability to create a catchy tune for every dramatic occasion.

Founded in 1974 by artistic director and general manager Albert Bergeret, The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players (NYGASP) reflect Bergeret's energetic interpretation of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon, and demonstrates a unique dramatic style and musical flair. New York Magazine hailed Bergeret as "the leading custodian of the [Gilbert and Sullivan] classics." Bergeret also serves as a resident stage director for the New York Grand Opera, where he specializes in seldom-seen Verdi operas, such as Stiffelio, Aroldo, Un Giorno Di Regno, and Ernani.

In The Pirates of Penzance, young Frederic is mistakenly apprenticed to pirates until he turns 21. But since he was born on Feb. 29th, he won't celebrate his 21st birthday until 1940 — although he is morally opposed to piracy. Helping Frederic cope with his unique dilemma are a jaunty Pirate King, a bustling pirate maid-of-all-work Ruth, hopelessly romantic Mabel, and famously stuffy Major-General Stanley.

The New York Times praised the NYGASP'S production of The Pirates of Penzance as "Opulent... colorful and inventive... beautifully crafted... the stage direction offered the balance of economy and extravagance that makes Gilbert & Sullivan work... lovely choreographic touches... polished but retaining spontaneity.... The choruses of pirates, daughters and policemen sang and acted delightfully, and the orchestra, conducted by Mr. Bergeret, supported the cast with robust playing guaranteed to warm the most demanding Savoyard's heart."

In Ohio, the Akron Beacon-Journal wrote: "'Pirates' [is] a treasure' ... N.Y. touring troupe shines in this Gilbert & Sullivan classic... a lively production of 'The Pirates of Penzance' that soared on exceptionally strong singing.... Bergeret kept things moving briskly from the pit.... Up to date with topical and local references."

The Carolina Union Performing Arts Series presents The Pirates of Penzance (or The Slave of Duty) Friday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m. in Hill Hall on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. $22-$40. 919/962-1449. http://carolinaunion.unc.edu/happening/performing.html or http://www.nygasp.org/press/PPirates.htm.