Review: ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ brings silliness to stage

Oh, the fabulous silliness of Gilbert and Sullivan! The juxtaposition of extraordinary compositional talent and sophisticated musicianship with utter farce is a combination too juicy for people to resist.

Indeed few at the Lied Center on Tuesday night could resist the pleasure engendered by the Carl Rosa Opera’s performance of “H.M.S Pinafore.” The evening was true to the G&S traditions of fine singing and playing as well as both broad and pointed satire.

The basic plot of “Pinafore” is not difficult to follow: Young seaman Ralph Rackstraw is in love with his captain’s daughter, Josephine, but she is pledged to marry Sir Joseph Porter. She loves Ralph but the problem lies in their difference in station: He a lowly sailor, she a captain’s daughter. Her father, Captain Corcoran, is determined she marry Porter although he himself has eyes for the Portsmouth Bumboat woman Mrs. Cripps (aka “Little Buttercup”). A couple of good patter songs, sentimental ballads, and jaunty hornpipes later, all is resolved.

As it happens, Ralph and Captain Corcoran were accidentally switched as babies by Mrs. Cripps, so Ralph is really the captain and Corcoran is really the sailor. Porter refuses to marry Josephine who is now the daughter of the lowly “Tar,” and Ralph can now marry his true love.

If you are scratching your head at this point, then you have reached the exact reality (or “surreally”) Gilbert and Sullivan intend: How do “accidents of birth” matter? As social satire, Pinafore treads some of the same ground that their contemporary Oscar Wilde covers in “The Importance of Being Earnest” and gives us several hearty laughs and good music in the bargain.

The Carl Rosa Opera’s touring production is certainly lavish. As artistic director, Peter Mulloy states his goal is to “bridge the perceived gap between traditional grand opera and popular musical theatre,” in an attempt to draw in new audiences. That goal is usually accomplished by a Gilbert and Sullivan opera in any case; however, this production was certainly adequate to that task. The set was complex and pleasing to the eye, recreating the ship’s main deck, captain’s cabin and poop deck that take advantage of multiple levels on the stage, and the costuming was conventional but attractive.

The orchestra was led at a brisk pace by conductor Martin Handley, who also managed to pull the chorus and principals back into the tempo when they were in danger of catastrophe during some group numbers.

Lincoln Stone as Ralph Rackstraw has just the right high, light tenor one associates with turn-of-the-century operetta. Steven Page’s Captain Corcoran was brilliantly timed and in the trio with Porter and Josephine (Charlotte Page), he was in excellent “stiff-upper-lip” form.

Barry Clark as Sir Joseph Porter (with all of “his sisters and his cousins and his aunts”) delivered his difficult patter songs with excellent diction and humor. He was in the minority at times – often understanding the words was an issue, especially in the large chorus numbers; however, that did not keep the infectious melodies from bringing smiles to the faces of the audience during a delightful evening.