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MELBOURNE Opera have the heavily dramatic works of Wagner’s Lohengrin and Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux to come but a completely satisfying belly-laugh start to their season docked into the Athenaeum Theatre this week in the form of HMS Pinafore.
Occasional helpings of Gilbert and Sullivan’s unique brand of contagious merriment would rarely go unappreciated by its audience. Permission to cringe is always granted, as is admitting how much you really do fancy a tune or two.
As director of his own plays and operas, Gilbert sought realism in acting but it’s hard to think of a G&S success that doesn’t also milk the absurd. That’s exactly the approach director and choreographer Robert Ray takes in this crisply detailed and vibrant staging plump with comic nuance.
Gilbert imbued the plot with topsy turvy jollity, with its good-natured send up of the British class system, politics and of people in authority without the appropriate qualifications still able to give a pertinent sting today.
On opening night, with high qualifications to take on the position, David Gould made a priceless entrance as a seasick Sir Joseph Porter KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty and entertained to the end with his smug and gangly demeanour and pliant bass that seemed to percolate from the hull.
As lowly sailor Ralph Rackstraw, tenor Paul Biencourt was the other standout in this well-cast outfit. Lost in a dream world of love for a woman of a higher standing, Biencourt captured the heart effortlessly with a deeply impassioned performance and a treasure chest of vocal riches.
Sweet and succulent soprano Claire Lyon charmed as Rick’s love, the dutiful but industrious captain’s daughter Josephine and soared to a touching highlight, Act 2’s The hours creep on apace in which she sings of her guilt surrounding her planned elopement with Ralph.
Not until a person of higher rank boarded ship did David Roger-Smith take full command of his role as Captain Corcoran and, once there, sailed buoyantly and wholeheartedly along. A voluptuous-voiced Andrea Creighton brought zesty, swirling sexual energy and sorceress-like form to Little Buttercup and supporting roles were filled most commendably — Roger Howell as the downer Dick Deadeye, Finn Gilheany as the affable Bill Bobstay and Jodie Debono as the plum cousin Hebe.
From the start, Melbourne Opera Chorus sank their boots into an agile and endearing display of suitably choreographed steps, the sailors of the chorus virile of voice, the First Lord’s sisters, cousins and aunts utterly radiant.
And attired in a wardrobe of white-bleached and blue enhanced authenticity courtesy of Opera Australia, it all sparkled under lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw’s sunny blue skies and set designer Gregory Carroll’s comically exaggerated wood-grained quarterdeck and furnishings of the spacious Pinafore.
From the pit, the music expanded excellently under conductor Greg Hocking’s well-paced delivery of the jaunty and lyrical score and from the uniformly expert playing of the 30-plus Melbourne Opera Orchestra.
The audience loved it. I did too. A few misplaced steps didn’t go unnoticed though you can’t but not see that hearty G&S blood runs thick through the team in this handsome, spit and polished production.
Rating: four stars
Reviewer: Paul Selar