A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Jul 16, 2013
11:29 AM
Classically Speaking

“Pirates” Captured by Madison Savoyards

“Pirates” Captured by Madison Savoyards

Photo courtesy of Madison Savoyards, Ltd.

The operettas of William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan are considered an acquired taste by some, but there is no denying that, once smitten, it is hard to resist their canon of tuneful social parodies. They became an irresistible vehicle for the local music company of countless towns and hamlets across the U.S. and Great Britain, and fifty years ago, Madison was blessed with its own resident experts.

Madison Savoyards, Ltd. celebrated their fiftieth season last summer by mounting one of the most popular G&S works, The Pirates of Penzance. With a faithful following and good reviews, not everyone was able to see it—and now you can, via a DVD release.

This video testament reliably captures what the audience came for: ludicrous “conflicts,” equally bumbling pirates and policemen and love at first sight that stems in part from our young protagonist never having seen a young, pretty lass. Oh, and the tunes, with the biggest hit being “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.”

Vocally the star is Catherine Schweitzer as Mabel. She hits the high notes of “Poor Wandering One” not just with ease, but a lilting grace that makes one eagerly anticipate the reprise. Her father, the Major-General, is portrayed by Matthew Marsland. After more than a hundred years of that most famous aforementioned “patter” song, it is difficult to add anything new to his catalogue of personal accomplishments without stretching the essence of its charm out of shape. Marsand strikes a nice balance between respectfully traditional and having a little fun with it.

J. Adam Shelton is the lovesick lad whose misfortune was to be born on February 29; he possesses a suitably light and agile tenor voice. William Rosholt is the essentially tame Pirate King (part of the joke for the British is that Penzance was a quiet resort where pirates of any type were the least of one’s worries), and Anthony Ashley is the Sergeant of Police who ably (in the musical sense!) leads his band of near-Keystone Kops.

William Farlow doesn’t break any new ground in the direction, which is likely a good thing given the relative limitations of the Music Hall stage. He does do a good job of letting his principals display their natural gifts without descending into any over the top camp or slapstick.

Blake Walter conducts an orchestra that has just enough strings, and exhibits some lovely woodwind playing. Evan Richards is the reliable videographer, and Buzz Kemper and his Audio for the Arts team are credited with the recording and production. The only quibble is that my review copy came without any sort of booklet; even a fold-over glossy sheet listing the credits would have been welcome.

In the end, this DVD is more than a souvenir of last summer’s fiftieth season celebration; it is a testament of dozens of pleasant productions spent in a tradition that has become as important a summer event as Concerts on the Square or the Token Creek Music Festival (and come to think of it, has been around a lot longer!). The Madison Savoyards begin their next half century this weekend with Iolanthe; here’s to another fifty years of memories.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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