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Performances

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A Romp with Gilbert & Sullivan

When:
May 9, 2015 – May 10, 2015
@
Time:
7:30pm and 2:00pm
Past Event
Member Discount
Ticket Required
Contact:
Where:
Historic Asolo Theater

TRACY OLIVERA, soprano
BOB McDONALD, baritone
STEVE CRAMER, tenor
JOSEPH HOLT, piano
GLORIA MUSICAE SINGERS

“A Romp with Gilbert & Sullivan” – Highlights from “Pirates,” The Mikado,” and “Pinafore”

In the 1870 English playwright William S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan revolutionized the musical theatre, creating a series of witty, melodic operettas that set a new standard for stage professionalism. Sullivan's music sparkled with fresh melody, and Gilbert's librettos blended silliness and satire in settings that ranged from pure fantasy to the utterly realistic. Publicized as "light operas", they were by any name, musicals – some of the finest the world would ever see in any language.

Gilbert was an unsuccessful attorney before a series of his illustrated comic poems were published in several popular British magazines. This opened the way to a successful career as a London playwright and director. At the same time, Sullivan was winning acclaim as Britain's most promising serious composer, but he was quite willing to compose lighter pieces to cover the expenses of the high-society lifestyle he craved. Both men had written minor musical shows with other collaborators, but neither expected that musical theatre would be their key to lasting fame.

The slyly named H.M.S. Pinafore was their first roaring success and ran for 571 performances. The plot gives notice of the good-natured silliness to come. The captain’s daughter loves a lowly sailor but her father wishes her to marry Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. The ensuing shenanigans lampoon the British social class system, the Royal Navy, chauvinism and politics. However the satire is so genial that it is said that W. H. Smith, the actual First Lord, who had attained his position without experience or merit, went to a performance and laughed along with the rest. Everyone left the theatre humming snatches of the beguiling music, though few could manage the famous “patter song” –––Sir Joseph’s history of his rise in the world while taking all his relations with him.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s ninth work was The Mikado, which outdid even Pinafore with 672 performances. There was a great interest at the time in everything Japanese, and Gilbert was thereby freed to sling his little shafts of satire under the cloak of a foreign society. The story revolves around Nanki-Poo, supposedly a wandering minstrel but actually the son of the Mikado. He is in love with the beautiful Yum-Yum, who is engaged to her guardian KoKo. KoKo has been condemned to death for the capital crime of flirting, but as he is now the Lord High Executioner, he cannot cut off anyone’s head until he cuts off his own. Nanki-Poo has returned in hopes of winning Yum-Yum, which, of course, he does after many more complications and machinations.

Pirates of Penzance was the only Gilbert and Sullivan production to open in the United States. Its first appearance was in New York in 1879 in hopes that a copyright could be secured and that American companies would stop their “pirating,” as the company had received no royalties from any American performances of the other plays. There were very many of these throughout the country as the works were extremely popular. These hopes were to be in vain. It was a great success, however, and ran for three months to extravagant acclaim.

The story concerns the adventures of an idealistic young man who was apprenticed by mistake to a gang of tenderhearted pirates and who is due to be released from his indentures on his 21st birthday. When it is discovered that his birthday was actually on February 29, he agrees to fulfill his duties until he is in his eighties. His beloved is Mabel, the daughter of a Major General, and she vows to wait for him. A rollicking Pirate King has much to say for himself, and the Major General’s patter song is one of the most famous in musical history. This character was based on the real Major General Wolseley, who, far from being offended, actually mastered the song himself and sang it at his own parties.

This musical review features a chorus drawn from the ranks of Sarasota’s Gloria Musicae Singers.

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