George Dyer, left, is Frederic and Korliss Uecker is Mabel in the Hawaii Opera Theatre production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.

Local ‘Penzance’ production
adds Hawaiian flair

"Matters of vegetable, animal and mineral, a startling paradox, and peculiar circumstances" sparkle in the word and song treasure chest of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "Pirates of Penzance."

The Pirates' life

"The Pirates of Penzance": Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre at Blaisdell Concert Hall, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through July 31. Tickets are $20 to $75. Call 596-7858 or go online at www.hawaiiopera.org.

The Hawaii Opera Theatre produced this concentrate of delightful silliness on Friday evening, conveying the original humor of the operetta but also adding a local Hawaiian flavor to the already ironic plot.

The two-act operetta premiered in England on Dec. 30, 1879, to secure the British copyright, and was produced in New York the day after with Arthur Sullivan conducting the orchestra, and back in London the year after. The American and British productions were a hit and since then, "Pirates" has been a favorite in the repertoires of American stages.

Set in Cornwall during Victorian times, the plot involves pirates, policemen, young maidens and a father, a nanny and two lovers.

The HOT production directed by Henry Akina added surfboards, golf clubs and other props quite familiar to the Honolulu audience; the backdrop of palm trees looked like a Hawaiian landscape; and Frank DeLima in the role of the Sergeant of Police personified local humor.

Arias, ballades, choruses, four-part harmonies and a lot of spoken dialogue kept the entire cast busy.

The rapid chatter of Gilbert's lyrics was of particular effort for bass-baritone Michael Gallup in the role of the General, whose pace was sometimes behind the sound of the orchestra. His theatrical presence and his sonorous voice, however, matched with the grandiloquence of the character.

Despite the challenges of the diction, and with the help of Beebe Freitas and Mary Chesnut Hicks, the chorus groups -- pirates, police and maidens -- exuded energy, making the show a funhouse.

The spirited performance of the pirates and the prude but passionate daughters, including mezzo sopranos Pamela L. Maiava (Isabel) and Georgine Stark (Kate) and soprano Mary Chesnut Hicks (Edith), enlivened the performance. The police -- "not a happy lot" -- gave a comical local touch to it. Their costumes, designed by Anna Namba, contributed to the effect.

Sullivan's challenge is the balance between the singers and the full orchestra, but conductor Michael Ching and the orchestra brilliantly promoted the hilarity of the performance.

Mezzo-soprano Jean Stilwell in the role of the "plain and old" nurserymaid Ruth showed dramatic flexibility and her performance in the trio with the King and Fred proved her vocal and dramatic sharpness. Sometimes, however, the orchestra overpowered her voice.

The deep vocal range of baritone Curt Holds made a delightful lost orphan Pirate King, and his "Oh, better far to live and die" was one of the best-loved songs of the evening. Leslie "Buz" Tennent also gave an entertaining performance as Samuel.

Tenor George Dyer played the role of Frederic, the "pirate in training." He excelled in vocal skills and expressiveness, and in the innocent and comic portrayal of a naïve, 21-year-old lad. His song "Oh, is there not one maiden breast" was amusing, and his performance in the second-act duet with Mabel, quite charming.

Finally, Mabel. The first roles were the famous and stunning Blanche Roosevelt Tucker in New York in 1879 and in London in 1880 by one of the most beautiful women and talented vocalists of comic opera in England, Marion Hood. The great and also radiant soprano Korliss Uecker portrayed a crystalline Mabel Friday in Honolulu. She delivered all the coloratura required by Sullivan's score with grace and charm. Her comedic act and her theatrical presence were flawless. Her offer to bring back Frederic in the aria "Poor Wandering One" was a success.

The entertaining spectacle and the references to local life made the evening a pleasurable experience. Gilbert and Sullivan's classic was produced with such pretty humor!

Valeria Wenderoth has a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.

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