Though H.M.S. Pinafore and Patience have their partisans, most Savoyards (myself included) place The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance above all else in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon. Both farces have operatic aspirations that can be realized when cast with the right voices and performed by an orchestra that can convey Arthur Sullivan’s elegant ratio of weight to buoyancy. Pirates is the equal of any Offenbach light opera; the tunes accent the blend of satire and pathos in W.S. Gilbert’s libretto, which mocks, among other things, nouveau riche snobbery, Victorian sentimentality, and bureaucratic self-righteousness. But the heart of Pirates is a tender love story–the wooing of Mabel, one of the boorish Major-General Stanley’s many daughters, by Frederic, a noble heir mistakenly sent to apprentice among pirates who subsequently vows to wipe out piracy; their yearnings are captured in the lovely, insightful duet “Ah, Leave Me Not to Pine.” Light Opera Works has revived Pirates before, but this is the first time under the direction of Lara Teeter (who, incidentally, had a part in the 1980s Broadway production that starred Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt). As he showed with this company’s staging of The Gondoliers, the LOW artistic director knows how to update and enliven G & S without condescending to the material. He’s also playing the role of Sergeant of Police in a cast headlined by Colm Fitzmaurice (as Frederic), Felicia Filip (Mabel), J. Chris Baum (Stanley), and Alexandra Billings (Ruth, the maid who raised Frederic and hopes to marry him). The first three are opera and musical veterans; Billings is an actress who’s also made a name for herself as a cabaret singer. The chamber orchestra is conducted by Peter Lipari, a LOW regular and an expert at guiding singers. Saturday, December 21, 8 PM, Sunday and Thursday, December 22 and 26, 2 PM, and six more performances through December 31, Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University, 600 Emerson, Evanston; 847-869-6300.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rich Foreman.