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Some scoffed when the Lyric Opera announced it was substituting this operetta “fluff” for the previously announced Berlioz rarity Benvenuto Cellini. But box-office concerns aside, this Lyric premiere fully justifies the decision. William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan were the fathers of modern musical theater, and their work belongs in the best hands available; this production achieves a rare confluence of comic theatricality and topflight musicianship. Sullivan’s music is played and sung ravishingly under the baton of world-class conductor Sir Andrew Davis, and Gilbert’s loony libretto comes through crystal clear thanks to the singers’ fine diction. Colorfully designed in high Victorian mode by Michael Yeargan (set) and Anne Tilby (costumes), this Pirates evokes Britain at its most elegant and arrogant, high-minded and hypocritical–an empire populated by buccaneer aristocrats, cowardly constables, and dissembling, social-climbing military leaders. Davis and director Elijah Moshinsky set a pace that’s stately without being sluggish, allowing audiences to savor Sullivan’s lilting melodies and Gilbert’s witty satire of arbitrary, artificial concepts of duty and honor. The superb cast includes British baritone Neal Davies in his U.S. opera debut as the craven “modern major-general” Stanley and Lyric stalwarts Kevin Langan as the Pirate King and Roger Honeywell as his apprentice, Frederic. Best of all is soprano Elizabeth Futral as Frederic’s ladylove, Mabel; Futral’s rendition of “Poor Wandering One!” is exquisite. Civic Opera House, Ardis Krainik Theatre, 20 N. Wacker, 312-332-2244, ext. 5600. Through March 13: Friday, February 6, 7:30 PM; Thursday, February 12, 2 PM; Tuesday, February 17, 7:30 PM; Thursday, February 19, 2 PM; Monday, February 23, 7:30 PM; Friday, February 27, 7:30 PM; Wednesday, March 3, 7:30 PM; Saturday, March 6, 2 PM; Wednesday, March 10, 7:30 PM; Saturday, March 13, 7:30 PM. $29-$164.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest–Lyric Opera of Chicago.