Edmonton Opera’s reimagined HMS Pinafore hits jazzy notes of the ‘20s
Inspiration began when general director Tim Yakimec suggested to include jazz into the Edmonton Opera’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comedic-opera classic, H.M.S. Pinafore.
The 1920s jazz age is presented in tandem with the flapper subculture of witty women adorning themselves in corset-less frame-showing frocks and daringly short hair done up in pin curls.
The Edmonton Opera’s HMS Pinafore underwent a partial jazz reorchestration by New York City arranger and composer Ed Windels, adding head-bobbing energy and peppy sex-appeal to the iconic comedy classic.
Jazz ends up representing a concept—one of going against the norm or rebelling, which is represented in the 20th century’s flapper-era. Jazz orchestrations pop up as the conservatively-coated young women come on stage—extravagant gowns underneath—as Josephine chooses her true love over “duty.”
“All the young characters have more of the jazzy music,” says soprano Vanessa Oude-Reimerink, playing Josephine. “It’s kind of about two worlds: the old world and the new world. So the older characters like Captain Corcoran (baritone Geoffrey Sirret) and Sir Joseph (Glenn Nelson) have the original version. But then, for me, I start out in the old world. So my first aria, “Sorry her lot [who loves too well]” is exactly as it was originally written … Then her second aria in the second act starts out as the original, and then it breaks out into this huge jazz number with a little bit of jazz improvisation and a whole bunch of dancing.”
The girl-power movement of the “Roaring Twenties”—the first widespread action of its kind—embodies the British opera’s story accurately. It’s a classic tale of boy meets girl with the addition of a pushy father. However, the father happens to be the captain of the Royal Navy vessel. But Josephine is not so easily stamped out.
“The advantage of doing it in 2018 with this new [cultural] setting is that it allows us freedom to be a little more audacious,” director Robert Herriot says. “They were very tied by Victorian England when the piece was written. And although the underlying humour of all [Gilbert and Sullivan] has a very naughty sort of undertone, to set it in the ‘20s with this whole sexual freedom aspect, the show can be a little sexier and it allows us to explore greater themes of humanity.”
Poking fun at pushy patriotism, incompetent dignitaries and class separations is the game of Gilbert and Sullivan. The ‘20s certainly personified these themes as women were becoming educated and fighting for their own sexuality. As well, satire is savvy to politics.
The story moves along quickly in a farce style with jazzy movements in between, including a 37-person Charleston section midway through Act I. But it’s not just the rhythm that’s picked up. This version is faster-paced than the original, with a complete runtime (minus intermission) of just under 100 minutes, something Herriot attributes to cutting out little pieces of the récit.
An inventive set design by Camellia Koo features a 90-foot HMS Pinafore that juts out from the Jube’s stage, over what is normally the orchestra pit, into the audience. Deanna Finnman’s costumes follow suit, with ritzy flapper dresses that stand out amongst the sea of sailors.
In traditional fashion, the orchestra will join the cast on stage, as with the original Pinafore productions. Keep a lookout as the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, including conductor Peter Dala, are conspicuously, and rather navally camouflaged onboard.
With Harriot’s proven penchant for physical comedy and the time-honoured jests of Gilbert and Sullivan, there’s guaranteed hilarity. I mean, how exactly does one elope while at sea?
Sat., Feb. 3, Tue., Feb. 6, and Fri., Feb. 9 (8 pm and 7:30 pm)
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium