OPERA REVIEW: Community, family connections bring music, laughter in PSU opera’s “The Pirates of Penzance”

The Penn State Opera Theatre will present its version of the comic musical “The Pirates of Penzance.”
The Penn State Opera Theatre will present its version of the comic musical “The Pirates of Penzance.” Photo provided

The Penn State community and State College residents were treated to a night of splendid music and dance as Penn State Opera Theatre presented a preview of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” on Thursday. It was a night of glorious voices, smiles and laughter as swash-buckling pirates, dancing policemen and star-crossed lovers took the stage.

The evening began with an introduction by artistic director Ted Christopher, as he prompted the audience to salute “her great and glorious majesty” by singing “God Save the Queen,” in accordance with the tradition established at the Savoy Theatre in London.

This particular production had a certain family feel to it, with a cast made up of Penn State students and faculty as well as members of the community. Penn State senior Veronica Byron, cast in the role of Mabel and making her Penn State Opera Theatre debut, literally had a familial connection to this production, as her sister, Meredith Byron, and father, Ron Byron, were included in the cast.

Byron and Zach Miller, a Penn State musical theater major and cast in the role of Frederic, filled the theater with their extraordinary voices, Miller’s clear and powerful tenor complementing Byron’s soaring soprano. The leading roles were supported by a cast of quirky and zany pirates, led by the Pirate King, played by Penn State junior David Schmiech. With his robust bass-baritone, Schmiech, joined by his chorus of pirates, sang “Oh, far better to live and die, I am a pirate king!”

Conducted by and accompanied on piano by Beverly Patton, the orchestra, called “The Major General’s Military Players,” were in perfect form. As the orchestra played, Byron had her moment to shine with her amazing voice, leading the chorus of girls and singing such numbers as “Poor Wandering One” and “Oh, Dry the Glistening Tear.”

This lauded and often imitated comic operetta had the pleasure of professional actor Raymond Sage to grace the stage for this production, in the role of Mabel’s father, Maj. Gen. Stanley.

Singing in his comic baritone, he introduced himself by singing “I am the very model of a modern major general.” Sage’s singing was absolutely phenomenal. He sings so fast that I wonder how he can he can possibly talk that clearly and distinctly, let alone sing. Sage would occasionally pause, leading you to think he had forgotten a line or two then realizing that what appeared to be improvisation was actually a part of the show. Sage had the audience, including myself, in tears from laughing.

A preview often is considered a dress rehearsal by the cast and crew, but in my opinion, this show appeared to go on without a hitch. This community effort is certain to bring out many more for two wonderful nights of this cheery, fun-filled production.