The very model of a modern Gilbert & Sullivan Society

The Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society is celebrating its 50th anniversary of continuous production, carrying on a musical tradition of excellence. A nonprofit community arts organization, the Society is dedicated to performing the works of Gilbert and Sul-livan and maintaining high artistic standards for true family entertainment. And like good wine, it has matured with age, getting better and better.

Gilbert & Sullivan, as I have said many times, is part of the framework of British musical culture. I haven't quite made it to all the productions in the last 50 years, but I was around for many of the local Society's early productions and have shared several columns on the subject with you dear readers over the years.

My late husband and I were very involved with Gilbert & Sullivan. We produced and aired the complete canon for two years on KPLU radio using the original D'Oyle Carte recordings under the direction of Dame Bridget D'Oyle Carte herself (direct descendent of the impresario, Richard D'Oyle Carte). We had quite a time breaking the recordings down into half-hour sections. I told the stories, sorting out the good guys from the bad guys and introducing the numerous sisters, cousins and aunts, even including Anna Russel's hilarious spoof, on April Fool's Day, much to the delight of the listening audience.

Gilbert & Sullivan became an annual July tradition in our fair city - which, on some occasions, meant coinciding with the rehearsals of Seattle Opera's summer Ring Festival. During the 1970s there was a double Ring ceremony, with a complete cycle performed first in German and then in English. As it chanced, many of the visiting stars of English National Opera (ENO) had started their operatic careers performing Gilbert & Sullivan, then progressed to grand opera. Needless to say, their English diction was perfect.

I remember one season when members of the ENO English Ring Cast, after experiencing particularly difficult rehearsals with a stern conductor, "were sorely in need of innocent merriment." We rounded them up and took them to a hilarious Gilbert & Sullivan production, which did much to lift their spirits and improve their health and temper. All agreed that it was just the tonic they needed. Even without the gin.

But let's get back to the present....

There are still many connections between Gilbert & Sullivan and Seattle Opera. Bernard Kwiram, the Gilbert & Sullivan conductor, made his debut in Seattle Opera in the role of First Prisoner in "Fidelio." Kwiram has been the music director since 2002, and as conductor worked with various instrumental and choral groups, including the Satori Men's Chorus and the Civic Light Opera.

"H.M.S. Pinafore," selected to commemorate the Society's half-century milestone, has been afloat for 125 years. It was the first true hit for W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and still stands as their most popular comic opera. In a first-time collaboration, the Society will include a prequel to "H.M.S. Pinafore" the première of a dance work, "Pineapple Poll," in collaboration with Spectrum Dance Theatre.

"H.M.S. Pinafore, or The Lass Who Loved a Sailor" is the romance of a high-born beauty and a lowly tar of the Royal Navy. A mysterious woman, Little Buttercup, drives the main plot elements and a secondary love interest. The operetta involves a "typical" Gilbert topsy-turvy plot and pokes fun at the class system. Written in 1887, it remains as modern as ever today.

"Pineapple Poll," which is less well known, is the story of Little Buttercup as a young woman ("H.M.S. Pinafore" features her as a mature woman). The tale is Gilbert's, and the dance creation uses Sullivan's music from all of their operas. The music was arranged by Sir Charles Mackerras more than 50 years ago; Bernard Kwiram re-orchestrated the work for a 30-piece orchestra and will conduct both productions.

Producer Mike Storie, director Christine Goff and music director Kwiram have brought together a very talented cast involving some of the Society's favorites from past productions as well as several outstanding newcomers.

Jon Palmason portrays Captain Corcoran, "Who's never, never sick at sea"; Nancy Hebert is Little Buttercup; Amanda Brown plays Josephine, the captain's daughter; and Scott Ritten-house is her love interest, Able Seaman Ralph Rackstraw. The principals are rounded out by Janet Smith as Hebe, Cliff Watson as the evil Dick Deadeye, Scott Brassho as the First Lord of the Admiralty, William Darkow as the Bosun's Mate and Wes Aman as the Carpenter's Mate.

The Society's 28-person chorus completes the performing cast. Spectrum's cast includes 12 dancers and features Meredith Taylor Webster and David Alewine.

The performances include four discounted family nights and four Saturday matinees. The feature runs July 9-10, 15-17 and 29-31 with evening performances at 7:30 and matinees at 2 p.m.

Regular evening tickets are $29 for the general public and $25 for senior citizens. Students may attend any show for $12. For tickets, call the Gilbert & Sullivan Society at 341-9612 or Ticketmaster. Additionally, you can contact the Gilbert & Sullivan society online at for more information.

I highly recommend this wonderful entertainment for the entire family. See you there.


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