In its second year, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre Undergraduate Studio is presenting something Lexington has not seen in quite a while: a fully staged performance of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
It's not that G&S shows aren't popular. The shows contain timeless melodies and often show up in popular culture, such as The Simpsons' recurring character Sideshow Bob and his obsession with Gilbert and Sullivan.
But UK Opera's focus has generally been grand operas such as Puccini's La Bohème and American works, including a few world premieres. But the Opera Studio was created to give undergraduates a chance to perform, and stage director Margo Buchanan and music director Dan Chetel say The Pirates of Penzance is a perfect fit for the younger voices.
"It showcases their energy and their ability to act," Chetel says.
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Buchanan says that the smaller roles in the ensemble cast lend themselves to the lives of undergrads, who often are carrying five or six classes, as opposed to the two or three for most graduate students. The singing also is lighter, sitting right in the range where most undergraduate voices are.
And it's fun.
"It's really good timing to do a comedy," Buchanan says. UK Opera's season to this point had been filled with tragedies, including Bohème and Porgy and Bess. Invoking the theater maxim "Drama is easy; comedy is hard," Buchanan, whose primary background is straight theater, says the operetta gives her a chance to help the singers hone their acting skills.
The story centers on an inept band of pirates and their young charge, who leaves for a life on the straight and narrow path and falls in love.
The show follows last year's production of The Magic Flute by Mozart, another composer who was particularly adept at writing for younger voices. When asked what the Opera Studio might do next, Buchanan can't help coming back to Mozart and G&S.
"It's no accident that the first two years of this program they did Mozart and Gilbert and Sullivan," Chetel says. "And they could alternate Mozart, and Gilbert and Sullivan the next 10 years, and the students and audience would be very well served."