Gilbert and Sullivan classic comes to Queen City

Opera Carolina sets sail on “HMS Pinafore”

by Alison Woo

“HMS Pinafore” debuts this week. (From left) Matthew Treviño as Dick Deadeye, John Muriello as Captain Corcoran, Gary Briggle as Sir Joseph Porter and Deborah Fields as Little Buttercup.

In the topsy-turvy world of Gilbert and Sullivan, anything can happen. Love, mistaken identity, pirates and sometimes singing one’s internal thoughts are all fair game. This week, Opera Carolina brings their season to a close with an operetta considered to be among one of the most beloved: Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore.”

“Pinafore” is perfect for the curious arts and entertainment lover who might want to sample something familiar in the vast world of opera. The all-English, light-hearted musical is delightful, especially if you are someone who loved last month’s royal wedding of William and Kate.

The story unfolds in two acts on the imaginary ship Pinafore, which proves to be a perfect foil as a humorous place at the Royal Navy and the class structure of British society. In ‘true love can conquer all’ fashion, the main story involves Josephine, the captain’s daughter, who is trying to find a way to marry her true love, Ralph, a common sailor, despite the wishes of her father who wants her to marry a man with an elevated social status.

Bringing the magic to life

Baritone John Muriello plays Captain Corcoran with great aplomb. His vast experience in a variety of roles in the opera, operetta and musical theater give his Corcoran a wide range.

Muriello has previously worked with Opera Carolina, as well as with operas as far as Australia and Germany and is currently on the voice faculty at the University of Iowa. South Charlotte Weekly had a chance to catch up with Muriello on the road in anticipation of this week’s performances at the Belk Theatre.

What’s your favorite part of being part of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta?

“It’s always a delightful collaboration with the other artists. I find that people who perform (Gilbert and Sullivan) really love it.”

Have you played this part before and what has been most surprising about it?

“Yes, this is my fourth time performing the role. What is surprising is how the piece is always a delight to play, always new, even after almost 100 performances of the work.”

What have you discovered in the rehearsal process that you did not expect when you took on this role?

“The whole operetta is so charming and subtle that I find one can constantly explore different ways to play moments here and there. While the work is fairly straight-forward, the writing is so clever that one can shift it one way or the other and find a whole new color to bring to the scene.”

Much of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas bring on fantastical situations. What is it that you feel today’s modern audiences will relate to the most?

“I think the ideas of social status and love between members of different social classes are interesting. But maybe more entertaining is how the piece pokes fun at unqualified people in positions of authority.”

What else does the audience needs to know about the show?

“I think the audience should be ready for a very enjoyable evening. I am privileged to work with an amazing cast, which makes this a highlight of my year, some of whom I’ve worked with many times before. It’s one of the most popular and most performed of the (Gilbert and Sullivan) operettas, and there isn’t a dull moment.”

“HMS Pinafore” will be at the Belk Theater, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center on May 12, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 14, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 15, at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 704-372-1000 or purchase online at Single ticket prices begin at $16.

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