Music review: ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ at Wolf Trap

June 5, 2011

It was a dry, cool evening, perfect for a picnic and the fizzy, lighthearted score of “H.M.S. Pinafore,” performed by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, a reputable company of specialists in this repertoire. The only element missing Friday night was a large audience at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center.

The experience was perfectly pleasant, if not much more. The light, easy tenor of Dan Greenwood suited the naive sailor and romantic lead, Ralph Rackstraw, even with some breaths taken mid-word and some high notes at the edge of control. Likewise, Laurelyn Watson Chase brought an airy soubrette voice and considerable comic charm to the role of Josephine. The other principals seemed chosen more for acting than singing ability, but the amplification system in the Filene Center makes judgment of vocal quality rather difficult.

With microphones on individual singers and in other places, most of the artistry, such as it was, happened at the sound panel, through twiddling of knobs and raising and lowering of sliders. The manipulation of mixing played havoc with choral blend, offstage effects and the capture of the orchestral sound, which was heavy on the violins and not always flattering. Veteran artistic director Albert Bergeret obviously knows the score backward and forward but was not always able to communicate what he wanted to either the stage or the pit. Bergeret also directed the very traditional staging, with a beautiful set (credited only to Albere), lovely costumes (Gail J. Wofford) and well-executed choreography (Bill Fabris).

— Charles Downey

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