Crossroads of musical satire
Durango Choral Society presents Gilbert & Sullivan


by Judith Reynolds

The music of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” has an unmistakable, sea-salty vigor. And then there are the lyrics – sharp as a hundred harpoons.

Such is the world of England’s premiere musical satirists, Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert. In the late 19th century, they created the stuff that comic dreams are made on. G&S took on the pomposities of British rank, status and self conceit. They also jabbed the Navy, Parliament and every other social institution at which you could shake a baton.

At 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon in the Community Concert Hall at fort Lewis College, the Durango Choral Society will mount a big G&S tribute. A crew of soloists and choristers will perform almost complete concert versions of “Pinafore” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” In addition, the Durango Women’s Choir will present one memorable song from “The Mikado.” Years ago, Durango staged Gilbert and Sullivan, so it’s never too late for a revival.

“We have so much talent here,” C. Scott Hagler, conductor, said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “When you know you’ve got the personnel who can do the material, it’s a pleasure auditioning soloists.”

Well-known opera singer Gemma Kavanagh will sing the role of Mabel in “Pirates.” Sung largely in a soprano’s highest register, the role of Mabel has wowed critics since its premiere in 1879. George Bernard Shaw admired an 1892 performance but made reference to the “unfortunate soprano, who might as well leave her lower octave at home.” You can expect Kavanagh’s entrance to be spectacular.

Mabel’s romantic counterpart, Frederic the Pirate Apprentice, will be sung by another local opera veteran, Andreas Tischhauser, Fort Lewis College music professor, Diamond Circle Melodrama stalwart and soon to leave for the Czech Republic on a Rotary fellowship.

The “Pinafore” soloists include, among others, baritone Art Meyer, tenor Brock Burbach, mezzo-soprano Nan Wagner, and soprano Kim Farrell. Meyer is manager of pastoral care at San Juan Regional Medical Center. He will sing the plum role of the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B., First Lord of the Admiralty, British Navy. Porter is the man who rose to high authority by “polishing up the handle on the big front door.” The Able Seaman Ralph Rackstraw will be sung by Fort Lewis faculty member Burbach, a highly regarded area tenor. Dear Little Buttercup, the Portsmouth Bumboat Woman, will be sung by Wagner, whose day job is as a respiratory therapist for cardio-pulmonary patients. And Farrell, one of those lyric sopranos whose voice floats above an orchestra like a well-focused flute, will sing the captain’s daughter, Josephine. Farrell is a music teacher in 9-R and regular soloist with the Choral Society. Hagler isn’t lying when he says this town has talent.

Altogether, the concert version of “Pinafore” will include 16 numbers; “Pirates” will feature 11, closing with a finale that will send you out singing “Poor Wandering One.”


The G&S tribute follows intermission when the sole song from “The Mikado” will be presented by the Durango Women’s Chorus. “Three Little Maids From School Are We” will no doubt be augmented by mincing steps and coy gestures made famous by the D’Oyly Carte production of 1885.

“What makes G&S so memorable,” Hagler said, “are the witty lyrics. Consequently, our biggest challenge has been diction. The problem with American choruses is that we pronounce Latin better than English. We’ve really drilled the words, because we want the audience to get the humor.”

In addition to the stage versions of the two operettas plus the “Mikado” bonus, the concert will open with the Durango Children’s Chorale singing Vivaldi’s “Laudamus Te” with the Women’s Choir. Then the children will perform four more works and a world premiere, “Thanks and Praise,” by Ruth Dwyer. The Indiana composer and music educator has had a long association with the Children’s Chorale through her friendship with conductor Rochelle Mann.

The children will conclude with an audience favorite, “Si Si Si,” a folk song from the Congo. And then it’s off to the satirical seascape of the incomparable Gilbert and Sullivan. •

“Now, landsmen all, whoever you may be/ If you want to rise to the top of the tree/ If your soul isn’t fettered to an office stool/ Be careful to be guided by this golden rule/ Stick close to your desk and never go to sea/ And you may all be Rulers of the Queen’s Navee!”



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