In my twenties, I made the biting decision to do musical theater instead of opera. Probably the wrong choice, but hindsight is awfully clear. Youth are scary. The selections we make next will spoil, manage, and make the rest of our decades. It’s a monstrous responsibility to be young.
In your twenties, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music Mezzo-soprano Shannon Lally chooses opera. But here’s a jolt. Her next role in one of my favorite shows, hilarious and satirical by WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan “HMS Pinafore,” introduced her to this intermediate world of operetta – no opera, no play, no musical theater but all three. And more.
For me, operetta, which is basically a summer opera with a few spoken words, is the best of all singing scripts. Costumes, orchestra, choreography, plot, acting, dance, set design, singing – they are there. And this one is in English.
People who can laugh at themselves will always have friends, and Gilbert and Sullivan (who, it is said, hated each other) indeed show us how funny we are. Gilbert suppresses emphasis; he ridicules rank; he pokes fun at Victorian melodrama. And all of this to Sullivan’s delectable score.
Lally is used to singing serious (and less overtly sexual) operatic roles, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Dorabella and Franz Lehar’s Olga. One of her dream roles is that of Dalila in “Samson et Dalila” by Camille Saint-Saëns. Thus, with “Pinafore”, she loves to become the adorable little buttercup of the plot.
I’ve heard Lally’s really sonorous mezzo and predict his Buttercup will be brimming with pulchritude and punch.
“Singing Buttercup taught me that these roles can be just as fun,” she said. “Buttercup is humorous, sensual, romantic and an interesting, well-rounded character. I look forward to singing similar roles in the future where I can be a little silly.”
Buttercup is a saleswoman; his clients are sailors aboard HMS Pinafore. She is an insinuation in the flesh, and her comments make the cheeks of seasoned sailors blush. No one can use an eyebrow like Buttercup. Men begin to fear that they have committed misdeeds that they have somehow forgotten. Buttercup shaking a little cayenne into their hearts is uncomfortable, but the sailors are too considerate to tell him.
“The silliness of the plot provided a foundation for friendship with my castmates, and fun times and fond memories with each rehearsal,” Lally said.
She uses a lot of chest vocals for this role, not only because the range is low, but also to show Buttercup’s sensuality and the freedom that her lower class status gives her. The fact that it is an operetta and not an opera, Lally said, allows him to make “vocal choices that may be taboo in traditional opera”.
When she first picked up the score, seeing so much spoken text intimidated the musician, who also plays the piano.
“The dialogue is really the same as the recitative, just without the extra steps of pitch and rhythm. I really enjoy extending my skills beyond what’s typically required in standard lyric literature,” Lally said. .
Little Buttercup comes early in the show. The curtain rises as the sailors do their ship’s work. She shows them her basket of goods for sale and sings “Poor Little Buttercup”.
“I’ve got molasses and toffee, I’ve got tea and I’ve got coffee / Soft tommies and succulent chops / I’ve got chickens and conies, and pretty polonies,
And excellent peppermint drops.”
We quickly get the impression that she offers more than a fried drumstick.
Soon, a handsome sailor, Ralph Rakestraw (double cast here with Philip McCown and Jonathan Elmore), walks in and sings about the girlfriend he can’t marry due to low rank; the girl is actually her captain’s daughter. Shuffles and lots of goofs later, we find out what’s really going on. But before we do, we get the gifts of Arthur Sullivan’s witty dialogue, like Ralph’s “simple” explanation of his behavior:
“I am poor in the essence of happiness, madam – rich only in endless troubles. In me meet a combination of antithetical elements which are at eternal war against each other. Driven here by objective influences — there by emotions subjective — swept away one moment in the ardent day, by a mocking hope — plunged the next day into the Cimmerian darkness of tangible despair, I am but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms. Mrs ?
And I hope I make it clear that “HMS Pinafore” is a “must-sea”.
If you are going to
WHAT: “HMS Pinafore” by WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, live and streaming
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. on April 15, 16, 22 and 23. Watch live at 7:30 p.m. on April 15 and 16 on
OR: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave.
TICKETS: firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-855-7433.