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Opera Notre Dame to perform operetta ‘Pirates of Penzance’

| Thursday, April 25, 2019

Opera Notre Dame will present “Pirates of Penzance,” an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan first performed in 1879, beginning this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Decio Theater at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. The show, which revolves around a lovable gang of pirates and their apprentice Fredrich, will run all weekend.

The production will be the first Gilbert and Sullivan work performed by Opera ND, and Director Alek Shrader said the opera will look and sound different than what most would expect.

“Gilbert and Sullivan shows were always intended to be highly comedic, very light fare. Although it’s comedic, it doesn’t diminish the performance in any way — it doesn’t cheapen it,” Shrader said. “The music and the text are so brilliant that it can support a modernization of their original work. They always intended it to be contemporary, not so lofty and stuffy.”

Conductor Daniel Stowe said this kind of performance demands much from the orchestra as well as the actors.

“It’s tricky, trying to stay out of the way of the singing actors and supporting them, but still giving as full a musical account as you can,” he said. “It’s a different level of challenge.”

Opera ND’s production of “Pirates” has taken on its own character, Shrader said, much to the excitement of the cast and crew.

“We stripped out everything outdated. We’re living in the now in this production,” he said. “I know I’m the director and I crafted a lot of the jokes, but I guarantee it’s funny.”

Freshman actor Tim Purnell said he attests to the originality of this production.

“I’ve actually been in Pirates three different times, but this director is so creative,” he said. “He’s done so many things that make me crack up, even though often jokes get repeated through the show. He’s just really inventive and brings the show to life.”

The cast and crew have grown as individuals and as a unit over the course of production, Shrader said.

“The most important thing is that the students gain not only the experience of doing this, but that they can take this experience forward in later performances, but also just in life and other studies,” Shrader said. “Each rehearsal has grown and achieved some momentum. We’re evolving the show. I can step back and let the performers take their own initiatives.”

Stowe said he finds the high level of vocal performance provided by the graduate singers from Notre Dame’s Sacred Music Program in the show particularly exciting.

“The graduate singers … are just tremendous — professional-quality singers, wonderful actors,” he said. “It really raises the level of performance in the show.”

Each production member has a different ambition for opening night, Purnell said, and the cast’s untapped energy has resulted in plenty of anticipation for opening night.

“Once everyone is on stage in front of an audience, they’ll bring all the energy they’ve been holding back in rehearsal,” he said. “I’m just excited to see everyone fully engaged.”

But while the cast is excited for the stage, Stowe said nothing can prepare them for the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience.

“You never know how the audience reacts until you have one,” he said. “All the planning goes out the window when you get a live audience. You hope that you guessed right — and if not, you’ll find out soon enough.”

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