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Brit Humor Brings Love to Life

May 06, 2011

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    May 06, 2011
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    Opera Carolina News

Brit Humor Brings Love to Life

Somewhere back there, maybe Catherine Middleton saw "H.M.S Pinafore" and took heart. Or maybe Prince William did.

One thing's for sure. The two young people arrived at the same belief that's trumpeted at the climax of "Pinafore": When two people are in love, who cares about a difference in social class?

Well, in "Pinafore," several people do. For more than a century, audiences have loved watching them get tossed around in the topsy-turvy comedy of William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan - respectively, the librettist and composer. Even though "Pinafore" dates to the reign of Queen Victoria, it still hits home in the world of Jon Stewart.

"For anybody who has a "Saturday Night Live" or "Monty Python" sense of humor, it's very much that - daring to poke fun at society and the political culture around us," says Gary Briggle, a singer whose repertoire includes about a half-dozen Gilbert and Sullivan roles. When "Pinafore" lands at the Belk Theater next week, closing Opera Carolina's season, Briggle will play the embodiment of Britain's upper crust: Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty.

Putting Sir Joseph at the top of the social ladder is only the beginning of the fun Gilbert and Sullivan have with him. As he proudly explains, his top qualification for his job - the equivalent of the United States' Secretary of the Navy - is that he has never gone to sea. (If Gilbert and Sullivan had been psychic, they might have contrived to have another character assure Sir Joseph, "Joey, you're doin' a heckuva job.")

"The spoof of political figures in the higher ranks of government resonates very strongly with Americans," Briggle says.

Of course, the fact that the characters still get a rise out of audiences after 130-plus years comes down to Gilbert's skill as wordsmith and Sullivan's as tunesmith. The rhymes sail along on one catchy melody after another. And, unlike the typical opera-company fare, Gilbert and Sullivan's shows have a linguistic advantage in reaching audiences.

"They're in English, and they're accessible," Briggle says. "The music is tuneful. It's sophisticated without being highbrow."

By Steven Brown The Charlotte Observer

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