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The Skinny On Opera

April 05, 2007

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    April 05, 2007
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    Opera Carolina News

The Skinny On Opera

It was the opening night of Opera Carolina's 2003 production of "The Mikado." With Gilbert's words and Sullivan's music as the ever-dependable driving forces, the show was bustling along.

Suddenly one character made a wisecrack that didn't originate with Gilbert. It was a jab at someone whose name sounded like George Shin. I -- who had only lived in Charlotte for two months -- had no idea who that was. But it took only a moment to realize that everybody else in the Belk Theater must've been plenty familiar with him. They were getting a big kick at this Shin's expense. Later, someone enlightened me as to who George Shinn was (former Charlotte Hornets owner) and why the crowd loved to hate him.

The cast and director were indulging in a favorite Gilbert-and-Sullivan sideline: spicing up the pair's timeless satire with a timely mirth. "Mikado" offers the classic spot for it when the Lord High Executioner reveals "I've got a little list" -- a recitation of "society offenders" who deserve his professional attention. Every era and locale has candidates for that, no?

Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance," which Opera Carolina presents beginning Thursday, has no spots so tempting, stage director Bill Fabris said. Fabris aims to keep "Pirates" in its original Victorian setting.

He thinks, nonetheless, that a few olden references need updating. In one case, he'll transplant the name of a modern-day cruise line in place of a long-ago one that might be meaningless to today's listeners. Will it work? We'll see beginning Thursday. Keep your ears and minds attuned. That's always the key to Gilbert and Sullivan -- if you want to get in on the fun.