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Who ya gonna believe, my libretto or your lying eyes? - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Who ya gonna believe, my libretto or your lying eyes? [Mar. 27th, 2011|08:25 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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I have a problem with The Pirates of Penzance, and it's the same problem I have with Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall novels.

I should back up and say that I love The Pirates of Penzance with a fierce and irrational love. I can sing the vast majority of it (if it's shifted by the appropriate octaves etc.), but I have had a preferred role since I was 11 years old, and that role is the Pirate King. (It is, it is a glorious thing to be a Pirate King. Trust me on this one.) I had backup singers, when I was eleven and singing that song, friends who would chime in to do, "Hurrah, hurrah for the Pirate King!" for me. We are all nearing three times as old now, and I still love those girls, and more rarely and preciously, I still love the women they've become. But that is a long, long digression, and full of Arthur Ransome and Rosemary Sutcliff and heaven knows what else.

But Pirates. Right.

So the thing about Pirates is that I see it whenever I have the chance, and yet it hardly ever gets the Ruth/Mabel thing to match the libretto. For those you who are unaware, Ruth is written to be a plain, frumpy 47-year-old, and Mabel is to be a beautiful 17-year-old.

Also Menolly of Dragonsong and its sequels is the most brilliant songwriter in generations.

Both of these are no problem whatever when I put it down like that, and quite a bit of a problem when you can check for yourself. And I get, and I totally support, that a) very few of us are the most brilliant songwriter in generations and also want to write a novel*, and b) when you are casting an operetta, voice is the most important quality. I do understand all that. But I feel that in the case of the novels, perhaps having everybody on the planet's surface react to your character with "OMG BEST EVAR" is not the thing, and if you're insisting that it is the thing, perhaps the songs themselves ought to remain shrouded in mystery so that the reader does not say, "I can do better than that, and I'm 11 and don't write songs."** And in the case of the operetta, there is such a thing as...dare I suggest it...costuming and makeup?

The worst Pirates I ever saw had a Ruth and a Mabel who both looked like they had reached their mid-fifties or early sixties through a great deal of hard living, and Frederick looked 14. This is almost impossible to do anything about, so if those are the voices you have in a small town production, you will just have to live with it. But today's Pirates! Today's Pirates with GSVLOC had cast a perfectly reasonable-looking young woman as Mabel...and another perfectly reasonable-looking young woman as Ruth. And I kept thinking, "Slap a grey wig on that girl! Put makeup lines on her face!" The singer, Therese Walth, was clearly the correct voice for Ruth--I don't mean she shouldn't have had the chance to play the role. (Which is a better role than Mabel anyway--but I am not a soprano, and I have made every effort in my life to never, ever be an ingenue.) I just felt that especially in her closing costume, Frederick was being shown to have rather specific tastes more than anything else. It is a risk of live theater. It is a risk of librettos that describe too particularly. Sigh.

We've now been going to GSVLOC since 2005, missing only when Grandpa died, and this is apparently long enough to acquire a favorite regular in their company, or at least long enough for me to do so. I am greatly fond of Christopher Michela, who played the Sergeant of Police today, who was particularly memorable as the Mikado a few years ago, and who generally has a notably expressive face and voice. But it's also long enough that I could spot when one of the Major General's wards had a cold today. I hope she feels better soon--she did a credible job anyway, poor dear--but I'm a bit pleased that I get to go to this thing every year, that the company shifts and changes and yet has continuity also, and that I get to see enough of it to know that sort of detail. It makes me happy.

Or maybe I'm just in a good mood because of the Pirate King song. Who knows.

*Although I have great hopes of the forthcoming Josh Ritter novel, "most brilliant songwriter in generations" rather overstates. I am not given to overstatement of this kind. It is enough--quite more than enough, given some of the places they've held in my life in the last few years--that I love Josh's songs. They need not prevent me from loving other songs to earn that.

**Eleven was not chosen randomly here. It was a big year for me.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: columbina
2011-03-28 02:38 pm (UTC)
N.B. I should add that I basically grew up in the green rooms of various Little Theatre troupes, and got the behavior mods at a tender age, so that even at the age of six it was possible to take me to a Production for Adults with only extremely minor amounts of shushing. This may explain why I am so very intolerant of people today who act in theatres like they were raised in a barn.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-03-28 02:46 pm (UTC)
This is possible for many small people, if their parents start early.
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