Students Find Practice in "The Pirates of Penzance"
By Mary Margaret Hogan '18 | Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Mary Margaret Hogan '18
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
On the weekend of February 11th, the UMass Opera Workshop tackled the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance in Bowker Auditorium. Coordinated by Marjorie Melnick, William Hite, and Jamie-Rose Guarrine, the staged performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic opera featured guest directors Ellen Kaplan (Smith College) and Mark Swanson (Amherst College) as well as a thoroughly impressive ensemble of Five College musicians in the orchestra. With the collaboration of the Five Colleges, students were given the unique opportunity to be acquainted with the music and theater departments outside of UMass departments while also having the help of their regular professors along the way.
The story follows Frederic, the Pirate Apprentice, as he attempts to follow his sense of “duty” while juggling his contract to The Pirate King and his new love, Mabel. This particular production was double-cast for the two performances, providing multiple students chances to cover different roles for each night. On the final performance, Brandon Hetherington ‘17 (Vocal Performance) and Lydia Barrett ‘17 (Vocal Performance and Music History) took over the lead roles as Frederic and Mabel, respectively. The pair stunned audiences with their vocal abilities and had the audience laughing from beginning to end. As it was his first time playing the lead role in a production, Hetherington praised his cast for the smooth and educational process. “We really worked hard to be as prepared for this production as possible,” he said. “The cast is such a rockstar group of people that the process never really halted severely. We were always moving forward at the end of each day, and that can be hard to find.”
As students of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, both Hetherington and Barrett cited their studies in HFA as beneficial preparation for their performances. Barrett specifically cited her professors as “great mentors” for students. “My professor, Bill Hite, has helped me so much with this role, while Jamie-Rose Guarrine, another teacher in our department, has sung Mabel several times and was an invaluable resource for exploring the character and musical aspects of the show,” Barrett said. “And Marjorie Melnick has been leading rehearsals and working so incredibly hard to make the show's great music shine.”
The UMass Opera Workshop provides passionate students the opportunity to rehearse and perform in a full-scale opera. Beyond standing and performing an aria, students are immersed in the world of the theater and learn how to move throughout a full-scale production, as well as being incorporated into a larger ensemble moving about the stage. Having seen The Pirates of Penzance this past summer in Lenox, members of the UMass Amherst Department of Music and Dance faculty were inspired to choose the production to be featured this semester; it is one cited for its timeless humor and brilliant composition. “This show is done by opera companies all the time!” noted Barrett. “In fact, both Amanda Lauricella, Saturday night’s Mabel, and I will be in a production of the show this summer! Aside from the fact that it's so fun, it’s also a great opera to be familiar with as a professional. There are great arias in it that I've used for several auditions over the years.”
The cast and crew of the UMass Amherst Opera were expected to hold themselves to a high professional standard throughout the rehearsal process, as the workshop itself acts as a training for their future careers. The professionalism, dedication, and talent of this cast and production were displayed throughout this stellar performance.