Falstaff at the Edmonton Opera

falstaff Back in February I went to see the Edmonton Opera’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore. As a first-timer, I was pleasantly surprised! I can honestly say I had a good time and enjoyed the opera. With that in mind, I agreed to check out Falstaff on Saturday with Sharon. Here’s the description from Wikipedia:

Falstaff is an operatic commedia lirica in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, adapted by Arrigo Boito from Shakespeare’s plays The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV. It was Verdi’s last opera, written in the composer’s eighth decade, and only the second of his twenty-six operas to be a comedy.

It was entertaining enough, but I didn’t enjoy Falstaff nearly as much as H.M.S. Pinafore. I think I took a few things for granted. For one thing, Pinafore was in English, so the subtitles weren’t completely necessary. They were for Falstaff though. Pinafore starred my favorite, Jeff Haslam. The characters were more interesting. By comparison, Falstaff seemed sort of boring. We also had pizza and beer during the intermission at Pinafore, which probably made more of a difference than I expected.

In short, Falstaff was closer to the image of opera that I have always had in my head. Interesting, but not really my thing.

Before the show they played a video introducing the lineup for next season. Edmonton Opera will perform Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment, and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. The “plus one” performance will be Verdi’s La Traviata. Every time they announced one of the titles, the audience seemed to gasp with delight. Sharon and I just looked at each other, puzzled. I guess it helps if you’ve heard of them before!

Sharon’s write-up is here.

H.M.S. Pinafore

On Thursday evening Sharon and I went to the Edmonton Opera’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore. The two act comic opera is a famous one by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. I’d never been to the opera before, so it was definitely a new experience for me. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I have to say I’m incredibly grateful that there were subtitles. Here’s the Edmonton Opera’s teaser:

Renowned Edmonton playwright Stewart Lemoine teams up with Edmonton Opera to create a brand-new production with a brand-new take on Gilbert and Sullivan. Join Little Buttercup, Ralph, Josephine, Sir Joseph and the sailors of the high seas in a comedy that sings the songs of love and silliness, and pokes fun at society too: British satire at its best!

haslam in pinafore
Jeff Haslam as Sir Joseph Porter

Sharon is an Explorer’s Club member which means that first and foremost, our tickets were cheaper! We also got free pizza and beer during the intermission. Before the show we went to a thirty minute “introduction to the opera” session where we learned a little about the plot in Pinafore and some of the history behind it. That was really helpful, and definitely interesting.

Only one cast member, Monica Huisman who played Josephine, was what I would call “over the top opera.” I couldn’t understand a word she was singing, and her voice was incredibly shrill. My favorite was definitely Jeff Haslam who played the crazy Sir Joseph Porter. I’ve seen Haslam act many times here in Edmonton, and he was excellent again in the opera. He stole the show, without a doubt.

I’m sure opera afficionados would gasp at the idea of subtitles, pizza, and beer, but it made the experience much more enjoyable for a first-timer like myself. Opera is kind of like a musical that you can’t understand, and I’m not such a fan of musicals in the first place.

I never would have guessed that the experience would be educational, but it was. Not only did I learn a bit more about opera in general, but I never quite realized the impact it has on our culture. Heck, there’s an entire Wikipedia entry dedicated to the cultural influence of Gilbert and Sullivan. And I learned this popular exchange:

“What, never?”
“No, never!”
“What, never?
“Well, hardly ever!”

Just as funny now as it was a hundred years ago! That’s probably why Pinafore is still popular – it’s timeless entertainment all around.