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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, above; Allentown Symphony Orchestra members, CONTRIBUTED PHOTO New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, above; Allentown Symphony Orchestra members, "H.M.S. Pinafore," 8 p.m. Jan. 18, Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown

Classical Views: The very model of a musical comedy

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 by DIANE WITTRY Special to The Press in Focus

Allentown Symphony Orchestra members set sail with New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players on 'Pinafore'

As a conductor, I have always had a fond place in my heart for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. This interest stems all the way back to 5th grade, when my brother, who was in 6th grade, played the Captain in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, "H.M.S. Pinafore."

My brother always had trouble remembering the script's dialogue and lyrics to the songs, so guess who ran around the house helping out by shouting, "I am the Captain of the Pinafore, and a right good captain too," and "What never? Well, hardly ever"?

Yes, yours truly.

Now you may wonder exactly what the difference is between an opera and an operetta, and you may also wonder, who were Gilbert and Sullivan.

Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, known as W. S. Gilbert, was a librettist and wrote words for operas and shows. Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan was a composer. They both grew up in London in the mid-1800's. Comic opera was their specialty.

An operetta is simply a light, humorous, comic opera that involves singing and dancing. Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on 14 comic operas, known today as operettas. "H.M.S. Pinafore," "The Pirates of Penzance" and "The Mikado" are among their best-known and loved.

There were certain characters that were always present in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. There had to be a hero, and of course, his love-interest. There was usually an older woman with a sharp wit, contrasted with a rather dumb older man. And for sure, every operetta always had to have a villain.

Another characteristic trait of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas was their patter songs. A patter song has words that never seem to cease, almost like an endless tongue twister. W. S. Gilbert was especially talented with writing extremely clever lyrics for his patter songs, mostly poking fun at the aristocrats.

The plot of "H.M.S. Pinafore" (H.M.S. stands for "Her Majesty's Ship") focuses on an obsession with social status and who is "allowed" to love and marry whom. The story also satirizes the rise of unqualified people into positions of authority, especially in the Royal English Navy.

Gilbert and Sullivan's first major success was in 1878 with "H.M.S. Pinafore," subtitled "The Lass That Loved A Sailor." This operetta was given 571 performances in London, which was the second longest run of any musical theater production at that time. Since then, "H.M.S. Pinafore" has been performed countless times all over the world, and is still one of the most popular of all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

At 8 p.m. Jan. 18, members of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra will accompany the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, with Artistic Director Albert Bergeret, in a wonderful production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore." Bergeret is a professional specialist in the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, having performed, staged, conducted and designed every opera in the repertoire during a 40-year period.

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP), now in its 39th year of operation, is the United States' preeminent professional Gilbert & Sullivan repertory ensemble. The company, since its founding in 1974, has presented more than 2,000 performances of Gilbert and Sullivan masterpieces throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, captivating audiences of all ages. The Players web site is: nygasp.org.

This production of "H.M.S. Pinafore," performed with live orchestral music in historic Miller Symphony Hall in downtown Allentown, promises to be great fun for the entire family.

Diane Wittry is Music Director-Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director (USA), International Cultural Exchange Program for Classical Musicians, Sarajevo Philharmonic, Bosnia; and author, "Beyond the Baton" (Oxford University Press).

Concert tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; AllentownSymphony.org; 610-432-6715