This film consists of a double bill of HMS Pinafore and Trial by Jury. IMDb lists them separately but I want to review them together because you need to know that, if you watch this film, you will get a damp squib of a Pinafore together with a firecracker of a Trial by Jury.
The productions are by Opera Australia although they are performed, not as operas but as musicals with the singers wearing radio mikes. This is not of itself particularly intrusive although its does mean that some of the roles are taken by actors with non-operatic voices. The role of Little Buttercup is performed by an actress who is better known in Australian soap operas. Her rasping delivery is painful to the ear.
The film flaunts the fact that it was recorded in front of a live audience but one or two clumsy edits suggest that it has been cobbled together from several performances. I have only ever been to the opera once in Australia (La Périchole in Sydney, if you must know) but I do not recall that they left the houselights on during the performance. This film constantly cuts to shots of the audience applauding or laughing with the lights on. This suggests that it was recorded like a situation comedy with the audience being told to laugh and applaud before the show began and then those shots being intercut with the actual performance.
Pinafore is imaginatively staged. I like the start below decks, the ladies gaily tripping from a container that has been hoist aboard and admiral arriving covered in buoyancy aids. However the singing, by both the chorus and principals is lacklustre and does not match the imaginativeness of the production.
I don't know what they put in the interval drinks but, after this, with many of the same cast, Trial by Jury is a revelation. This is Gilbert and Sullivan's early, one act opera and I had always thought of it as an apprentice piece. But in this production it is revealed to have some of Gilbert's most piercing lyrics and some of Sullivan's best music. Sullivan was a master of pastiche and it is a joy to hear his mock Handel with the judge singing "Let me speak" being drowned by the chorus singing "Let him speak". We move on to mock Offenbach "Tink-a-tank, Tink-a-tank" before a Rossinian pastiche in the sextet "A nice dilemma". Trial by Jury is also the only G&S that I have heard that has recitatives instead of spoken dialogue.
This mischievous production is in modern dress. There is an excellent male chorus of jurymen (this was written in 1875) and a vivacious female chorus of journalists. David Hobson is the defendant, a flash young man in a breach of promise action. The jury give him short shrift, assiduously reading The Sun as he gives his evidence. They are more attentive to the plaintiff, attractively played and sung by Ali McGregor. Only the Judge, played by Anthony Warlow with a fake Scottish accent, is a slight disappointment.
This comes over as a remarkably fresh satire for a piece written 130 years ago. Although we no longer have actions for breach of promise we are still accustomed to judges falling asleep on the bench and being over-impressed by the fragrance of female witnesses. Some of the dialogue has been made more racy "Is this the court of the exchequer? Be firm, be firm my pecker" and some has been toned down so that the defendant's reference to thrashing his fiancée has been changed to "trashing". I think it is also unacceptable to trash your fiancée but with WS Gilbert, as with Wagner, you have to take the good with the bad.
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