UI School of Music to tell a forbidden love story at sea with ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’

Written and composed by Victorian-era dramatist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan, and directed by UI Director of Opera Bill Theisen, H.M.S. Pinafore will balance comedy and drama through an enthralling tale at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts.



Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

The University of Iowa’s School of Music is making waves in the world of comedy and opera with its latest production, H.M.S. Pinafore. Written and composed by Victorian-era theatrical duo W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, the opera tells a forbidden love story at sea.

H.M.S. Pinafore premieres on April 22 with subsequent performances on April 23 and 24 at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts.

The show’s director, UI Director of Opera Bill Theisen, said that the thematic elements of the piece have a certain longevity to them. While it was originally devised over 100 years ago, he said H.M.S. Pinafore’s story remains potent today.

“It’s 144 years old, but it’s frighteningly relevant,” Theisen said. “I mean, it’s a parody of the class system at the time in England, but a lot of things it talks to you about, sadly, are still issues today.”

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Mitchell Widmer, one of the show’s cast members who is studying for a doctorate in music at the UI, said that love is one of the universal appeals of the story.

Widmer said that while the British class system may not be applicable to an American audience today, the themes of love, gender, and race are certainly discussed extensively.

“It kind of comes down to the principle of when you love someone, all the other things that kind of put you against each other, make it not possible that kind of all gets stripped away and it works out in the end,” Widmer said. “So, it kind of shows a precursor to where we’re at right now in society where it’s not perfect, but we’re getting somewhere.”

With love at the forefront of the plot, gender plays an important role in the story. Widmer said that through his work as a director, Theisen has strengthened the role of the actresses involved.

Implementing slight adjustments to staging, Widmer said that the female characters have more voice and presence when theoretically compared to the original production.

“Bill has kind of brought the female characters into their own right, and they kind of have their own autonomy,” Widmer said. “Even though it’s a comedy, they’re very assertive and kind of know what they know what they want, rather than being these just damsel characters.”

Theisen said that only a few of his students had exposure to Gilbert and Sullivan’s work before. He said there is a distinct style to British operetta that he is excited to share.

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Taylor Mayne, a cast member who is pursuing a doctorate in music, said that Gilbert and Sullivan knew what they were good at in terms of music. He said that the composition reflects the story artistically, with catchy tunes that stick with the listeners.

“Every melody that they wrote is very memorable. That kind of goes with the show — it’s not a complicated story. It’s a very easy story to follow,” Mayne said. “I think that’s kind of what their music is. Not easy, but it’s very simple and beautiful.”

Theisen said that in a comedy, audience participation and energy are important for the performers. With the great amount of time and energy the cast has put into the production, Theisen said he is most looking forward to a live audience enjoying the show.

“I think for the cast, to experience the energy of the audience, [and] what they will give back to them that we’ve been working for these last couple of months,” Theisen said. “I’m really excited for them to get people out there to really respond to the work that they have done.”

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