Backstage Pass: Model Victoria Henley has a night at the (light) opera


Brimming with palpable excitement, swashbuckling style, and arguably some of the most internationally recognizable songs in the comic opera sphere, Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” has an inexplicable charm that has captured the hearts of audiences since its very first performance in 1879.

The highly acclaimed light opera made its Broadway debut at the Uris Theater in 1981 and was shortly thereafter adapted for a film version in 1983, directed by William Leach and distributed by Universal Pictures.

Accompanied by Lynn Henley, I attended the finale production of the Atlanta Opera’s recent presentation for Backstage Pass at iHeartRadio and to give you an inside look at this energetic comic opera as well as a sneak peek into the upcoming season.

This lighthearted, rambunctious romp of an opera (inspired by the real-life pirates of Cornwall) is comprised of two parts and follows the story of Frederic who, having celebrated his 21st birthday, is set to be released from his apprenticeship to a group of pirates with a soft-spot for orphans.

News of the pirates’ tender-heartedness quickly spreads throughout the land, causing all of their would-be victims to miraculously become instant “orphans.” Ruth, the hearing-impaired maid, mistakenly apprenticed the protagonist, then 8, to the Pirate King, as opposed to a “pilot” as she was intended to do. She subsequently remained on the ship 13 years, dutifully fulfilling her role as an honorary buccaneer, while developing intense romantic feelings for young Frederic along the way.

Suspecting that the aforementioned maid, at 26 years his senior, might be a bit too mature for him, Frederic, now a free man, sets off on the journey of a lifetime to see the world as he never has and hopefully take a wife somewhere along the way. He then stumbles upon the enchanting daughters of Major General Stanley and is instantly captivated by the charm, wit and beauty of Mabel, who gladly returns his affections.

The lovestruck couple begin making plans to wed. However, their plans are seemingly thwarted by the unwelcome arrival of the wily “Pirates of Penzance,” who insist to take Major General Stanley’s daughters as their wives.

Horrified, the ladies fight back in protest, and desperate to free his only offspring from their clutches, a quick-thinking Major General Stanley claims to be an orphan, inciting empathy from the plucky thieves of the sea, who reluctantly go about their way.

Tormented by his fib, Major General Stanley spends sleepless nights lamenting his transgression, and meanwhile, Frederic’s new marriage is threatened by the return of The Pirate King and Ruth, who bear the news of a most unfortunate “paradox” that may very well change the trajectory of his new life.

Chaos ensues as worlds collide, alliances are tested, and Royals are called upon in this thrilling comic romp of an opera, which brings glorious music, gorgeous costumes, and laughs abounding to the stage.

The Atlanta Opera, known and acclaimed world-wide for its exquisite production value and world-class performers, produced arguably one of the best renditions of this classic ever brought to the stage during the show’s Jan 22-30 run at the state-of-the-art Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Featuring superb, musical direction by visionary conductor, Francesco Milioto and high octane, beautifully nuanced direction and choreography by Sean Curran, “The Pirates of Penzance” featured a stellar cast, whom all perfectly embodied their respective characters.

Santiago Ballerini -an Argentinian tenor, who is recognized as one of the leading tenors in the Bel Canto repertoire- portrays the protagonist, Frederic, with great aplomb.

Susanne Burgess –who boasts many impressive credits on her resume, including notable appearances in “La Boheme” and “Dear Erich” with the New York City Opera- is show -stopping as Mabel.

Curt Olds– an in demand performer, also making his Atlanta Opera debut- is absolutely captivating as Major General Stanley, performing an unforgettable rendition of the lively “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.”

Katherine Goeldner brings precision and razed sharp comedic timing to her portrayal of Ruth.

Baritone, Craig Irvin is effortlessly charming in, and fervently committed to, his role of the iconic Pirate King.

Additional standout performances include bass-baritone Daniel Sumerian as the Sergeant of Police; young mezzo Gretchen Krupp in her role of one of Major General Stanley’s many daughters, Edith; baritone Sankara Harouna as Samuel; as well as the gifted Eva Lukkonen Sullivan and Julia Metry as Kate and Isabel respectively.

The entire ensemble brought a remarkable blend of grace and attack to this beloved show, and a finale appearance by Tennessee native, Corinne Scott, reprising her 2016 role as “Queen Victoria” brought audiences to their feet.

While “The Pirates of Penzance” at The Atlanta Opera has sadly come to a close, be sure to visit The Atlanta Opera’s website and follow this dynamic company on all major social media platforms for a full list of upcoming productions.

General and Artistic director, Tomer Zvulun (be sure to check out my interview with Zvulun and many performers from the Big Tent series by searching “Backstage Pass with Victoria” on the iHeart Radio App, or wherever you get your podcasts) provides exemplary leadership for The Atlanta Opera, having pivoted productions and navigated the COVID -19 pandemic by offering outdoor, socially distanced productions in 2020/2021 with the Big Tent series, which was so widely lauded by critics and media outlets alike that it will return this summer, along with grand scale productions at the resident Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre venue.

Special thanks to Greg with Media and Public Relations for facilitating this spotlight.


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