Whatever might follow the emotional ecstasy of Parsifal? After the grail and redemption, what is one supposed to seek? Unless Nelsons had been offering a repeat, it would have to be something radically different. Pirates relay from the ENO fits the bill perfectly. Literally, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I could say that it is another name trick: pure-fool / pirate-pilot. But the similarity ends there.
The production was essentially quite simple: large single-colour shapes. Against this reductionist view the costumes were almost a pastiche of Victoriana - over the top, and it all worked very well.
Musically, Parry dallied too much in the put. If you listen to the D'Oyly recordings, these thunder along at a hundred miles an hour. Why? They are fun, but the music isn't good enough to pull off a ponderous The whole thing needed more pace. This isn't a great work, so a professional opera company must take care that the cracks don't show. Speed is the trick here as it was with Chenier back in January.
It isn't opera of course. Much as early opera is a sung play, this is a sung pantomime. In this view, the humour fits. Yet it is an odd form of entertainment. From outer-space, it must seem insane. It is. When the large picture of Queen Vic comes down as the Pirates and the police professed loved for her; armed to the teeth the Pirates became puppies when told they would be arrested in her name, it got an awful lot of belly-laughs.
There was little to fault vocally. The Major-General (Andrew Shore) delivered great comic acting and perfectly good singing (even if it is not a part which calls for singing as much as acting). Throwing himself on the tomb in the newly-bought estate church - but they are somebody's ancestors raised a lot of laughs. Joshua Bloom as the Pirate King gave the hearty bass needed for such a scoundrel. Robert Murray's Frederic was incredibly well-mannered for a pirate, so we knew he really didn't want to be one. The stand out singing came from Mabel, brought to the heights of bel canto by Claudia Boyle. Well Frederic would fall in love with her, wouldn't he?
Overall: if the ENO revives its finances using this quality of G&S, it sounds like everyone will win.
Cast and team
Conductor - David Parry
Director - Mike Leigh
Designer - Alison Chitty
Lighting Designer - Paul Pyant
Choreographer - Francesca Jaynes
Major - General Stanley - Andrew Shore
The Pirate King - Joshua Bloom
Frederic - Robert Murray
Sergeant of Police - Jonathan Lemalu
Mabel - Claudia Boyle
Ruth - Rebecca de Pont Davies
Samuel - Alexander Robin Baker
Edith - Soraya Mafi
Kate - Angharad Lyddon