Heaven Before Hell 

Portland Opera's Cheerful Season Closer

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UNDER ORDINARY circumstances, I avoid pirates. If I'm at a bar when a bunch of them show up, I'm probably going to leave that bar, same as I would if any other roving band of costumed drunks showed up. (Do people in other cities have exit strategies for these sorts of situations? Probably not, huh.)

There were pirates at opening night of Portland Opera's The Pirates of Penzance, though, and I was thrilled to see giant hats and eye patches peppering the crowd of otherwise fancily dressed old people. The presence of cosplayers at the opera is an indication of the lingering popular appeal of Gilbert and Sullivan's work.

Many of their comic operas were written to satirize the English class system of the late 1800s, and have come themselves to be fondly lampooned in pop culture for their ubiquity as a community-theater staple. Which means that if you haven't seen a Gilbert and Sullivan show personally, you've probably at least seen Bart Simpson trick Sideshow Bob into singing the entire score from the HMS Pinafore. ("Very well, Bart. I shall send you to heaven before I send you to hell.")

Portland Opera's Pirates runs under the direction of Oregon Shakespeare Festival Director Bill Rauch, who originated the show in Ashland in 2011. It's a physical, funny production, with a few moments of genuine theater magic-making (spoiler: puppets are involved).

For the most part, the show is spoken and sung in entirely coherent English—but the supertitles come in handy when visiting soprano Talise Trevigne is showing off her formidable voice. And while it has in no way been contemporized, an effort has been made to incorporate musical riffs in different styles—gospel riffs, for example, come courtesy of Shalanda Sims, an acting and music teacher at Jefferson High School who's making her Portland Opera debut. It's a fun, lively show, at once faithful to its source material and brimming with clever, creative flourishes. You probably want to take off the eye patch, though.

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