The Stratford Festival Pinafore (1981)

Sir Joseph PorterEric Donkin
Captain CorcoranMichael Burgess
Ralph RackstrawJames MacLean
Dick DeadeyeAvo Kittask
Bill BobstayPaul Massell
Bob BecketKenneth Baker
JosephineKatherine Terrell
Little ButtercupPatricia Kern
HebeAnne Linden

Director: Leon Major
Conductor: Berthold Carrière

Photos from the Production
Photos from the Production

This production was the first of five G&S shows produced during the 1980s at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. Later shows in the series were hammed up and re-orchestrated, at times nearly beyond recognition. Pinafore is played fairly straight, although Carrière's improvements to Sullivan do sneak in at times.

Stratford Festival Video Cover
Stratford Festival Video Cover

There are a number of annoying cuts, which is difficult to figure considering that the opera is so short to begin with. Every dialogue scene is abbreviated. The production also omits "The nightingale," "Things are seldom what they seem," a large chunk of the recitative in "The hours creep on apace," and the reprise of "He is an Englishman" that follows "For I'll teach you all ere long." The music to "For I hold that on the seas" is souped up and played to cover the exit of Sir Joseph and his relatives, but the words are not sung.

It is an attractive and energetic production, but the performers' understanding of their characters is only skin deep. The dialogue scenes, even in their abbreviated form, seemed rushed — as though the director believed that they are the weakest parts of the opera and need to be got over as quickly as possible.

The late Bob Lang singled out Avo Kittask's Dick Deadeye, which he rightly described as "superb." Most of the performers are not up to this level. Michael Burgess and Paul Massell are vocal lightweights for the roles of the Captain and the Boatswain respectively, although James MacLean is an attractive Ralph. Patricia Kern survives the cuts to deliver a credible, if unmemorable, Buttercup.

Katherine Terrell's Josephine is misjudged. She stages "Sorry her lot" as an entry in her diary, but with winks and smirks that suggest she does not take it at all seriously. Similarly, "The hours creep on" does not convey much of the character's inner turmoil, though she finally gets into it at the end.

Eric Donkin as Sir Joseph
Eric Donkin as Sir Joseph

Eric Donkin plays Sir Joseph as a stuffy beaurocrat in late middle age, whom Josephine would have found unappealing because he is asexual and insufferably pompous. He makes a character out of it, but like everyone else he rushes at times. "When I was a lad" gets an encore, in which the last four verses are repeated at steadily increasing speed.

Overall, the production strikes one as an opportunity missed, and it must have left uninformed audience members thinking the opera is a good deal more trivial than it actually is. The video has been shown on television occasionally and is available from the Stratford Festival Website.

Issue History
1998 Stratford Festival NTSC VHS [no number]