The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Savoyards marks 50 years of Gilbert and Sullivan with a production of “Pirates of Penzance” that opens this Friday.

July 19, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, if you think, as I used to think – and sometimes still do — that the works of Gilbert and Sullivan (below) don’t really count as classical music, but are really closer to Broadway musicals or to light operettas, you should know that you are mistaken. Just as I was and am.

Many informed musicians and music outlets, including acclaimed classical music magazine and web sites, list G&S as opera. It’s that simple — no matter what you think of the pair’s signature patter songs and absurd plots.

So little wonder that I want to alert everyone to the fact that the Madison Savoyards will mark its 50th years of presenting annual summer productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas with the ever-poplar “Pirates of Penzance.” (The Savoyards started in 1963 at West High School, which in my math adds up to 49 years, I think. But let’s be generous and call it 50 since they do.)

(The photo below, by Jason Chandler, shows, from left to right, soprano Catherine Schweitzer as Mabel, the surprisingly assertive daughter of Major General Stanley and a Ward in Chancery; Anthony Ashley as the Sergeant of Police, all a rather cowardly bunch of bobbies; and J. Adam Shelton as Frederic, lovelorn but duty-bound to continue as a pirate until his leap-year birthday relieves him of his apprenticeship.)

There will be seven performances in Music Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, beginning this Friday, July 20, and running through July 29, with both five evening shows and two matinee shows.

You can also join in the official 50th Celebration and Reception, University Club at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 22.

William Farlow of the University Opera is the stage director; Blake Walter, of Edgewood College in the music director of the full orchestra.

The community group now has more than 100 people involved in the productions.

For more information about dates, times, tickets and performers as well as video and audio excerpts from past Savoyard productions, here is a link:

It is also worth nothing that the Savoyards will open the next 50 seasons the same way they opened the first 50 seasons: with a production of “Iolanthe” in 2013. And in future seasons, the Savoyards is likely to present all 13 Gilbert and Sullivan operettas as they have done their beginning.

But for this year, it is the popular “The Pirates of Penzance.” (Below, the photo by Jason Chandler shows soprano Catherine Schweitzer as Mabel and tenor J. Ada, Shelter as Frederic.)

Seven performances of “The Pirates of Penzance” will be held in UW Music Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21, as well as Thursday, July 26, Friday, July 27 and, Saturday, July 28; and at 3 p.m. on Sundays July 22 and July 29.

Tickets can be bought at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office, (608) 262-2201, or through

Prices are: Adult, $30; seniors, $28; students, $15; children under 13, $5; premium seats, (center first 3 rows, $40; economy seats on the balcony side), $20.

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