Bemidji State University’s Department of Music will bring Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic opera, “The Pirates of Penzance,” to Bemidji audiences with a modern twist beginning March 2.
The two-act comedic opera show follows a young pirate apprentice named Fredrick who is about to get his freedom after 21 long years belonging to the pirates. Inevitably, he runs into some troubles along the way.
The opera’s space theme came from Dr. Cory Renbarger, Bemidji State’s associate music professor who also directs the university’s opera theater productions.
“I am a fan of sci-fi,” he said. “I was watching something last summer as we were thinking about what shows to do, and I thought Pirates of Penzance would work,” Renbarger said. “Why not make it different and new?”
The 100-year-old show has been performed many times by many colleges, often with different and unusual takes on the source material.
“I think what makes this version particularly interesting is taking a loved classic and putting a new spin on it while maintaining and preserving what made it great in the first place,” Renbarger said. “I think the whole space theme is something that is explored on television, movies and cinema a lot right now. I thought, ‘let’s have some fun with it.’”
One dramatic difference in the modern, spaceship theme is the portrayal of the opera’s female characters.
“They have lightsabers,” Renbarger said. “They are not these weak, dainty girls. They are almost like a ninja squad. They are not the petticoat-wearing, umbrella-twirling characters that are portrayed in the original.”
Tom Skime, the technical director for the musical, got the futurist, modern looking set together, while Fred Rogers, a Bemidji State alum and head of Minnesota Folklore Theatre, crafted the show’s unique space-themed costumes.
Renbarger said the experience levels of the students in this year’s production vary greatly. For some, it will be the first time they perform on stage at BSU, while for others it will be the culmination of a lengthy collegiate career on stage.
“This is a big undertaking and our students are taking it very well,” Renbarger said. “They have been working well together and I’m very proud of that. It is perfectly indicative of what we do in the opera program.”
Students auditioned for the roles back in September and began rehearsing after the holiday break. They had a month to rehearse the show’s music elements and a month rehearse on stage with the set in place.
“I think it just shows that there is excellent education going on through the opera,” Renbarger said.
The production’s music will be conducted by Dr. Dwight Jilek and assisted by Miriam Webber. Both are assistant professors in BSU’s Department of Music. The pit orchestra will feature several professional musicians from outside the Bemidji area, and also will feature BSU faculty members Webber, Chow-Yen Chen and Heather Guidry, along with several students.
“The Pirates of Penzance” will run for three performances between March 2-4, with 7:30 p.m. shows March 2-3 and a 3 p.m. matinee March 4. Tickets are available at the door for $15; senior citizens age 62 and over are admitted for $10 and all BSU/NTC students are admitted free with a valid ID.
Mar. 2 – 7:30 p.m. – Bemidji State University Department of Music Presents “Opera: Pirates of Penzance” in the main theatre of Bangsberg. $15 adults; $10 senior citizens (62+)/K-12 and all BSU/NTC students free with ID.
Mar. 3 – 7:30 p.m. – Bemidji State University Department of Music Presents “Opera: Pirates of Penzance” in the main theatre of Bangsberg. $15 adults; $10 senior citizens (62+)/K-12 and all BSU/NTC students free with ID.
Mar. 4 – 3 p.m. – Bemidji State University Department of Music Presents “Opera: Pirates of Penzance” in the main theatre of Bangsberg. $15 adults; $10 senior citizens (62+)/K-12 and all BSU/NTC students free with ID.
Bemidji State University, located amid the lakes and forests of northern Minnesota, occupies a wooded campus along the shore of Lake Bemidji. Enrolling more than 5,100 students, Bemidji State offers more than 80 undergraduate majors and eight graduate degrees encompassing arts, sciences and select professional programs. BSU is a member of the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities and has a faculty and staff of more than 550. The university’s Shared Fundamental Values include environmental stewardship, civic engagement and international and multicultural understanding.