Comic opera a "must see"

  Wednesday, February 7, 2018 2:00 AM
  News, People and Society, Arts & Entertainment

Pittsburg, KS

Comic opera a "must see"

When it comes to Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance," PSU voice instructor Patrick Howle knows two things for sure.

"Everyone should see it once in their lifetime, and everyone should perform in it," he said.  

Howle speaks from experience. He's performed in it six times, and this weekend will direct it for the second time in the Linda & Lee Scott Performance Hall in the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts — a performance space with tunable walls adjusted to provide the best acoustics possible.  

"It's hilarious, it's got great tunes, a love story, it's a fully staged production with costumes and sets," Howle said. "It's really a must-see."  

"Pirates of Penzance" is a comic opera in two acts, with libretto by W.S. Gilbert and music by Arthur Sullivan. It premiered in New York City in 1879 and was a hit, then went on to run for 363 performances in London. It was performed for over a century in Britain and by opera companies worldwide, including on Broadway where it won a Tony Award.  

The story centers on Frederic, who, having completed his 21st year, is released from his apprenticeship to a band of tender-hearted pirates. He meets Mabel, the daughter of Major-General Stanley, and the two young people fall instantly in love.   

Frederic soon learns, however, that he was born on the 29th of February, and so, technically, he has a birthday only once each leap year. His indenture specifies that he remain apprenticed to the pirates until his "21st birthday," meaning that he must serve for another 63 years.  

Students performing in "Penzance" say they're glad not just for the experience of performing such a world-renowned opera right here on campus, but for being able to learn from faculty who are noted performers in their own right  

"The faculty are supreme professionals in each of their fields," said Brock Willard, a senior majoring in music education who plays Major General Stanley.  

Howle, the director, has performed in more than 25 productions with the Ohio Light Opera and was a winner of the Orpheus National Vocal Competition.  

Cast member Lisa Gerstenkorn is both a voice instructor in the music department and a noted performer: She sings with Lawrence Opera Theatre, Shawnee Mission Theatre in the Park, with Springfield Regional Opera, and American Opera Studio, among others.  

And Raul Antonio Munguia, PSU professor of violin, is directing the SEK Symphony Orchestra, which will play the musical score to the opera. He performs with symphonies across the U.S. and abroad.  

Willard, who aspires to become a composer himself one day, said being a part of "Penzance" has taken his learning to a new level.   

"The opera definitely helps me advance because it gives me that much more experience that I can utilize in teaching," he said. "As I told our director when he cast the show, 'I just needed to get to the nitty gritty of opera from the inside'."  

The opera will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday. There is no performance on Saturday in order to give voices a rest, Howle noted.  

Tickets are $5 to $10. Discounted tickets for PSU students, faculty, and staff are available, with valid PSU ID, purchased and picked up in person, at PSU Ticket Office in Room 137 of the Weede Physical Education Building.   

Tickets also may be purchased online at, by phone at 620-235-4796 from 8:30 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and at the door.

To learn more about PSU's Department of Music, visit