Rob Fisher can give you three reasons you should check out Arizona Opera’s season-opening performance of “HMS Pinafore” this weekend:
No. 1 — “It’s truly entertaining no matter what your sense of humor.”
No. 2 — “The singing and music-making is really impressive.”
And No. 3 — “It can be shared between generations.”
“It’s a family thing that I really think two generations could see together and both can enjoy,” said Fisher, a Grammy-nominated music theater conductor who is making his Arizona Opera debut. “These guys (librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan) really made American musical theater possible. But in terms of pure entertainment, it’s so fun. The music is so good. The story is silly.”
This is the first time that Arizona Opera has mounted “HMS Pinafore,” the story of a lowly sailor wooing the captain’s daughter on the high seas. It is one of 14 comic operas that Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated on in the latter part of the 19th century. The piece, with its familiar tunes that have been co-opted by Hollywood — “Star Trek” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” among them — is one of three Gilbert and Sullivan operas regularly programmed by American companies.
These are the types of operas Fisher loves — works that are perfect gateways for creating opera audiences. He likes to think of them as being the ideal middle ground that connects the vocal and live music qualities of opera with the accessibility of music theater.
“I feel like we are going in a phase where opera companies are going to be doing a Rogers & Hammerstein once a year. … The middle represents to me doing these pieces to the highest musical level, which often doesn’t happen in a strictly musical-theater theater,” said Fisher, whose guest conducting résumé includes a turn at the podium with the Phoenix Symphony in 2010 with vocalist Patti LuPone.
“There’s becoming a big pool of people who want to exist in the middle — truly great singing actors who can sing opera but who enjoy singing music theater,” he added. “I’ve never been one for rigid lines between genres. I think if the music is good it should be performed as best as it can.”
Fisher also has guest conducted with orchestras in Los Angeles, Atlanta and San Francisco, and with the New York Philharmonic.
Fisher, who said he was excited to check out Tucson’s hiking trails including Sabino Canyon, thought of a fourth reason to see Arizona Opera’s “Pinafore”:
“It’s short. It’s not a big time commitment; it breezes right through,” he said.
“And I think this cast is good. They are not to be missed.”