One of the problems facing the entertainments director on a cruise ship is producing something that will appeal to an audience of multi-national passengers, especially on the larger seagoing vessels.
That’s why Broadway musicals, new family films, Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics, close-up magicians, lounge singers and musicians, and safe (and late-night ‘unsafe’) comedians are the usual fare.
I’m not knocking it. But there are times when I’d prefer something…different.
Personally, I don’t know why they don’t occasionally show silent movie classics by Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, DW Griffiths, Fritz Lang and Douglas Fairbanks.
Failing that, there is one area of the arts that in the last few decades has become the new rock ‘n’ roll – opera.
This is the one when the male lead gets murdered, he stands up and sings.
Then the chorus joins hands and hums over his body.
They then all take several bows.
And if the lead soprano is really bad she gets charged with mutiny on the high C’s.
But don’t knock it. Opera enjoys a huge global fan base.
They’ve even named a very nice Italian-themed cruise ship after it: MSC Opera.
There’s also a river cruise ship called Tosca that sails on the Nile. Presumably the female singer playing Puccini’s tragic heroine the ship was named after throws herself over the side at the end of the cruise.
But this is where I must nail my colours to the mast.
For many years I was an occasional member of the English National Opera stage crew in London. It made a welcome change from my usual solitary occupation as a writer.
The ENO’s excellent productions enjoy global renown despite the fact that most of them are performed in English.
My wife hates that.
She prefers operas sung in their original language, mainly because a) she prefers the music and b) when somebody sings a beautiful aria and it turns out to be about walking the dog or ordering a pizza it kinda diminishes the experience.
At least she’s not as damning as an opera-hating friend of mine who swears he reaches for the gun when the fat lady gets up to sing.
That’s why I would showcase light operas or operettas on a cruise, especially those by the Victorian librettist, W.S. Gilbert, and composer, Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose humorous, melodic Savoy Operas are still performed around the world.
On 5 November 1879, Gilbert and Sullivan first sighted America from the liner, Bothnia. Their producer, Richard D’Oyly Carte, arrived from England a week later.
Their plan was to stage the first authorised production of H.M.S. Pinafore in the States – Pinafore was also the first British opera to be premiered in the USA – before the local musically-inclined pirates stole it.
In those days there was no copyright arrangement between the US and Britain.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work and they were met by a flotilla of American pirates in steamers off Sandy Hook.
‘Every vessel in the motley squadron was dressed with American and English flags,’ said the Musical Times, “and having on board a Pinafore band and chorus…and so were Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan escorted into New York Bay.’
Things have changed greatly since then. Theatres and lounges on many ocean-going ships now offer favourite selections from opera, including Gilbert & Sullivan, and very very occasionally a full blown opera.
So if you are an opera lover, look out for special cruises in which the Diva features.
Meanwhile, I have rewritten a G&S song from The Pirates of Penzance – the draft libretto of which was in their luggage when they arrived in America on Guy Fawkes Day.
Gilbert and Sullivan wrote Pirates in a fit of pique at the American copyright pirates:
When cruise travellers are engaged in their enjoyment -
And cruising to their harmonious little plans -
Their capacity for innocent enjoyment -
Is just as great as any honest man’s -
Now the opera fans would love to hear more music -
Hear more music,
By composers that they have long enjoyed –
And they wish cruise ships more oftener would choose ic -
Would choose ic,,
As they sail around the world, buoy and buoyed -
Buoy and Buoyed.
But taking one consideration with another –
There’s lots of music to be had on board a ship -
Board a ship,
So if operas cruise liners would often cover –
We’ll forgive them all this one and little slip -
By the way, the other thing to remember about cruises is that ships often dock at a port that is home, or close to the home, of a world famous Opera House, such as Sydney.
So you can always take a dive for the Diva..