from Franklin Light Opera

Laughter and Levity at the Franklin Light Opera

Chad Jones as Sir Joseph Porter KCB and Emilee Upleger as Cousin Hebe (Photo: Steve Lowry)

H.M.S. Pinafore by Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert has been a smash success ever since its premiere in 1878. After a marvelous performance by the Franklin Light Opera this September, it is easy to see why this piece has had almost a 150-year lifespan with no end in sight. The Franklin Light Opera (FLO) is one of the newer performing arts organizations in Middle Tennessee, having been founded in 2020 with the mission to “bring light opera, operetta, and classic musical theatre to audiences in and around Franklin, TN […] We strive to entertain and bring joy, serving as a source of “light” within the community.” Although I have only seen this one performance, it is easy to say that the FLO is fulfilling their mission and enriching the Franklin community.

H.M.S. Pinafore is quintessential Gilbert & Sullivan in so many ways – class struggles are treated with humor, the Royal Navy is mocked as an absurd institution, and most of the music is quite memorable – evidenced by the number of tunes I heard whistled as I walked back to my car. The Savoy operas of Gilbert & Sullivan, and particularly Pinafore, are part of a unique period in theatrical music. There are clear roots and indebtedness to the great operatic works of Mozart and Rossini with musical features like recitative, but the seeds of Broadway and musical theatre are in their nascent stages. Although Pinafore and Götterdämmerung are both operas, they are worlds apart.

The FLO production brought out the best of the show. The set was easily discernible as the Pinafore’s deck, complete with hoisted sails and the ship’s wheel at the helm. The ship deck had varying levels for the actors to climb and explore which made the production visually electric. The costumes, designed by Elizabeth Johnson, were excellent and added to the quality of the show overall. Director Jodi Marcum staged the whole show just as great Gilbert and Sullivan should be. The punch lines were delivered to raucous laughs and the action was always clear with a stage that was never cluttered.

Emilee Upleger as Cousin Hebe, Nicholas Branson as Ralph Rackstraw, Karen Dumont as Josephine (Photo: Steve Lowry)

The strongest part of the night was the music. The pit orchestra was just two instrumentalists – Michelle Carr on piano, and Kameron Myers on violin and they were expertly led by Music Director Mark Ring. Though small, this trio delivered an astonishing performance throughout the whole night. I hope that as the FLO grows, they are able to keep the high level of musicianship on display throughout the pit.

The vocal performances and talent that evening were a bit uneven, but nothing in the music was completely lost. Chad Jones played a marvelous Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty, nailing the comic accent and the famous “When I was a Lad”song. His mere presence on the stage excited the audience, and part of that may be from how the audience normally sees him throughout the week: as a priest at a local Episcopal church. Nicholas Branson delivered a sensitive Ralph Rackstraw which paired nicely with Karen Dumont’s delicate Josephine.

The full chorus numbers were superb. Browsing through the cast biographies online, it seems that a majority of the chorus are current or recent graduates of local universities. There were some real stand out singers that I hope to hear more from in the future.

When H.M.S Pinafore originally premiered the run lasted almost 600 shows. It is a shame that the FLO’s production was only one weekend. Before that night’s production the audience was informed that the FLO is planning future productions of Die Fledermaus and The Pirates of Penzance, but I was unable to find any information online. If you would like to support light opera in Franklin, I would highly recommend attending one of their future performances and supporting their organization through tickets purchased and spreading the word about them. For more information, please visit their web

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