Initiated by G&S-loving State Opera chief Stuart Maunder, the festival will present an array of favourite G&S operettas, including Pirates of Penzance, The Sorcerer and Trial by Jury.

In the ever-popular H.M.S. Pinafore, Dean has been cast as the young and hopelessly in love Josephine, the daughter of the ship’s proud captain (played by Jeremy Kleeman), who plans on marrying her off to the highly-ranked Sir Joseph Porter (Ben Mingay) despite the fact she is in love with a mere seaman (Nicholas Jones). A twisting, hilarious tale of star-crossed lovers unfolds, with Sullivan’s captivating music and Gilbert’s witty lyrics – features of their works that have delighted audiences since the 1870s.

“I’m very, very happy to be home,” Dean says of being back in Adelaide with her husband, pianist and conductor Anthony Hunt, and her young family. “When we saw this opportunity to come home and enough work for the both of us we thought ‘let’s do it’ because all of our family is here, [we have] two young kids, and we love Adelaide.”

After first meeting at university, Dean and Hunt (who is conducting Pirates of Penzance at the G&S Fest) left Adelaide for London’s Royal Academy of Music in 2007.

“We had two fabulous years there,” Dean says of her time in London. “I had an amazing teacher, Lillian Watson, who’s a beautiful soprano.”

Dean’s career began as a pianist, studying at Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium of Music. But her “passion” was always singing.

“I started as a pianist, did the first three years of my degree in piano, singing on the side, and that love of voice just took over,” she says.

“When I was doing singing as sort of a second study while I was learning to be a pianist, I was introduced to more operatic repertoire and I just clicked with it somehow and appreciated the grandness of it all… I was hooked.”

Singing has always been Jessica Dean’s passion. Photo supplied

Despite the move from piano to singing, Dean is thankful for her beginnings as a pianist.

“I think it has enhanced my musicianship and general musicality hugely to have that foundation as a pianist to understand harmony in that way.

“For me as a singer now, understanding the role of a pianist, I find that a huge benefit. Working with different pianists and accompanists, that’s been really helpful.”

Her background in piano places her in an elite position as an opera singer. James Pratt, an Adelaide-born Sullivan expert, conductor, opera singer and conductor of H.M.S. Pinafore in the G&S Fest, is excited to work with Dean as a principal singer with an instrumental background.

“That’s going to be a real treat for me,” he says.

“I’m sure she won’t need any help from me to extract all of the goodness out of the beautiful music she has to sing… I’m a huge fan of Jess.”

Dean was introduced to Gilbert and Sullivan’s comical and whimsical operas through childhood trips to shows with her parents.

“They were just hysterical and mesmerising for a young kid.”

She says the wry social commentary of many of their operettas have maintained their relevance through the decades.

“Politically and status-wise and class-wise, they’re all still extremely relevant today. The fact they’re making parodies of stereotypes of the day is very forward, in a way, in that era. I read this article somewhere a little while back that likened them to a John Stewart or Stephen Colbert of their era.”

Despite the lightness of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works, Dean says the music is sophisticated and difficult. The shows are demanding physically and vocally, requiring a lot of fitness and stamina from the performers.

“It’s deceptively tricky,” she says. “Some of their music, it sounds simple, but it’s tricky stuff and they’re all rounded performances. You have to be able to move, to dance, to act, and there’s dialogue.

“That’s the definition of operetta … somewhere in between musical and opera.”

Pratt says the music has more depth than it initially appears.

“I feel that there is lots of opportunity to find hidden gems within the pieces,” he says.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s works have been enduringly popular since the 19th century. Pratt says the perennial nature of the music is rooted in the strength of the composers’ partnership and the breadth of works they created.

Dean says G&S repertoire, known for its accessibility,  is thought of with “great admiration” in most musical circles.

“You’re going to come out of any G&S show humming a tune, remembering a lyric that you heard. I can’t imagine anybody wouldn’t have fun going to a G&S show.”

H.M.S. Pinafore will be showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre from May 12-20 as part of State Opera South Australia’s G&S Fest.

Shannon Pearce is the third recipient of the Helpmann Academy InReview Mentorship. She is working with experienced writers Graham Strahle and Samela Harris to write a series of articles for publication in InReview.

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