Saturday, January 21, 2012

Opera 101—The Gondoliers

Oh, 'tis a glorious thing, I ween,
To be a regular Royal Queen!
No half-and-half affair, I mean,
No half-and-half affair,
But a right-down regular,
Regular, regular,
Regular Royal Queen!
—“Then one of us will be a Queen,” The Gondoliers

Oh, philosophers may sing
Of the troubles of a King,
But of pleasures there are many and of worries there are none;
And the culminating pleasure
That we treasure beyond measure
Is the gratifying feeling that our duty has been done!
—“Rising early in the morning,” The Gondoliers

I feel a little bit like a broken record saying it, but last night I saw another marvelous production by the Lamplighters. This time, they added the brilliant touch of reading the opening announcements in Italian (except for key phrases such as “cell phone” and “emergency exit”).

The cast of The Gondoliers. Photo by Beau Saunders.

The Gondoliers (or The King of Barataria) was one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s final Savoy Operas and their last real success. Although the subject and songs are light and the plot involves the typical topsy-turvy element of babies switched at birth, somehow I find it to be one of the most realistic of Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

The first act takes place in Venice, where two gondoliers are about to pick their brides from a group of young maidens. As they are getting married, the Duke of Plaza-Toro (Count Matadoro, Baron Picadoro) arrives from Spain with his wife and daughter Casilda to seek out the long-lost son of the King of Barataria, whom his daughter married as an infant. Hidden in Venice due to insurrection in his home country, the future (now) king was raised along with the son of a gondolier, but the Grand Inquisitor who arranged the escape doesn’t know which is which. It is decided that both men should rule Barataria* until the nurse who can identify them is found. This is not very pleasing to their new brides who must stay behind, but it is a relief to Casilda, who is in love with her father’s attendant, Luiz. The second act takes place in Barataria where the gondoliers decide to rule according to their republican values and “all shall equal be.”

Speaking of equals, one of the enjoyable things about The Gondoliers is that there are many large parts rather than the standard three or four leads backed up by the chorus. There is no true patter song, but a number of patter-like songs that leave you humming. In fact, The Gondoliers has the longest vocal score of any Savoy Opera. I particularly enjoyed the songs quoted above, as well as “In the Enterprise of Martial Kind” and “I Stole the Prince.”

Once again I felt the singing was strong overall, but Robert Vann as Marco stood out for me. I was also happy to see Amy Foote, who made a superb Elsie in The Yeomen of the Guard last year, return as Marco’s wife, Gianetta. Elise Marie Kennedy certainly held her own in her Lamplighters debut as Casilda and I thoroughly enjoyed John Brown as her father, the Duke of Plaza-Toro.

John Brown as the Duke of Plaza-Toro.
Photo by Beau Saunders.

Last night, I was particularly struck by how old the audience is for these shows. These performances are always such fun and of such good quality, it's really a shame that the audience is not more diverse. If you can, try to catch one of the remaining performances tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, or next weekend in Walnut Creek.

Note: The Gondoliers is the Lamplighters’ second production of the 2011-2012 season. They will close out the season with a singalong Pirates of Penzance in March.

*You may recognize the name Barataria as the fictional insula that Sancho Panza is granted in Don Quixote, which I’m sure is completely intentional on Gilbert’s part.

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