Friday, 12 August 2011

Derby Gilbert & Sullivan Company: Princess Ida

If I'd seen five thousand traditional Idas, this would have been a refreshingly new production; modernized, cleverly costumed, and with decent characterizations. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that I missed something; there's some concept here that I failed to comprehend - several of the principals appeared to have been costumed very specifically, presumably to ape somebody from popular culture or politics.

My reviews lately have been somewhat on the long side, so I will attempt to be a little more brief today. The songs were taken at a decent clip, although the dialogue sometimes dragged; vocal balance was excellent throughout, with beautiful alto lines clearly audible; the set was impressive. Diction was passable, but a lot of odd words were lost due to people singing upstage or facing across the stage, and in one sad moment, Melissa was all the way at the top of the set, and she was a veritable Strephon - invisible down to the waist, only her legs remained exposed to view.

Melissa (Alexandra Saunders) was an excellent performer, though; her drill sergeant work at the beginning of the third act ought surely to have satisfied her employer! But the strong Princess (Austine Broad) needed more than simulations to fight for her, and more than her excellent voice to defeat the invading forces. Her three brothers (Stephen Godward, Stephen Andrews, and Chris Hawksworth), wearing leathers with their "trusty blades" tucked into their boots, fought adequately enough against the three invading hordes Hilarion (Robert Jenkins), Cyril (Andy McPhee), and Florian (Alastair Maughan); rather than using swords, it was a boxing match, and the more agile Hildebrites overcame their adversaries. None of the words were changed, which meant that lines about swords were somewhat orphaned; Gama (John Torr) told them they would need no more than their tongues, even though they used no swords. Gama was quite thoroughly depicted as unpleasant, and played with the courteous nastiness that the role demands. On the other hand, Hildebrand (Michael Tipler) was a decent fellow, garbed in military uniform, and though he could be dangerous when crossed, he would be pleasant enough in his own court. So would Psyche (Roma Loukes), in Cyril's "court"; I have no doubt that he would enjoy her bubbly and fun personality. The Lady Blanche (Joan Self - were any jokes made in rehearsal about Blanche being played by "her Self"?), with free reign over the university, would undoubtedly have made more extensive use of their three display screens. Regrettably the center one was completely invisible to the gallery; I understand that it was used in A Maiden Fair Of Lineage High, but we didn't get to see any of it. In any case, they were of some significance to the lady undergraduates - a definite improvement over the usual setting of the opera, back in the years B.C. (before computers)!

One comment I'd like to make that doesn't really address Derby's Ida specifically, but is equally to every company performing on this stage. The gallery is extremely high up, and we get to see some things that you may not realise we see. Crossing behind something upstage isn't necessarily "safe"; we can see your head moving across as you prepare for your dramatic entrance. This isn't a major criticism, but more a point of amusement; the only time it'd be a real problem would be if someone's entrance (or, for that matter, exit) distracts during a particularly poignant moment on the stage, which hasn't happened this Festival.

Tonight's performance was not terrible, but I can't call it excellent either. My suspicion is that this is more than somewhat my fault for not grokking the concept, but that is one of the risks of concept productions; not everyone will understand or appreciate what was done. I welcome comments (as always); what did you think of it, and did the updating work? Comments also (of course) welcome from those involved - explanations, corrections, hate mail, whatever you like!

1 comment:

Lucy P said...

I was in the gallery too, missing some stuff....I didn't 'get' the modern dress either. I think Ida may have been channelling Rebekah Brooks. The costumes for the girls were plain silly. Knowing this company's usual excellence I found the soloists a tad disappointing though I can appreciate the need to nurture young talent - Hilarion seemed nervous I thought. I wasn't very excited by the set, but having gone to the trouble of having something for her to fall off,couldn't she at least have been wet when rescued? The whole thing struck me as under-rehearsed, which again is not what I expect from Derby G&S. Personally I didn't like the screens - the literal pictures were an unnecessary distraction. A case of we've got the technology so we'll use it, I felt. But for all that I enjoyed this, my first Princess Ida, I just wish they were performing it in Derby this year so it could be refined a little.