Sunday, 18 August 2013

G&S Opera Co: Princess Ida

Before we begin, I'd like to draw your attention to the creepiness of the plot setup for Princess Ida, and compare it with other G&S plots. According to this chart, a man of 2 years old should be looking for a wife of 8, not a wife of 1. This is commented on in song. However, consider Iolanthe, in which the title fairy has "a couple of centuries or so" to her name, which means she shouldn't date the Lord Chancellor until he's at least 107, or - even worse - Pirates: Ruth is supposed to be a "wife of 1000", which means she should date a man no younger than 507! So I have to agree with Hilarion that those prophets were "false and foolish".

It's over now, the music of the Festival... which is why I'm a little delayed posting these last couple of reviews. As those who've been in the Festival Club will know, Alice of Wonderland has been joining us there; she's also been watching a few of the performances with us. She doesn't often comment on the shows, but in this instance she appreciated the toys the ladies wielded in the third act - although the croquet mallet didn't look much like the sort she used. (Also, the exit was sung to "Death to the Invader", rather dismally and off-key. Takes some skill to pull that off convincingly.) She also considered that when the three rude warriors had removed their armor, that the monstrous crow ought to be along soon. Shows how much she understands of Gilbert and Sullivan, even though they were roughly contemporaries of her.

The G&S Opera Co shows always demonstrate commendable precision. I've mostly stopped even writing it in my notes, because it's a given; there will be times when the entire chorus does an action exactly on the beat. This is why I love and admire these performances. And it's not just a mechanical precision, but strong characterization too. The face-off between the Princess Ida (Abigail Iveson) and King Hildebrand (Stuart Pendred) in the second act finale is a highlight of the opera - the clash of two strong wills (or, to be more accurate, the clash of Hildebrand's strong will with Ida's strong won't) against a backdrop of one scared and one chauvinistic chorus. And she can be more tender, too - asking "Is this the end?" while gazing down at a motionless Hilarion (Oliver White), thought slain in battle. (Spoiler alert: He gets better.) He and his companions Cyril (Jeremy Finch) and Florian (Henry Manning) sneak very efficiently into the female sanctum, even offering a service to the Lady Blanche (Frances McCafferty) when she was stuck for a light for her cigar... and it was none the three men who left behind the etui that was later discovered. Poor Melissa (Charlotte Baptie), trying to explain THAT one away! But when it comes to dealing with the men, it's the Lady Psyche (Victoria Byron) who would be in the best position, being parade-ground sergeant to the entire community; between superintending the lab where they brew up tongues to flash their rage and explaining all ranunculus bulbosus's tricks before BC 163, she somehow managed to maintain a repertoire of song-and-dance routines with which to explain herself - A Lady Fair had the distinct impression of being an in-character performance piece. And in the third act, we see that woman, armed to the task, can meet man face-to-face on his own ground and be no worse off than Arac, Guron, and Scynthius (Bruce Graham, Alastair McCall, and Miles Horner), once they'd gotten themselves ready for battle. Interestingly, not a single weapon was used in the final showdown; the stewnce had left their various toys behind, Hilarion and his friends had travelled light to infiltrate the university, and the three warriors had never actually concocted the intelligence required to obtain real weapons. So the final battle was conducted as a bare-hand struggle, each trying to strangle his opponent. Still, even without their rusty - err I mean trusty - blades, they were enough of a boast for their father King Gama (Simon Butteriss), who not only complained about everyone from the stage, but presumably also complained about them from the front, as he also directed the entire show. Hmm. I wonder what it would actually be like to see G&S characters directing each other. Gama probably wouldn't be the hardest to work with - Rose Maybud would be finicky about every minute detail, and dance steps would be awkward when her heart tells her "left" and "right" at odd intervals. I think we can be glad of the expert direction of the person who played Gama, as evidenced by the quality of the finished product.

A few lines were changed from what Gilbert originally wrote. The offensive "bleaching" line from the second act was changed to "And like tenors they'll be screeching by and by"; various laugh lines were inserted, somewhat arbitrarily in places. These sorts of changes are a good indicator of diction - it's hard to tell, sometimes, whether you're really hearing the words or filling them in automatically. Up in the gallery, every syllable was clear and crisp, every consonant sharply audible. I was speaking with a young man who had never seen a Gilbert and Sullivan before, and was seeing this one because one of his friends was in the chorus; as a first demonstration of what G&S is like, this was no shameful performance. We enjoyed it very much.

No comments: