Thursday, 1 August 2013

Peak Opera: Princess Ida

Where else but the G&S Festival... This afternoon, I watched a lady take lessons in fainting (though not in coils); right now, I'm listening to an unaccompanied quartet of "The Bear Necessities"; and in between was Princess Ida, recast (slightly) to Scotland versus England. Of course.

Unlike a few shows lately, this one didn't use follow spots, and while I'm so biased as to wish that they were used (especially for Ida's solo and a few other places), the stage was well lit - nobody was ever left singing in the dark. Some VERY effective lighting states, too, like the near darkness for Ida's third-act resignation aria... beautiful.

And quite an excellent lineup of principals, too. I can't separate Gama's three sons, Arac/Guron/Scynthius (James Coleman/Adam Bishop/Kimmo Eriksson), because they shared lines and verses around; all three were playing the dumb, which itself demands a high degree of intelligence, and also demonstrated a skilled sense of when it's funniest to do something dumb. Good fun. Also, their precise head movements in the second act finale "We may remark" were both brilliant and impressive. Must have taken hours of drilling to get that right, and it comes across brilliantly. Their tenor counterparts, Hilarion (Harry Bagnall), Cyril (Matt Hughes), and Florian (Liam Geohegan), also had a brilliant sense of timing and comedy, stuffing their conversation full of jests and jokes as they stuffed their women's clothes full of themselves. Of course, it almost seems a waste keeping it a secret, since they're observed by the entire chorus, but still, it's the principle of the matter. Once Melissa (Caroline Taylor) and her mother (Angela Lowe) have learned what's going on, pretty much everyone knows... Ever wondered how big a conspiracy has to be? Well, the Princess Ida (Helen Clutterbuck) should be paranoid, given that everyone else seems to be in on a conspiracy to conceal something from her. Yet somehow she's not, staying in command of herself and the stage at all times, even when she's breaking her own rules to admit her father (Ian Henderson) to hear his message. I'm never sorry to see Ian in a role that demands comic timing, as does King Gama, and he rendered the contrasts between his lead-ups ("Dame Rumour whispered...") and the barbs and jabs that follow ("But she's a liar!") aptly, keeping up the pace and never letting a moment slip past him unexpectedly. But it's his Scottish counterpart, the King Hildebrand (David Craig), who most carried the conflict with Ida. Put those two on stage together, get out some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the fireworks. Actually, most of that comes straight from Gilbert, and I could have hoped for a little more fiery back-and-forthing between them, but it was still fun to watch. I would also very much have liked to hear what words replaced "This is our duty plain towards our princess all immaculate", which seemed to have been altered to suit (or to take advantage of) the England-Scotland setting; alas, chorus diction prevented me from making out the words, being up in the gallery as I always am. If someone knows, can s/he please post as a comment? Thanks!

The end of the show was entirely rewritten - the battle between the sons of Gama and Hilarion and co is cut short (though not in a Mikadoesque way) by the Princess coming out and surrendering. As a concept, this works quite well; it was correctly foreshadowed in the second act, and it does make a certain amount of sense. We lost all of Gilbert's jokes, though, and were given instead a number of local references, which would transport poorly to a different production. If this were to be performed again, I would hope that the ending be gone over for some tightening up, and possibly work it back in to Gilbert's original words, but nonetheless it worked. Poor Ida, though - how will she deliver all those horribly misandristic lectures in the new college she is to set up... co-educationally? Time alone can tell!


Sutekh said...

Ian's new words were:

'It is our duty plain towards our Princess, whom we truly love,
We ought to bless her brothers' swords, and pray for help from Heav'n above;
Oh Men-at-Arms, you Men-at-Arms,
You mighty, doughty Men-at-Arms.
May you succeed, and thus prevent the need for sounding Wars alarms.
Hilarion! Hilarion! Hilarion!'

Chris Angelico said...

Thanks Sutekh! Would have been nice to have heard that all the way up to the gallery, but anyway.