The opera house was entirely sold out for the Irish production of Gondoliers. Apparently, the winner of two consecutive festival championships is expected to produce a good show... in any case, we couldn't get seats in the house, and watched the show from the Paxton, where the projector screen was put to good use. The video link was a good thing, but nothing like actually being there; it felt more like watching a recording than attending a live show, but that's still orders of magnitude better than missing the show altogether.
And what a show. Now that the awards have been announced, I can cite them as proof of what practically everyone who was there will agree; ten nominations and five wins, including the championship itself, making this their third consecutive win at this festival.
Unlike the previous Gondoliers, this opened with the familiar overture, with all the usual skill of the festival orchestra. The curtain lifted and we were treated to an incredibly active chorus - never flagging throughout the show, too. Chorus movements had noteworthy precision, which is something I love to see. Then the Plaza Toros arrived, bringing with them the sounds of Spain - at least, a rather amusing version of a Spanish accent. (It got in the way of their singing and diction at a few points, but it was definitely funny.)
The lighting was less than stellar, unfortunately, leaving the edges of the stage and, often, the downstage area in a not-very-congenial gloom, although the middle of the stage was always brightly lit. The performers would have done well to hang around in the light, but they went all over the stage, and sometimes had only the follow spots to keep them from being in complete darkness. But in the middle, where most of the action was, it was an appropriate blaze of light.
Quite a good round-up of principals, with one notable exception. The Duke of Plaza-Toro (Wilfred Pyper), Her Grace the Duchess (Jackie Curren-Olohan), and their beautiful-voiced daughter Casilda (Nicola Mulligan) - I say, their beautiful daughter Casilda - had energy, enthusiasm, and comic Spanish accents. Casilda could be loving, but she could also be quite nasty if she wanted to be - she was quite rightly described as having a naughty temper! Luiz (Barry McGonagle) had her love, though, and he knew it. He moved around the stage as though it were his own, and when he and Casilda were alone together, their duets were lovely. But if Luiz owned the stage, Don Alhambra (Adam Lawlor) certainly knew how to take command of it - in two words, he had everyone's attention. (He did it in the Festival Club, too. A low "Buenos noches" and everyone laughed, and gave him their attention.) The two kings and two queens sat up and took notice of him, even though they were adamant they didn't need anyone to take their unders today. Marco (Brian Gilligan) and Giuseppe (Jamie Rock) made a great pair of kings, and Brian's TAPOSE had real feeling to it. Their energy kept everything moving, and both had good clear diction, sending their lines to the gallery and beyond. Tessa (Rachel Kelly) and Gianetta (Emma Walsh) scored well in these men, even without becoming queen! Both ladies also had lively energy, bouncing through the show, but were able to be sympathetic too (it's strange how "I'll pinch her and scratch her" and "make her to shake in her aristocratical shoes" turn into the softer tones when they actually meet Casilda - jealousy is merged in misery, I suppose). "When a merry maiden marries" and "Kind sir, you cannot have the heart" were both sung beautifully, and the quintet "Here is a case unprecedented" was full of its own kind of energy and movement. Finally... Inez was played by Toni Morgan... actually, by Tony Finnegan (who also played Annibale). Yes - a man. I'll say no more.
Based on the show, the cabaret afterwards, and above all the awards ceremony, I have to say that the people of Festival Productions, Ireland are incredibly full of energy and enjoy what they're doing. If we saw a mediocre performance by people who had as much fun as the Irish did here, we would have fun too; how much more when the show itself is of this standard!