Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Princess Ida (G&S Opera Company)

Having heard so much about this show (largely from Elise, but not only!), I admit that I watched the professional Ida with considerable interest, and while Elise yields to no one in admiration for its casting and musical virtues (not forgetting that it endeavoured to work upon her feelings - you saw the delight in her post when she distinctly perceived a tear glistening in her own eye!), I shall myself join the admirers, after allotment.

As has been said by others, the sets and costumes were of a high quality. I'm no expert on costumes, but the court of Hildebrand reminded me very much of The Court Jester - in fact, I could have sworn Grizelda was among the chorus! Hats were quite something, too; especially the ladies' military headgear in the third act. Some of them were a little on the large side - I'm not sure how well the folks in the gallery would have been able to see faces - but they were so funny, especially when Blanche came out wearing an unmistakable teapot on her head!

The dialogue, all through, was delivered with feeling and clear diction. I can't single anyone out here, as everyone did a good job! There were also some odd little asides and things (after Hilarion said that at the early age of two he had not yet learned to speak, he chased down his father to say "That was a good joke!"), and the characterisations were maintained throughout. Singing was competent; there were a few places where things got a bit out of sync, but the conductor managed to bring people back together again each time. One piece of business has been remarked upon by several people, and I'm somewhat curious as to how it was actually done, as it appeared so smooth: Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian found, not academic robes, but curtains - hanging. They then pulled one down and tore it into three, very easily. Cyril then sat at a sewing machine, running them through it, and they changed into them extremely rapidly. It was all so amazingly smooth, very impressive!

Enough of babble. Come, characters! King Hildebrand (Gareth Jones) took a masterful lead in the first act, rallying everyone to order ("Come, bustle there!"), and then in the second act, faced off with his daughter-in-law elect - unable to take complete control, but not for lack of imposing presence. His son Hilarion (Oliver White) was funny (and thinking himself funny, see above!) at times, but when he got serious, he knew what he wanted, and how best to achieve it. And he really loved the Princess, too. (How could she have been so blind as to not notice that the young woman sitting right at her feet during "Broken Toy" was in point of fact a young man?) Cyril (Tobias Merz) was, as Cyril must be, a total flirt, nearly destroying the plot time and again, before finally doing so with the kissing song. Tonight, I was able to hear Mistress Lalage's official title - most Cyrils seem to swallow the line a bit. (Oops, I said I wasn't going to single anyone out for their diction, didn't I.) Florian (James Cleverton) was the cynic of the trio, boggling at Hilarion's statement that he would use no force in warring with Ida, and then when they arrive at Castle Adamant, he gets out a cigar (which is how Blanche and Melissa could find it) as he calls Ida's college the "maddest folly going". His geeky sister Psyche (Lisa Anne Robinson) was not at all ashamed of her childhood antics (explaining all the Ranunculus Hipparchus's dinner guests before he determined longitude, or something like that), as a good geek should. I would be happy at any time to work with her on some programming project - she clearly has the mind for it. In the third act, where she was Ida's most dispensing chemist, she was making it all up as she went along - it was not a practiced speech or prepared report, but rather a string of conjured excuses for the lack of any real work done. In complete contrast, Lady Blanche (Jill Pert) always had something prepared, and presumably spent her time coming up with new ways to try to befuddle. (We will not trouble her for a demonstration.) In talking to her daughter about the three new students, too, Blanche was clearly in command, and Melissa (Victoria Byron) did a very good job of standing up to her mother when she hadn't a leg to stand on. As mentioned above, Florian had a cigar that he'd nearly smoked, which settled the deal, but even with that, I could well imagine Victoria's Melissa keeping on going even further. Their duet needed a little tweaking in vocal balance, but by the second verse they had settled in. King Gama (Philip Cox) padded out his song with an additional verse (by Gilbert, but little known and seldom performed), and would have done justice to another beyond that, had Ida not cut him off with "I yield". I can't pinpoint anything specifically wrong with his dialogue, but it lacked something, somehow... but he rather made up for it with the song. His three sons, fine fellows, young, muscular, and brave, looked the parts, and played the parts. Arac (Ian Belsey), Guron (Terence den Dulk), and Scynthius (Alastair McCall) behaved as though they had only one mind between them (mostly in Arac's head, I think), and stuck together whenever they possibly could. If one of them wanted to sit down, the other two would join him. (And they took the 500lb gorilla approach to seating arrangements too. When they came on as heralds and desired a seat that some of the courtiers were using, they just went there, and the chorus cleared for them.) You got the impression (consistent with their statements early on) that they fought for the love of fighting, and I suspect that when they come to grief in battle, that it doesn't signify perdition, but they just start another battle tomorrow. Politics isn't their forte, yes, but you'd think they might care a bit more about defending their sister... and what a sister, too. Princess Ida (Chloe Wright) could take absolute command, gesturing imperiously at the invading soldiers, facing off against her father-in-law, dismissing her "craven souls" of women soldiers... but when she was alone, she was human. She sang the marble count aria (I built upon a rock) well enough that we can forgive her for milking it for all it was worth, and it was fairly believable.

As the choruses are the most important characters in any G&S, it is fitting to conclude with them. In every scene with a chorus, there was constant activity, everywhere (soldiers lounging around on the tables, eating the luncheon that the girls hadn't had a chance to deal with - and girls coming over to try to fend them off), always in character and always respectful of the main action. The chorus action never took first place when there was something else happening, although it would cheerfully do so the moment the principals paused for breath. You could look anywhere and see something happening; which means that for everything you see, you've missed three other pieces of action. No singing scenery here; people are people, and scenery is scenery - a jolly good arrangement.