Wednesday, 14 August 2013

New London Opera Group: The Sorcerer

The second debut company in as many nights, New London Opera Group was in enthusiastic evidence last night. That energy, the notice stating that pyro would be used, and the programme's indication that Ahrimanes would be stepping out of the chorus for the finale, made a rather promising introduction to the show.

This festival, we've had shows directed by the Pirate King, Ko-Ko, King Gama, the Lord Chancellor, Sir Despard, the Duchess of Plaza-Toro, and of course the conductor, but this is the first time the director is a member of the chorus. I don't know what that means, it just seemed noteworthy somehow.

Also noteworthy was the inclusion of the second incantation scene. I have to admit that I'm not familiar with it; also, I can't find an authoritative source (like the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive) with the text, but I found it on wikisource; in short, Wells applies to Ahrimanes and learns how to undo the spell. (NLOG performed the section without a chorus, so all the chorus responses listed in that page were cut.) I'd love to know when this was originally written and when cut; it's certainly not something performed in most renditions of The Sorcerer. To be quite frank, I think it's superfluous - it's like the Ghosts March from Ruddigore - adds nothing to the show and takes up time. But it's good to dust off these sections now and then, giving us a chance to decide whether or not we like them. (I'm sure there'll be those in the audience who took the contrary view to mine. Which is all to the good!) Incidentally, the inclusion of unfamiliar sections has a tendency to level the playing field a bit as regards diction; even those of us who know every word of the original are forced to depend on the performers' clarity of words and projection of voice. I for one had no trouble hearing what was being sung.

Not all NLOG's innovations were to the good, though. I really did NOT like Dr Daly's "Oh, my voice is sad and low" rendered suicidally, with him bringing on a hangman's noose and looking for a place to terminate his existence. A clergyman would never contemplate such a thing (at least, not in Gilbert's world), and it's in complete contrast to his offer at the end of the opera, to quit the country rather than be any man's rival. (Also, I have to remark: G&S characters are really REALLY bad at throwing nooses over things. After all that effort to actually tie a hangman's noose into a rope, they then spend dramatically-valuable time trying to throw it over something that can't possibly hold it, giving ample time for the suicide to be interrupted - or to interrupt someone else, as in The Mikado. Guys, if you really want to kill yourselves, you're going to have to do it a LOT faster, otherwise the plot is sure to catch you!)

So, characters. Dr Daly (John Cuthbert), as mentioned, tries to commit suicide at one point, though he doesn't seem at all inclined to that at any other point. He's younger than he often is depicted, and a much more reasonable match than I've often seen for Constance (Fay Carradine), who would have looked a lot prettier with contact lenses; what a pity they weren't a viable option in the 1940s! David Turner, in his adjudication, said that he would be willing to do a lot to get her away from her mother, Mrs Partlet (Laura Anstice-Pim), and I'm inclined somewhat to agree; Constance deserved to be away from the overbearingness... but she did love and respect her mother, which is a good thing. Mrs Partlet was a very enthusiastic "clean and tidy widdy" in the second act, very obviously in love with Sir Marmaduke (Jim Chadburn), who returned her affections. Spell cancellation aside, there really was nothing anyone could do to prevent that marriage, so of course Alexis (Robert Felstead) had to consent to it. It must have so galled him to have his own recommendations cast up at him in that way; I wonder if he continued his role as evangel of true happiness after this debacle. After all, he had his Aline (Rebekah Engeler), and none shall part them from each other (he the tree and she the flower, and all that); maybe he should settle down, get a home going (with a filter - they're very useful things, you know; especially with the 1940s state of the Thames water, as Aline reminds us), and see where things go from there. He even has the mother-in-law he would prefer, the Lady Sangazure (Charlotte Collier), who will make a true and loving wife - just look at the way she sprang, literally, to the defense of her beloved when the crowd wanted him dead. Unfortunately for her, she was trying to protect John Wellington Wells (Lee Devlin), and the plot has already doomed him. The more unfortunate because he's a great salesman and artist; everything that I saw from managing props for Jack Point in Savoynet's Yeomen, take about ten times that much for the introduction of Wells. His suitcase turns into a table full of exotica, somewhat reminiscent of Professor Emelius Brown from Disney's "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", with rapid-fire trick after trick, never letting his audience have a chance to think about how he does them. And of course, being a good salesman, he will always listen to the possibility that someone may "require a quantity" of his company's leading article, even if he's departing in high dudgeon after being grossly insulted, and not in Pooh-Bah's way. He has command of some rather fancy flash-pots, too, with six of them going off across the performance.

Probably the biggest problem with tonight's show was in the auditorium, in which there were rather a large number of empty seats. The gallery had just six people - and two of them were ushers - and the upper circle had about as many seats unoccupied as occupied, and that not counting the restricted-viewing seats. I don't know why this is; do people avoid The Sorcerer, or avoid companies they've never heard of? I hope that New London Opera Group can return to the Festival next year, and that they'll receive a more visible welcome.

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