(How to get there - 330 Homer Street, Newton Center, MA)
Sunday January 27 at 2:00 PM
The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company, a relatively new professional group founded in connection with the International G&S Festival, performed PIRATES at the festival this past summer - and left the world a fine videographic record of their production. Don Smith, who was there and is providing the video we'll watch, tells Us: "Among several excellent newcomers, it features former stars of the Original D'Oyly Carte Opera Company: Michael Rayner as Sergeant of Police, Gareth Jones as Major-General Stanley, Pauline Birchall as Edith and Patricia Leonard as Ruth. The Director is Alan Spencer, an Australian who is noted for his choreography, and the Conductor is David Steadman."
NEGASS will gather at the Newton Free Library from 2:00-5:00 on Sunday, January 27 to share this videotaped performance with library patrons who love G&S. No refreshments are allowed in the library, and past years' attempts at choosing a spot in which to snack and chat after a library gathering have been less than satisfactory - so We propose, this year, that suggestions be solicited from among those present, and a decision be made on the spot! - with full awareness that the library closes, and we must leave, by 5 PM.
ALL-NEW ENGLAND G&S GALA: On Sunday, May 5, NEGASS invites members of local groups to perform and share their love of G&S. Invitations have started to go out to established performing groups, such as The Sudbury Savoyards, SLOC, MITG&SP, HRG&SP, VLO, CG&SS, and Hancock County - groups which often receive publicity and reviews in Our pages - and more will follow - but if you or your organization have not received an invitation, please don't think you're not invited!
The afternoon will feature, in addition to performances, a sing-along of G&S choruses and a catered reception. This is a great chance to intermingle and share, and to discuss how NEGASS can do more to help local performing groups. Contact Program Chair Carl Weggel at (978) 474-0396 or email@example.com if you or your group wants to take part.
LMLO MIKADO: On March 24 NEGASS will again enjoy a Last Minute Light Opera/Orchestra sing-through - this year, of MIKADO. Dave Larrick will conduct again, and Vic Godin is once more our Orchestra Manager. Program Chair Carl Weggel is ready to start casting now, so phone him at (978) 474-0396 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know which role you want to sing.
Remember - in LMLO, desire to sing a role is much more important than appropriateness for the role (we all enjoyed David Leigh as Lady Blanche last year!) - and you can use as much or as little staging as you like. If you need to be "on book," that's just fine - just try to keep up with the orchestra!
Choose your role, and Carl will endorse it!
Tentative Meeting Schedule, 2001-2002
Welcome, Welcome, Welcome We New Member John E. Dreslin of Stonington, CT. Yes, this is the famous Music Director, Conductor, Accompanist, and Orchestrator of the Connecticut G&S Society, who, among other triumphs, collaborated with Jonathan Strong on the version of THESPIS premiered a few years ago. Hearty Greeting Offer We!
Charter Member Harry Benford has sent NEGASS a donation, in spite of having received notice of his status as Honorary Member For Life. He wishes to remind us all - in case we've lost track of the fact - that people who need a fresh copy, or a copy of a more recent edition, of his invaluable opus, The G&S Lexicon, can inquire about procedures from Barbara@queensburypress.com.
We were hoping, in place of a description of the meeting NEGASS did not hold in November, to publish reviews of all the productions everyone went to see this fall - and We've received a few, at least (For instance - We were promised a review of "a great IDA in Middletown, CT" - which never appeared…) There's room for more!
MITG&S PLAYERS' PINAFORE: MITG&SP's performance venue is La Sala De Puerto Rico in MIT's Student Center. A stage does not exist. There is no curtain. There is no backstage. There is no orchestra pit. Nonetheless, MIT almost always manages to put on a performance that pleases. This year's opening-night performance of PINAFORE was no exception. The show featured many names that are familiar to NEGASS, as well as several new G&Sers. For an opening night at MITG&SP, the audience was remarkably large. On the whole, the audience was amply rewarded for its boldness.
The audience's first introduction to the evening's show was the uncurtained set: A massive, ambitious two-level affair. The lower level sported the carved and painted breeches of three massive cannon that faced upstage. Very visually effective. The upper level was Captain Corcoran's quarters and the poop deck. Separating the two levels were two authentic (read treacherous or non-negotiable), six-foot ladders with almost 12-inch risers. These ladders rendered the wearing of full-length, authentic Victorian dresses an invitation to disaster, and out of the question. Even wearing mid-calf-length dresses, all of the ladies had to exhibit extreme caution in negotiating these ladders. Buttercup "took a header" down the last two steps during her entrance at the opening of Act II, but she instantly recovered her composure to deliver a superb Things are seldom what they seem. Even the staging of this duet with Captain Corcoran was clever. A large overhead lantern invariably responded (with magical coruscations) to her mystic powers, to the befuddlement and consternation of Captain Corcoran.
The orchestra, under the baton of Todd Neal, was skilled and well rehearsed. Instead of my noticing a few standout instrumentalists, this year the orchestra was uniformly fine. The Vocal Direction of Emina Torlak was excellent throughout. Diction, particularly of the Women's Chorus and most of the leads, was always crisp and clear. The intonation, balance, and blending of the Women's Chorus in such numbers as Sir Joseph's barge is seen was exemplary.
The role of Josephine (Bridget Copley) requires an outstanding voice to sing well - and Bridget is certainly the voice for the task. I loved her performance as Patience at MIT; her Josephine was every bit as good, and undoubtedly even better. As befit the two roles, Bridget was as composed and noble in the role of Josephine, as she was naïve in the role of Patience.
Captain Corcoran (David Daly) was the second superb performer. His voice is both powerful and pleasing. His rendition of Fair moon, to thee I sing included the (alternate) written-but-rarely-sung high "A." I had to check my score to confirm that Sullivan had, indeed, written both versions of the coda. David's delivery of his dialog should be an inspiration to us all. For example, his grudging delivery through clenched teeth of "If you pleethze," spoke volumes.
The award for "Most Improved" must surely go to Dave Euresti (Boatswain). His intonation has improved beyond imagination! A clever staging device during his solo opening For he is an Englishman was to pull a string of small flags of Russia, France, Turkey, and Prussia, (plus a separate flag of Italy), rather than the customary chorus-wide unfurling of Union Jacks.
The Carpenter's Mate (Robert Morrison) displayed a resonating, accurate voice that shone in such numbers as A British tar and He is an Englishman.
The major disappointment to me was the conception of Sir Joseph Porter, especially in his interaction with Cousin Hebe. Although Josephine describes him as "dictatorial," Sir Joseph, in fact, was played as a wimp, forever henpecked by Hebe. Hebe's characterization, too, disappointed. Her relationship with Sir Joseph can best be described as reminiscent of Katisha's relationship with the Mikado in MIKADO rather than more like, say, Lady Jane in PATIENCE.
The opening-night performance was not quite "ready for prime time." The Women's Chorus was attired in dresses with bustles, but these dresses did not yet have the requisite panniers. Thus, they looked - because indeed they were -- incomplete.
Also (I am told), a complete panel of light failed just before the show. Thus, the lighting in several scenes was - as one might expect - spotty. For example, there was no moon during Captain Corcoran's Fair moon, to thee I sing. Kind captain, I've important information was sung in almost total darkness. Nonetheless, it is remarkable how little this major calamity actually interfered with one's enjoyment of the show.
Of course, both of these problems have been solved for all subsequent performances. In summary, as in previous years, MITG&SP continues to provide the best value for the money in G&S entertainment in the Boston area.
…The actor playing Ludwig (Matthew Roehrig) was well cast, in that he evinced a sort of passive geniality well-suited to the character. Ludwig is a representative type of actors who think they "create a role," when we all know that it is Our Hero, as Warren A. Colson would say, who pulls the strings. Ludwig has only two plot-moving moments in the show, one of which - divulging the conspiracy to the Grand Duke's detective - is a mistake, and the other - the second statutory duel - is not much more than monkey-see-monkey-do. Apart from this, he blithely marries and marries and marries again without any evidence that he has a will of his own, and the actor's performance expressed this well.
Julia (Laura Garner), though slighter of build than I imagine for the part, acted with sufficient histrionics to carry it off, particularly when she showed Ludwig her notion of a Grand Duchess.
The actress playing the Baroness was the most prepossessing of her species since Lady Sangazure, justifying the Grand Duke's ability to express sincere interest in her. One wonders if Gilbert was answering the charge of misogyny with this character.
The Princess was a dish, but that's not all.
The direction, by James Ellis, of Annotated Bab Ballads fame, was mercifully lacking in shtick and brought out a unifying theme in the work that I, for one, had not noticed, in my few readings of the libretto: the prevalence of pretense (explored by Gilbert in the past - an affidavit that Nanki-Poo is dead being as good as his execution). Ernest, Ludwig and Julia devote much time to "rehearsing" the role of Grand Duchess, but other characters are also playacting. The entire court pretends a familiarity with Greek culture (including those crazy Kalends); Ernest and the Grand Duke pretend to be ghoests; and Lisa and Julia pretend to be frightened of Ernest's ghoest. The parsimony of the Grand Duke and the Baroness is an affectation of poverty belied by their bank balances. The Grand Duke's employment of numerous Chamberlains falsely suggests extravagance, while the Prince's purchasing a gaggle of nobles-for-a-day "on the cheap" makes him out to be far more provident than his years of enforced restraint suggest. Dr. Tannhauser represents the interests who would depose the Grand Duke, and then the interests of those who seek his reinstatement, proving that lawyers are masters of pretense (I note, by the way, that Gilbert does not mention whether the Pfennig Halbpfennig Bar Association took any interest in the Doctor's behavior).
I also never noticed how utterly cynical the ending is: the couples pair off in obedience to the strictest of conventions (including G&S conventions), but with what results! Could any real Lisa forgive the speed with which Ludwig threw her over three times in one day? Nothing suggests that Julia will be any happier with Ernest now than she was at the outset of the play. Indeed, these two pairings are double pretense (shameless playwright!), since they mirror the pairings they've always made as actors and actresses in Ernest's troupe. There is no doubt that the Grand Duke, the most contemptible character in the entire show, makes the best match - youth, beauty and money - even though he has pretty shabbily avoided the Princess these twenty years. The Prince and the Baroness might in fact hit it off, but only for the most unromantic of reasons: that "opposites" often manage day-to-day living better than "likes" do. The casual viewer might think that all ends happily, rather like the casual viewer of "Ah, leave me not to pine" who might feel pity for two people forced to part because one of them will not be of age until 1940 (Gilbert is not averse to teasing his own audience). Fancy a sequel to DUKE (if you dare)!
Three songs, including When you find you're a broken-down critter, were cut without ill effect on the plot or the pace…
At the risk of damning the production with faint praise, I think that the company did the best that could be done with the material given to them--in which "deafly" attempts to rhyme with "leftly" (to name but one of numerous prosodic clinkers), and the music seems, at times, either to be ignoring the lyrics or setting them with the pretentiousness of grand opera to the point where the meaning is entirely lost. My ten-year-old daughter, in the face of intense cross-examination, swears that she enjoyed it, although she saw it cold. So did I.
BAM MIKADO The Boston Academy of Music received a rave review in the 11/30/01 Boston Phoenix for this year's G&S offering, MIKADO. Reviewer Lloyd Schwartz began, "Some useful lessons can be learned from [the production]. One is that it's always possible to improve. Another is that expectations, however much they're based on experience, should never be trusted. And another is that anything can work if it's done right." Sounds like faint praise? Actually, Schwartz went on to explain that he'd always been disappointed with BAM's past G&S performances, but loved this production, directed by Ira Siff of NY's La Gran Scena Opera Co. (if We are not mistaken, that is a very "camp" company populated by drag queen performers) with what sounds like such over-the-top authority and enthusiasm, and such concern for honest characterization and interaction, that the result was apparently a delight for all concerned. "Any of this could have been offensive" Schwartz explains "if it hadn't been carried out with such knowingly affectionate un-PC high spirits."
YEOMEN WITH THE HARVARD-RADCLIFFE GILBERT AND SULLIVAN PLAYERS Harvard-Radcliffe usually is weakest in costumes. This time they were right on the mark. Whether rented or taken from their stock of previous shows, all players looked their parts.
The stage design was simple and uncluttered. The orchestra was first-class, as usual, with occasional weakness from the brass. The spring production will be PATIENCE, so the music director would be well advised to get the horns into A-team shape. It's hard to recover from a bad overture.
Voices: Alia Rosenstock (Elsie) was a standout, and Sam Perwin (Fairfax) was a good match. Oussama Zahr (Jack Point) did well, but never managed to be a dominating presence. Scott Asher (Sgt. Merrill) sang very well, (he will play Count d'Almaviva in the upcoming Figaro at Dunster House opera) but he is a very flat reader. All singers need acting lessons; Scott needs them badly. Ann Brown (Phoebe) sings well and has a great stage presence, but (please forgive me) when singing When maiden loves I kept expecting it to turn into I'm just a girl who can't say no. At least that nasal twang only showed up on rare occasion.
Tempo: I have a song to sing dragged badly; Rapture, rapture was waytoodamnedfast.
HRG&S needs mentors. The director needs someone to gently take him by the scruff and say "Don't do that! Dame Carruthers is an older woman, not a withered crone. Shadbolt is a jailer; he does not have to look like Quasimodo!"
Zak Stone (Shadbolt) must have loved dancing to Cock and Bull because he finally got a chance to stand up straight. He and Emily Ludmir (Carruthers) were burdened by such unnecessary and mediocre personas. Phoebe and Sgt Merrill may well have preferred the block to marrying such unpalatable characters. Shadbolt and Carruthers have to have some personal appeal.
Choreography: A four-step turkey trot that was repeated over and over and over. Sometimes slow imperceptible movement will do for some numbers. It's better than repetition. There's a saying: "Bits of stage business are like tissues; once you use them, throw them away and do something else." The same could be said for dance and for movement.
Did anyone see The Bay Players of the South Shore (MA) production of PIRATES, featuring Dave Leigh as the Pirate King, Tony Parkes as Major-General Stanley, Ben Stevens as Frederic, and Drew Stevens as Samuel?
NEGASS "BUSINESS" CARDS: Program Chair Carl Weggel has been doing something very nice: he has, out of his own pocket and out of the goodness of his heart, been placing NEGASS ads in the programs of various musical and theatrical organizations with which he's involved. Morevoer, he asked Us if We could provide him with a NEGASS "business card" to hand to folks who want a quick and easy way to find us.
We created the card - and then Carl turned around and used it as a business-card-sized ad in a program! - so this is a multi-purpose item.
If you would like copies of this card, visit http://negass.org/Pages/Ads.html and follow the instructions on the page. Or attend a NEGASS meeting and see if anyone there has any to share.
JONATHAN STRONG'S VLO DUKE TALK [CONTINUED] [As Gamarex explained last issue, Jonathan Strong's remarks at our October meeting were for the most part based upon a talk he had planned to give at a Valley Light Opera gathering - which, in the event, was snowed out. Still, what he had to say is certainly worth hearing! - sorry We could not share with you all his vial of Opoponax, a very pleasant eau de toilet… - mlc]
Continued from last issue: Now let me say a word about Sullivan's contribution. I think back to my Tufts students again, and how at the end of the course I asked them all how it is that these fourteen operas still speak to us so vibrantly after more than a century. After enumerating much to Gilbert' s credit, the group heard from the kid recruited from Rio Grande City, Texas, for his baseball playing: "I think it's the music."
And of course, any true Savoyard knows this to be a good half of the truth. DUKE is a peculiar score for Sullivan. It is not his final thought on opera, the way the libretto seems to have been for Gilbert. Sullivan shortly after wrote The Beauty Stone, to my mind a score whose richness and warmth and atmosphere rivals YEOMEN, and after failing to reach popular success with that romantic work, he followed it up with The Rose of Persia and the unfinished Emerald Isle, which began to turn the corner to the musical comedies of the Edwardian era, a style that already in 1896 was in the ascendant: Sidney Jones's Geisha was a huge commercial success, and Richard D'Oyly Carte lamented that the public now "wanted simple 'fun' and. little else."
In DUKE, one might see Sullivan as bidding farewell to a century of classical opera bouffe, a form traceable back through Offenbach and Johann Strauss to the earlier French vaudevilles augmented with touches of the grander operatic tradition drawn from Weber and Rossini and Donizetti. Sullivan was heir to that tradition, and as it began to break apart in 1896, he offered this last compendium.
MIKADO, for all its Japonaiserie, is of course musically English; DUKE, on the other hand, is demonstrably international. It's not just a matter of the French Galop at the height of the Bacchanal, or of the café chantant Roulette song; of Julia's Italian operatic scena or the Baroness's Brindisi; of the Wagnerian marches or the Viennese waltz duet or the Polonaise in the First Act Finale ("But stay, your new made court"); of the habanera for the Duke and. Baroness or, most magnificent of them all, the Greek chorus "Eloia! Opoponax!" (and here let me show you a bottle of Opoponax I've brought along!)
-- No, it's not only the fecundity of the musical sources (among which we must also note the English madrigal and the Irish jig -- all Europe with Ireland thrown in!), it is also the astonishing unity of the score as a whole than I find such a splendid achievement, entirely in synchrony with Gilbert's overflowing cornucopia tangled up into a neat knot, if I may mix a metaphor.
You can search the score for a love duet of any traditional sort - and I mean a traditionally Savoy sort! -with the exception of Lisa's two self-pitying laments, you won't really find any sort of tender melody. If it's sentimental, it's mock; if it's grand, it's absurd. But mostly it's quick, edgy, bouncing along like a ball on a roulette wheel. Even GONDOLIERS doesn't have as many pages of quick tempo music. And even if DUKE is a long score, it's a sort of perpetual-motion machine, hurtling forward.
It's, finally, a tight and rhythmically-propelled score with lots of harmonic interest, and the melodies reveal themselves like jewels flashing by: Once you've got it in your bones, you'll treasure it. It's the kind of knotty score that tends to get better and better on each hearing, an opportunity most Savoyards have never really had. There's only been the one rather stiff D' Oyly Carte recording. But now you all will have the chance to discover, through your own performance, the glories of this final Savoy opera.
UNUSUAL SUDBURY SORCERER The Sudbury Savoyards will be presenting SORCERER in February/March of 2002. Generally known as a traditionalist company, we promise a new twist with this year's production.
As most of you probably know, the story of SORCERER concerns Alexis and his fiancée, Aline. Alexis and Aline are very much in love and very happy, and Alexis wants everyone in their village to be as deeply and truly in love as he is. To achieve this, he hires a local sorcerer, J.W. Wells. Wells agrees to provide a love potion to be placed in the tea at the banquet to be served in honor of Alexis' and Aline's engagement. After drinking the potion, everyone will fall asleep and, upon waking, will fall in love with the first person of the opposite sex that they meet.
The potion indeed works, but with unexpected consequences. Mismatching continues until the situation becomes hopelessly entangled. The only way to break the spell and restore all to their former affections is for either Wells or Alexis to give up his life to the demon, Ahrimanes.
Following standard theatrical convention, Gilbert decided that it must be Wells who is sacrificed because 1) he's the only one not paired with some other main character, 2) he is of a lower class than Alexis and therefore less important and 3) he's not a tenor.
For many people familiar with the story, one problem they have is: Why does Wells have to be sacrificed? Isn't it all Alexis' fault for having hired him in the first place? Or is Wells at fault for doing the deed, knowing what the consequences could be, and not warning Alexis of the danger?
Given this dilemma, we will let the audience decide! At each performance, the audience will be asked whether it should be Alexis or Wells who is "voted off." Their vote will determine the final outcome of the play, and the cast must be ready to do Ending "A" or "B". It will be up to both Alexis and Wells to make their case throughout the play that the other should be sacrificed.
So come and see our performances (February 22, 23, 28, March 1 and 2 at 8pm; February 24 and March 2 and 2pm at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School) and help determine the outcome!
For more information, please check our website at www.sudburysavoyards.org
Cast for the Sudbury Savoyards SORCERER:
DOVER PIRATES: Dover Publications, Inc., a long-standing and respectable publisher of musical scores, has recently released a new edition of PIRATES, which is available from such sources as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Their SavoyNet representative explains:
Our purpose in preparing these scores is to provide an accurate performing edition of the scores and orchestra parts that incorporates a careful examination of the autographs, the early vocal scores, a set of early printed orchestra parts, recordings, and printed libretto sources. We include the original second act finale as it was performed during Sullivan's lifetime as well as the traditional one usually performed today.
The piano part of the vocal score has been rewritten in many places, with the goal of making it more pianistic and easier to play, and it incorporates orchestra material that is not in existing editions. This, along with the existence of measure numbers and rehearsal numbers that are consistent in the scores and parts, helps save valuable time in rehearsal situations. All repeats have been written out, except in the second act finale, since the second verse of the Major General's Ballad is sometimes omitted.
The orchestra parts will be available as rentals and possibly for sale. Because of the success we have experienced with the rental parts for MIKADO we have decided to continue this practice with PIRATES and also the upcoming PINAFORE.
IN-PROGRESS PDF BRAY ARCHIVE We've started a new project: We're posting PDF versions of recent Brays on the web. What does this mean? It means that if you have a (free and easily accessible) copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer, you can print out a copy of the issue you want, looking pretty much the same as the copy you received in the mail - in case you lost your old copy, or want to lend a copy to someone else. Ultimately, We hope to create a more nearly complete archive of old Brays in PDF format.
Visit http://leedscarroll.com/GSEnsembles.html for a list of G&S ensembles suitable for excerpt programs - mlc
Send electronic contributions to our e-mail address:pooh-bah at negass dot org
contact current webmaster mlc for more information