(How to get there - Park Avenue Congregational Church, Arlington, MA)
ELECTIONS/FANTASY DAY: SUNDAY, MAY 18 AT 2 PM, Park Avenue Congregational Church, Arlington, MA. We should be able to get through our annual Elections as expeditiously as we usually do – and then we’ll leap with both feet into our annual Fantasy Meeting. Victor Troll will accompany any NEGASSer who wants to sing any G&S or G&S-related piece – whether or not it’s “right for your voice” ! (Is it time for another male Three Little Maids, or female Big Black Block?)
- or are there folks who’d like to act a non-musical scene? That’s fine, too! Do we have anyone, for instance, who has always wanted to give Princess Ida’s pep talk, but isn’t the right voice type to sing the role? Are there three women who’d like to play the KoKo/Pish-Tush/Pooh-Bah dialog scene that leads up to the Big Black Block trio? Or how about Bab Ballad devotees? – anyone want to read one or more?
Program Chair Carl Weggel suggests that Victor’s cellist daughter might like to play the Lady Jane cello solo from PATIENCE. If that’s her fantasy, is there a singer who’d like to help her out? Are there other instrumental fantasies we can satisfy? – an oboe solo here, a clarinet there…?
Or shall we just plunge into one grand choral finale after another, as we’ve done at past Fantasy meetings, allotting solos to whoever is there?
Don’t be shy! – come and have fun! – But first, help us elect our new board: Up for re-election this year are our President, Treasurer, Program Chair (a one-year term), and two Members at Large.
Vice President Tony Parkes, who is heading our Nominating Committee, has named a slate which consists almost entirely of returning current members. (Even President Don Smith, who had been hoping to retire, has confessed to willingness to return if no replacement is found.) The big exception is the position of Program Chair: Dave Leigh has expressed interest in taking on this job, while Carl Weggel has not expressed the usual crying need for respite which holders of this position usually exhibit after a year or two – so we may actually have a race for a change!
PICNIC MEETING We'll hold this year's picnic on Sunday, Aug 24. Dave Sheldon is offering his home again, unless anyone else would like to volunteer. Any preference as to the opera we ought to sing through at the picnic? Tell Us your thoughts!
NEXT YEAR’S MEETINGS Any advice for a new Program Chair? What has NEGASS been doing right or wrong over the past few years? Tell Us your thoughts!
Tentative Meeting Schedule, 2002-2003
Welcome, Welcome, Welcome We New Members Dr. & Mrs. Ernest J. Kahn, appreciative audience members from Sharon, MA, and Cindy Carter from Waban, MA, who is another "enthusiastic audience" member. Tell Us, Tell Us All About It!
BAB BALLADS Harvard University Press has just issued a handsome, newly-designed paperbound printing of Jim Ellis’s edition of the Bab Ballads. Jim has offered to read from his book at an upcoming meeting – more news as it breaks!
Leigh complains about Dover's use of clefs. Sullivan was quite inconsistent about this. In his scores, the same character can be in treble clef in one song, and bass clef in another. While I can see the argument for leaving the clefs as Sullivan did, we routinely accept similar normalization of 'spelling' in editions of Shakespeare. The Broude Brothers edition of TRIAL BY JURY also modernized (putting all male basses and baritones in bass clef, even if Sullivan had had them in treble).
It is true that the Dover scores include some of the "traditional" modifications, but then, so do pretty much all of the G&S scores now available, aside from the handful of scholarly editions, none of which exist yet for the three operas Dover has put out. Dover has, in fact, gone back to early sources and made a good start at stripping away many of the traditional accretions found in other scores. A legitimate criticism is that they did so half-heartedly, but Dover is the best available until a better product comes out.
I agree with Leigh that Dover's footnotes are sporadic, but to the extent Dover gives them, readers are better informed than they would have been had they purchased any other edition of these operas. As long as readers remember Leigh's caution that the Dover footnotes aren't exhaustive, I see no reason to object to their presence. How many footnotes do you find in the Schirmer, Chappell, or Kalmus scores?
The Dover scores do have errors, although the ones Leigh points out are pretty benign. There are a few I consider more serious than those he mentioned; as I've reviewed these scores elsewhere, I won't repeat myself. But if one is going to make a bottom-line recommendation, it must be practical. The full scores Dover has issued are head and shoulders above anything that now exists. They're not all we want, but for now they're the best we have.
Between the Dover and Schirmer scores it's a closer call. I consider the Dover scores an improvement, but one might reasonably prefer the Schirmer scores because they're familiar, and their faults are at least well known.
UTOPIA, LTD. at MIT (Apr 5) Of all the Savoy operas UTOPIA is the most Aristophanic. It's not just the Cloud-Cuckoo-Land subject matter; it's the ill-made play structure. It is essentially a series of entrances, or walk-ons, or skits, a form that extends right back from the Music Hall to the Greek Old Comedy.
Evan Xenakis may have it in his genes, because he has directed the MIT production in the work's true spirit rather than trying to squeeze it into tidier shape, as the mishmash production at Harvard a few seasons back attempted to do with results disastrous to the opera. Xenakis made one reasonable enough adjustment in excising the Wise-Men's-rivalry-for-Zara subplot. It meant the loss of the patter quartet and the lovely duet that follows and a bit of adjusting in Scaphio and Phantis's first scene, but if you have to shorten the opera, it's the least disruptive means as the subplot turns out to be just another dangling thread after all. (Gilbert did intend to resolve it in Act II-but in the end dropped it.) Otherwise we missed only a verse here and there; the only one I really missed was Fitzbattleaxe's in "Words of love" especially given the delightful voice of Ben Hellman, who also couldn't have looked more the part. His Zara, Audrey Eash, was equally appealing and managed the introductory verses in the First Act Finale with aplomb.
The set was a gorgeous pastiche of exotica, handsomely lit by Mike Bromberg who turned the tropical moon into Queen Victoria at the final curtain. Curtain is, of course, the wrong term because the Sala de Puerto Rico has none, but the intimate space (sadly half-full) is a great place to see G&S. With all those entrances, it's good to have many corners to enter from! Some of the costumes (the twin princesses, the First Life Guards, Mr. Goldbury) were splendid; others adequate; many rather minimal. Big Phantis and small Scaphio (Ahmed Ismail and Brian Bermack) made a fine comedy duo but needn't have looked so bizarrely tailored. Caitlin Smythe and Rebecca Burstein (whom we at NEGASS have known since she was a babby) were absolutely delightful as Nekaya and Kalyba in the lesson scene, and Jennifer Hazel's waltz song rang forth with every one of Lady Sophy's words crystal clear. Even more impressive (if possible) was Graham Wright as Goldbury; he has a big ringing voice and a confident manner that put his two songs across and then some. The song about limited liability, crucial to understanding not only the premise of the opera but Gilbert's rather radical attitude toward the notion of capitalism, was the best I've ever heard it sung; and the English Girl song a treat. Jonathan Weinstein's Dramaleigh made a goofy contrast to Wright's sinister seductiveness; I'm not entirely sure about getting those prim girls so drunk where joining in the tarantella would've been enough.
The most appealing dancing was done by David Michael Daly as the King; he's one of those light-on-the-feet large gents, like Zero Mostel or Jackie Gleason, and he built a convincing character from his put-upon early scenes (with the cynical "First you're born" as his keynote) to the dance of indifference right through to his assumption of the role of limited monarch at the end. His potential nemesis, Tarara, as played by Noelani Kamelamela (a truly Utopian name) with gender-and-vocal-range ambiguity, provided the necessary wackiness. Erica Schultz's Phylla and Ricardo Davila's Calynx started things off well, and indeed the motley crew of the chorus (which seemed to range in visual effect from the Grateful Dead to a Spring Break special) did a remarkable job with the many concerted numbers. With David Larrick's snappy conducting and such a stageful of fine voices, the rummage sale look of the costumes were matters of comparative insignificance. And unlike Harvard, MIT supplied a full complement of Flowers of Progress, with Albert Chan as Blushington, Arthur Dunlap as Corcoran, and Matthew Morse as Bailey Barre all doing themselves justice. Am I the only audience member (at college-productions) who gets tired of the comic bios performers supply? I would actually like to know something real about these talented performers! [We agree! – mlc]
Let me sum up by saying this was a UTOPIA that worked, and it's a hard opera to do well. Whatever cuts one makes must be made very carefully and in the spirit of Gilbert's eccentric structure. For all its wistfulness about the passing of time, about the loss of innocence, about the dishonesty of imperialist capitalist Britain, it is (thanks to Sullivan, but also in his contradictory oddball way thanks to Gilbert) a vibrant, even cheerful work. It's as if it's saying, yes, we know the world is a mess and people are venal and silly, but that's what we've got, and as long as we know it, maybe we can muddle through with a bit of joy. I certainly felt joyful leaving the Sala de Puerto Rico!
UTOPIA AT MIT I saw the latest MITGASP production both weekends, and enjoyed it thoroughly. The later performance was more polished, and the Phantis "understudy," Andrew Sweet, did a substantially better job than the MIT grad student Ahmed E. Ismail, whom I saw in the earlier performance--in terms of a warmer voice, more expression, and better interactions with Scaphio and the others.
But let's take it from the top! Paramount in the production, so to speak, was David Michael Daly, whose beautiful baritone and quirky charm contributed largely to my enjoyment of the evenings. His rendition of the blackly humorous "First you're born," and his two duets with Jennifer Hazel as Lady Sophy, were among my favorite parts both times through. Jennifer has a lovely clear voice, and created a sympathetic character in her moving air, "When but a maid of fifteen year."
Substantial directorial cuts reduced the role of Captain Fitzbattleaxe, and the fact that Ben Hellman is actually not a tenor ironically required a downward transposition of one of the best known numbers, "A tenor can't do himself justice." Ben was excellently cast for the part, looking and acting every inch the British subaltern. Audrey Eash was a fine Zara.
Brian Bermack did better as Scaphio the second time I saw him, interacting with more liveliness as suggested above. MIT undergraduate Noe Kamelamela (is that a Utopian name?) was cross-cast as Tarara and was fine musically, but unimpressive dramatically. She played the role as suspicious and ironic. I like it a lot better played naively. (A production at MIT 30 years ago had Tarara dressed as the Mad Hatter, seated on the side of the stage drinking a large cup of tea during several scenes.)
Graham Wright was impressive as Mr. Goldbury. He has a beautiful voice, but ... but ... the diction really is not there. And the part is so contradictory ... Graham was amusing as the crooked capitalist in the Act I finale, but was "A bright and beautiful English girl" supposed to be entirely sung in mockery? I couldn't tell. I did love Jonathan Weinstein's Lord Dramaleigh, constantly laughing and smiling. I won't say a word about Nekaya and Kalyba, played by Caitlin Smythe and Rebecca Burstein. (I hope some other reviewer is not under the same constraint!) [They were charming, Nancy – and I’m not Rebecca’s mother! – mlc] But I can't refrain from mentioning that when Graham sang "Down comes her hair, what does she care, it's all her own and it's worth the showing," it was a moment to remember.
Director Evan Xenakis ingeniously solved the problem of shortage of men by having Flowers of Progress double as First Life Guards (who never appeared again after the scene in which they starred). I was not impressed, however, by his handling of the chorus--or rather lack thereof. The women were given no choreography, and largely stood or sat still while singing "In lazy languor motionless", "Quaff the nectar", etc. It was all the more strikingly boring because one excellent female chorister--you know who you are, Randi!--inserted appropriate simple and graceful gestures which I wish had been done by all.
Wait! One more thing! I loved freshman Ricardo Davila as Calynx! His speeches opening the show were wonderfully animated, and got us all smiling.
But behold, I have said enough ... everybody else was fine! Thanks, MITGASP!
HARVARD SORCERER The Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players presented SORCERER at the Agassiz Theatre in Cambridge. This reviewer saw the first matinee performance on Saturday April 5th. Stage Director was Caitlin Heller, and Music Director was Marisa Green making her musical-directing debut; a very capable debut. The set was rather basic: a colonnade across the back leading to the house of Sir Marmaduke (?) on the actors' right. The (mostly) student orchestra played well, the only criticism I had was that the brass on occasion overpowered the singers.
The singing generally was very good. Daniel Spitzer as Wells lived up to the Anna Russell characterization of "the little man who pranced around and sang the patter songs." (I don't mean that unfavorably.) Joseph Fishman as Sir Marmaduke and Abby Carlin as Lady Sangazure were proper aristocrats. Michael Moss was the rather unsympathetic, controlling Alexis and Rachel Simowitz as Aline was the not too bright soprano. Dr. Daly as played by Rick DuPuy was the spacey vicar who in the end emerged from his inhibitions in a wild dance. Matt Victory played the Notary in a wheelchair, and had more of a voice than some Notaries. Mrs. Partlet (Emily Donaldson) was the ever-protective mother, and Constance (Caroline Jackson) was the despairing would-be bride. The reconstruction of the Ahrimanes scene in Act Two was performed by permission of the composer David C. Larrick who was present. Mindy Klenoff was Ahrimanes but unfortunately she was too far upstage, peering out from the colonnade, for her lines to be understood by this listener. The chorus of five men and five women, dressed in peasant costumes, were a fine ensemble.
All in all, a most enjoyable SORCERER.
&& HARVARD SORCERER The Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players, made up of enthusiastic undergraduates and community members, presented an entertaining production of SORCERER in April. Playing in the pit, I was treated to a fine show.
Alexis and Aline, in the hands of Michael Moss and Rachel Simowitz, were charming. Mr. Moss sang his heart out, especially at “False one, begone!” which had the ring of genuine emotion. Ms. Simowitz sang well, and had a speaking voice of unusual flexibility, which she used to shade Aline’s ditzier moments. As the parental figures, Joseph Fishman as Sir Marmaduke and Abby Carlin as Lady Sangazure were properly aristocratic. Ms. Carlin sang with lovely tone, even and unforced up and down the scale.
Daniel Spitzer was an excellent Wells, doing full justice to his famous patter song. Rick DuPuy as Dr. Daly and Caroline Jackson as Constance were sincere, and so likable that they were obviously made for each other. Matt Victory provided the Notary with amusing moments, and Emily Donaldson had fun with Mrs. Partlet, complete with large onion perched on her hat.
The bass role of Ahrimanes, composed by David Larrick for Sudbury’s 1992 production and revived in 2002, was here given to a mezzo, Mindy Klenoff. She worked very hard, but to my ear, the role required a rich bass timbre for the scene to be truly effective.
The full cast, singing heartily, made the choruses sound “easy, in elegant diction.” Also delightful was the lilting minuet in Act I. Played by a solo string quintet, led by concertmaster Filbert Hong, it was graceful in tone and supple in rhythm, with just enough ornamentation.
The music director, Marisa Green, was poised, competent, and clear. Stage director Caitlin Heller maintained a nice pace throughout. Talented undergraduates enjoying G&S are good news to local Savoyard groups, as this is where we’ll find our future performers. Congratulations to all!
&&& HARVARD SORCERER: ALTERNATE VIEWPOINT I don't like writing bad reviews, but then again I don't relish bad G&S performances. The Harvard-Radcliffe production of SORCERER is an exception to their usual history of good shows.
The set was a veranda of the Pointdexter castle, with a stairway to arched ramparts. The set took up more than half the playing space. The cast did well in the available space, but the whole effect was claustrophobic.
The set was painted stonework in a very short spectrum of grays and rose, with very little contrast. Before this bland expanse came the male chorus, in a straight line, dressed in gray and brown burlap. Then came Mrs. Parlett (Emily Donaldson), and Constance (Caroline Jackson) dressed in pale beige. The ladies of the chorus were dressed in matching pale blue dresses. Have you ever seen a blue that looked beige? Sir Marmaduke was dressed in a hideous green army uniform with gold epaulettes. The whole effect of costume and scenery followed a consistent theme: Drab. Dull. Dreary.
In the second act the girls awoke in brown and purple dresses (after falling asleep in their drab dresses), and Constance wore a bright red dress, Sir Marmaduke a red tunic. The male villager only got new vests. Apparently the idea was a before-and-after effect of love, but the punchline just wasn't worth the drabness of the first act.
To get right to it, this play suffered (as did the audience; I know the difference between enthusiastic and polite applause) from a lack of direction. The chorus sang directly to the audience, standing in straight lines. When people finished their lines they simply stood where they were until their next line. So the show was a progression of one postcard picture to another. In the "I Like You" number the five pairs of the chorus did the exact same bits of business.
There is an acting technique to check the visuals of a scene; miming. Play the scene without words. If it doesn’t carry the scene, the words won’t help. It would have helped in the Aline-Alexis-Dr. Daly scene, because they weren’t listening to each other. That’s the basic failing of the direction; action is everything, words are secondary.
I have two actors to take to task. Dr. Daly is an older man, not an old, old man. He should be modeled after Walter Pidgeon, not a washed out, shuffling Barry Fitzgerald. Constance has to see something appealing in him. It’s the same mistake they made with Dame Carruthers in YEOMEN. Sir Marmaduke played his first role with HRG&S, and showed all the animation of a pompous coatrack.
of note: Caroline Jackson (Constance) is bright-faced
and fun to watch. She reached the limit of her range in "Dear friends,
take pity on my lot" but otherwise did very well. Michael
Moss (Alexis) was strong and clear; Rachel Simowitz (Aline)
paired well with Michael, but her facial muggings weren’t worthy
of a 6th grader. A short viewing of some home movies of her performance
should cure that. Abby Carlin (Lady Sangazure) was excellent.
Rick DuPuy (Dr. Daly) was weak and washed out, but he
was saddled with that characterization. He should have been more energetic.
The chorus was clearly capable of delivering a better performance had
they been better directed.
Which brings me back to my main complaint; no direction, no choreography, poor sets and costumes. This was a good group of kids, and they deserve a better memory for their efforts.
Harvard has no Theater program, so what they produce depends on the talent and efforts of the members. HRG&S has produced some fantastic shows, some great shows, and some good shows. They have to find a failsafe system to warn them when something isn’t working; advice and review from alumni, local amateur groups, someone with a track record of success.
IN-PROGRESS PDF BRAY ARCHIVE We've been 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 give a copy to someone else. Ultimately, We hope to create a more nearly complete archive of old Brays in PDF format.
ABOUT CONTRIBUTING TO THE TRUMPET BRAY:
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