IOLANTHE AT HRG&SP Spring is here, and with it, the winter production by the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players. Sometimes I sit and wonder why it is that they put on a winter production in the spring, but then that is just one of the many mysteries that is Harvard University. [How about - because they rehearse it all winter? - mlc] The important thing is that they were performing IOLANTHE, one of my favorite operas, and so I hied me to the Agassiz Theatre in Radcliffe Yard. And there I enjoyed a splendid production, which boasted one of the strongest principal casts I have ever seen in a G&S opera.
The Orchestra, under the direction of Matthew Corriel, started off the opera with energy and excitement. I wish I knew which of the three oboists listed in the program was playing that night, because she quickly stood out as one of the best players in the Orchestra, as did Shu Satch on bassoon.
Act One introduced us to a very impressive Chorus of Fairies. Though there were only four of them, they sang quite well, and their characterizations were marvelous — it was like watching a gaggle of gossiping high-school girls. This worked quite well for the dialogue in the first scene, and made the later "misunderstanding" all the more believable.
Celia Maccoby, as Iolanthe, not only looked like a "maid of seventeen", but a very beautiful one, with long, blonde braids and a gorgeous blue dress. Though her role is small, she sang and acted it very well.
Johanna Sue Karlin's Fairy Queen seemed like a cross between Carol Kane's Ghost of Christmas Present and Miranda Richardson's Elizabeth I -- hilarious throughout, yet rarely ever going overboard.
Michael Moss and Lisa Lareau were excellent as the two lovers. Lareau has a gorgeous voice, and sang Phyllis' music in clear, dulcet tones. Moss struggled a little with Strephon's music (he is, after all, a tenor, while Strephon is a bass-baritone), but he spoke his lines with such passionate earnestness that he brought the house down on more than one occasion.
The best pairing in the cast had to be Rangarirai Mlambo and Francis Crick as the two Earls. Crick not only had a lovely tenor voice, but he acted the stereotypical tenor perfectly, hamming up Tolloller's lines just enough to make them all the funnier, but never so much as to draw attention away from them. Mlambo played Mountararat as Tolloller's straight man, which brought amusing undertones into their talk of dueling to the death over Phyllis.
Daniel Spitzer made a very good and very faceted Lord Chancellor. We got to see his arrogance and "airy condescension", but we also got to see how his feelings for Phyllis and his frustration about the consequent conflict of interest are wearing him down. Also, while Spitzer rushed through some of the longer speeches, his diction in the Nightmare Song was incredible.
Marcus Wang was a rather active Private Willis, flirting with every girl to catch his eye, and giving his lines a touch of the Elvis lilt. He was good-looking enough to pull this off, too. Unfortunately, while this worked well in the dialogue, has dancing in his solo just seemed like clowning around, and grew very annoying — especially when he started the Macarena.
The cast as a whole sang well together, though the Chorus of Peers had trouble at times finding their harmonies. The vocal balance in the small ensembles was outstanding, especially in "When Darkly Looms the Day", the "Friendship" Quartet and the Lords' Trio.
Though the program dated the action as "between 1750 and 1882", the cast was in modern dress. The Lord Chancellor and the Peers wore stylish suits; Phyllis had dresses that were very neat and clean and respectable, but were probably donated to the Court of Chancery in the 1960's; Strephon looked like he could have wandered in from Harvard Square; the Fairies...well, they're Fairies — they seemed to have put together ensembles of whatever they made look good. (Loved the Queen's hoop skirt!)
The set was less successful. It was very green, and had a ramp coming down from an elevated entrance upstage, with silhouetted branches in the back and long poles capped with hexagons that could light up, which was all well and good for Act One, but for Act Two, with the exception of a set of gates that had been added upstage right, nothing changed. There was really no indication we were anywhere different from where we were before intermission. I realize that they were probably on a tight budget, but there are simple, cheap, and effective ways to establish a change of scene.
For the most part, the directors stayed faithful to the script, an excellent practice when it comes to Gilbert & Sullivan. There were, though, a couple of curious alterations to the music. The deletion of "Loudly Let the Trumpet Bay" was understandable — there were only five Peers including Lords Tolloller and Mountararat, and among them, only Crick and Mlambo had strong enough voices for the number — but I wonder why Strephon and Phyllis exchanged verses in "None Shall Part Us". And two more refrains of "Nothing venture, nothing win" tacked onto the end of the Finale were more of a distraction than an entertainment.
All in all, I must say this is the best production by the Harvard-Radcliffe G&S Players I've seen yet, and made for a very enjoyable evening.
-- DAVE LEIGH
CARL ROSA OPERA CO'S MIKADO: The Carl Rosa Opera Company has put on an excellent production of the MIKADO as part of a month-long tour of the US. I attended a Saturday matinee performance at the 2800 seat Proctor's in Schenectady, NY, a wonderful old vaudeville house in pristine condition. As most of you already know, the production is using the sets and costumes from Topsy Turvey. For that reason, I expected the sets and costumes to be impressive, and they were. But the performance was also outstanding, perhaps even better than the one I saw of MIKADO produced at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in NYC in the late 1980s. In particular, the Chorus numbers, especially for the women, were very well blocked. To my mind, the Ko-Ko- Katisha dialogue was the highlight of the show. And while I don’t usually find the various updates of the “little list” song very compelling, the version used in this production with its references to Yum-Yum and Tony Blair were very funny.
The enthusiasm displayed by all the performers in a production well into its run was most impressive. The solo performances ranged from good to excellent. Most of the performers listed good resumes, particularly with the Welsh National Opera (which has produced a number of fine G&S recording in the last 15 years). The standout musical performer was Gaynor Keeble as Katisha. This was the best sung Katisha I have ever heard, with high notes to burn. Simon Butteriss was a first class Ko-Ko. The Nanki-Poo (Ivan Sharpe) was also solid musically and a good straight man for Ko-Ko. Charlotte Page was an appropriately arch Yum-Yum but only so-so vocally. Bruce Graham was a fine Pooh-Bah without overdoing it. The Mikado was sung by the well-known bass-baritone Anthony Raffell, who was excellent, although his voice was a little worn after decades of performing heavy operatic parts. The supporting parts were all well cast. The chorus sounded very good and looked great. The orchestral sound was excellent. (Note from tsw: I thought the Pish-Tush was a standout, with great facial expressions and an unusually beautiful voice.)
The Carl Rosa Company includes about a half dozen of the best known G&S operettas to their standard repertoire. I hope they do enough business on this tour to consider coming to the states with another G&S production in future years. I can only hope that the upcoming PATIENCE at Glimmerglass this summer matches this high standard.
-- CARY LEAHEY
BROUDE BROTHERS CRITICAL EDITION PINAFORE. In 1971, a century after the premiere of Gilbert & Sullivan’s first collaboration for the stage, work began on a series of critical editions for each of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas. Many of the top G&S scholars in the country have become involved in the project, including Marc Shepherd, James Ellis, Steven Ledbetter, Percy M. Young, the late Reginald Allen, and the late Bruce I. Miller. The first volume in the series, Trial by Jury, was published by Broude Bros. in 1994. A few months ago, Broude Bros. issued the full score of the next edition to be completed, H.M.S. Pinafore.
Given the extraordinary popularity of the G&S operas, and this one in particular, full scores of PINAFORE are nothing new. The Kalmus edition has been around for decades, and Dover has put out an edition of its own which it sells at a very low figure. So the question inevitably arises, is the Broude Bros. PINAFORE worth going out of one’s way to get, especially with the $300 price tag? The answer is an emphatic and unqualified Yes.
A first glance through this edition shows it to be head and shoulders above the competition. Broude has published it in two attractive, hardcover volumes, on high-quality, off-white paper. Even under bright light, the bleed-through on the pages (that is, the print on the opposite side of the page showing through the paper) is minimal.
The first volume is H.M.S. Pinafore, in full score, with all dialogue and stage directions. Editor Percy M. Young has put together one of the best conductor's scores I have ever seen. Broude Bros. claims that this series is "intended as a pragmatic compromise between the scholarly and the practical", but in the hands of Young (and of Steven Ledbetter before him with Trial by Jury), this "pragmatic compromise" is in fact an exquisite combination of the best of both worlds. The music is typeset in Score, which is probably the single most capable music publishing program available, and an amazing job they did of it, too. Of course, as anyone who's been looking at recently created scores knows, many computer-typeset scores really look like they were programmed into a computer, with little thought to presentation or layout. David Russel Hulme's critical edition of RUDDIGORE, published by Oxford University Press, is an example — it's easily the best score of RUDDIGORE available, but for all its remarkable research and editing, the vertical placement of staves and staff systems on the page is haphazard, and lyrics, particularly in songs with multiple verses, sometimes run together. Then, again, Dover's full scores of the Big Three are less than practical to perform from, because they tend to cram as much information onto a page as they can, which means the kind of small type that makes a conductor squint. Broude, on the other hand, has avoided all these pitfalls and more, and has presented a score that is beautifully clear and easy to read, and as remarkably consistent as one made by the old-fashioned engraving process.
Remarkably, this is the first computer-typeset score in the series (TRIAL was engraved); to have achieved such quality on their first offering is highly praiseworthy. This is a score that is very easy to perform from — I have — and also one which clearly shows the editorial process involved. It is well-known that Sullivan wrote out his music in full score, but in a kind of shorthand that his assistants and copyists knew how to follow. For instance, if the flutes doubled the first violins for a certain passage, he would write the violin part, then write an indication that the flutes were to play the same thing. In numbers with multiple verses, where the music was the same each time, Sullivan would write out the first verse, with lyrics for the first verse (or parts of it), but then only underlay lyrics for other verses where the notation altered ("When I was a Lad", for instance). Also, Sullivan tended to write in great haste, and it has been widely told that he wrote a good portion of the music while suffering from kidney stones. So needless to say there are all sorts of shortcuts and omissions in the autograph score. Young has filled all these in, and has realized the abbreviations. He has also inserted emendations to the libretto, as found in the prompt-book for the 1887 revival. All this does nothing to hinder the clarity of the score, however. Realizations of Sullivan's shorthand, and handwritten alterations to the libretto, are included matter-of-factly in the score; Smaller details where Young has invoked his editorial judgment (mostly the supplement of dynamics, articulations, etc. that Sullivan probably intended but didn't actually write out) are bracketed in some way or another, to show that they are supposition, or are given a brief footnote. This is enough to show the presence of the editorial hand, but not enough to distract or confuse the practical user. This makes the score an invaluable reference for scholars and musicologists, and an ideal edition for use by performing groups, conductors, and Gilbert & Sullivan users.
As can be imagined with a project of this magnitude, a few minor errata have found their way past the proofreading department. But these are very few and very far between; the only ones worth mentioning here are a couple of curious editorial inconsistencies. In the Act One Finale, Sullivan had intended for Dick Deadeye to sing in the ensembles “This very night” and “For a British tar is a soaring soul.” Modern editions usually give Dick’s voice line to the Boatswain, and the Boatswain’s line to the Carpenter’s Mate, but, as this “is not supported by [Sullivan’s autograph] or early vocal scores,” Young has restored the original assignations. In the stage directions, Young has inserted the direction “Exit Dick” after the “Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen” ensemble, in keeping with later versions of the libretto — Dick does, after all, re-appear in the hatchway to deliver his lines “Forbear, nor carry out the scheme you’ve planned”, etc. But what that means is that Young has set up Dick to be offstage for the ensembles “This very night”, in which he is supposed to sing!
Then, again, there is the subject of clefs. The Editorial Policies for the edition, set down at the beginning of each opera in the series, states “[f]or vocal parts ... the bass [clef] is used for baritones and basses”. This is certainly true in Trial by Jury, but the only baritone in the score of H.M.S. Pinafore who gets the bass clef is the Boatswain; Sir Joseph and the Captain are given the transposed treble clef.
But even these are trifles — the first can be cleared up in rehearsal, and the second simply affects the look of the score. These can easily be fixed in later states of the edition.
Appendices to this volume contain the recitative that originally preceded the finale (this became the dialogue from Sir Joseph's "Here, take her sir" to the end of the scene), and the remnants of a lost duet for the Captain and Josephine. These remnants are a partial set of band parts (flutes, clarinets, horns, and strings except for 2nd violin) discovered in 1998 by Bruce I. Miller and Helga Perry. These remnants are collected into conductor's-score format, with the staves of the missing parts present but left blank. (Miller & Perry wrote a reconstruction of the song which filled in the missing lines; this is published separately by Broude.)
Also included in the score are three different endings to the finale: the original (and, to my ears, the proper) ending, as Sullivan wrote it; the "traditional" ending (the one that shows up in nearly all 20th Century scores and recordings); and an ending which Sullivan inserted for some performances of the 1887 revival, which incorporates a refrain of Thomas Arne's "Rule Britannia."
The second volume gives the scholarly side of the project full reign: Critical Commentary. The 28-page Introduction traces the history of H.M.S. Pinafore, from its conception, through its premiere and first two revivals, and into the 20th Century. Young’s narrative here is thoroughly researched, with numerous quotations and footnotes, yet it is also a fascinating and informative read. This is followed by the complete libretto, with two sets of annotations: the first points out variations from the presented text that were found in the sources used; the second explains words and terms that might be unfamiliar to modern readers (e.g. “formast jacks”), or whose meanings have altered as the years rolled over their heads (e.g. “attorney’s firm”).
From here we get to the “meat” of the volume: the Critical Apparatus. Here we’re presented with a detailed description of the various sources for this edition, and then a list of every significant emendation and variant reading of the music found in these sources. As the Publisher’s Preface states, the purpose of this is “to make users aware of editorial processes and to provide them with the data necessary to trace the history of the work, to follow the editor’s reasoning — and, perhaps, to engage in second-guessing.” The list is huge, and deals predominantly with variations from Sullivan’s autograph score (which Sullivan wrote out at great speed, with many mistakes, omissions, and alterations as the opera came together); however, the layout is very easy to follow: it proceeds in order from the start of the overture to the end of the finale, and every entry is includes the musical number, measure number, affected instrument/voice part(s), and the source in question. This makes for an easy and thorough reference, and also gives an idea of the care and attention to detail Young had to exercise to put this edition together.
This volume also sports four appendices. The first contains Bab Ballads which share themes in common with PINAFORE, and may have inspired its genesis: “General John,” about a major-general and a private who come to believe they were switched at birth, and decide to trade identities; “Joe Golightly,” featuring a sailor in love with the First Lord’s daughter, and a captain who swears “damme;” “Captain Reece,” who is beloved by all his crew, and has a bevy of female relatives; “The Mystic Salvagee,” with enough nautical terms to make a landlubber dizzy; and “The Bumboat Woman’s Story” about a bumboat woman in love with a gunboat commander, and a crew that never swears a big big D— (this would serve as the basis for Pineapple Poll, Sir Charles Mackerras’ ballet made from G&S melodies). The second appendix (and easily my favorite) is all the dialogue for Cousin Hebe that was cut from the libretto around the time Jessie Bond took over the role (though, as the Introduction tells us, it is unclear whether the removal of the dialogue was at the insistence of Bond or the Triumvirate). This dialogue offers an interesting perspective on the character: it gives us a Hebe who is actively pursuing Sir Joseph from the start, and going so far as to sabotage his chances with Josephine. When she tells the Captain, “I endorsed all of Sir Joseph’s remarks, and added some of my own, but, so far, uneffectually,” I can’t help feeling her endorsements and remarks were in a similar vain as Robin’s endorsements of Richard in RUDDIGORE. The third appendix is a catalogue of the earliest PINAFORE recordings, up to and including the 1930 D’Oyly Carte recording with Sir Henry Lytton, including casts, matrix numbers, etc.; the fourth is an essay on the Royal Navy in H.M.S. Pinafore, and for all of you who might have wondered what the ship might have looked like, or what some of those nautical terms the sailors bandy about actually mean, there is a simple schematic of a Victory-class warship such as H.M.S. Pinafore might have been.
Broude's full score of PINAFORE sells for $300.00. The vocal score, I am told, is currently in the proofreading stage and should be available by the end of the year; the band parts will be available in 2005. (Note about the band parts: Sullivan wrote his scores with clarinets and cornets in B-Flat and A, and his horns in a wide variety of keys. The full scores, in keeping with their critical bent, offer these parts as Sullivan wrote them; the band parts, however, offer optional transpositions: the horns in F, and the clarinets and cornets in B-Flat throughout.) Broude's Trial by Jury, edited to similarly outstanding quality by Steven Ledbetter, is available in full score, vocal score, and band parts. (It's worth noting here that the vocal score for TRIAL is the best vocal score I've ever seen, and is a must-have for any G&S lover.) Let's give three cheers, and three cheers more, for the Broude edition of the PINAFORE — it deserves preference at the podium, and an place of honor on the bookshelf.
Young, Percy M., ed. Gilbert & Sullivan The Operas 3: H.M.S. Pinafore Broude Brothers, Williamstown & New York, 2003 321 pages (Part A: Music); 201 pages (Part B: Commentary), $300.00
-- DAVE LEIGH
[Thanks, Dave, for a comprehensive answer to our questions concerning this long-awaited edition! - mlc]
MORE REVIEWS? MITG&SP just presented the world premiere of a new version of THESPIS, composed by Colin Johnson (except for the two surviving Sullivan pieces, “Climbing over Rocky Mountain” and “Little Maid of Arcadee.”) We look forward to receiving reviews of this important work. [tsw notes that he saw it and liked it very much!]
Where are the reviews We’ve been promised for the Sudbury Savoyards’ PIRATES (starring NEGASS VP Tony Parkes as the excellent Major General)? We’ve received odd comments from potential reviewers, suggesting that they felt this was a less-than-perfect production.
Although We do not write reviews, We must say that We saw it, and very much enjoyed the beautiful, Pre-Raphaelite-style sets and costumes of sisters Andrea and Donna Roessler, the fine orchestra, and some surprisingly good minor leads - eg, the Samuel, Ed Fell, who, as first soloist in the show, started things off strongly. We especially enjoyed the very human interactions of the actors, which We prefer to the Face-Forward-and-Sing style - although there Our reviewers stuck: They objected to certain directorial choices which did not seem to trust Gilbert’s decisions or hold true to his intentions. We can understand the problem. The director wished to make the motivations of her characters very clear, and some of her goals - for instance, her wish to clearly present the growth of love between Frederic and Mabel - were conceptually very lovely, although not necessarily obvious to Our reviewers. But some - eg, Mabel’s sisters’ interactions with the Police - were quite shockingly Not Gilbert... But enough! - at this rate, We are in danger of writing a review!
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