The work of Gilbert and Sullivan is opera as everyone would have it -- uproarious dialogue peppered with concise musical numbers and plagued by a minimum of operatic filler. Sullivan's melodies are captivating in their exquisite sentimentality and catchy enough for everyone to sing along.
The Yeomen of the Guard, written in 1888, stands out among the G&S oeuvre. The libretto is Golkbert's most serious. There is the usual measure of ponderous Victorian humor, but once the dangers suffered by the characters are real, and there are more than a few truly poignant and moving moments. Yeomen is also the opera for which Sullivan produced his richest and most solidly constructed score. Of all their works, it was the authors own favorite.
The G&S Players had the difficult task of living up to high dramatic and musical standards. Jim Paul conducting the entire show without a score, a token of the professionalism that permeated the production. Under his baton the pit orchestra and several notches above the usual for G&S at Agassiz. In spite of occasionally poor intonation and some floundering in more technical passages, Paul's musicians played with sensitivity and variety, giving Yeomen by far the most exciting theatre orchestra heard around here for along time. The chorus has been well-drilled by Vince Canzoneri, and they negotiated the tongue-twisting finales with fervor. The Townspeople fared better than the Yeomen, who were hopelessly understaffed. They never lived up to their brilliant red Beefea ters' costumes.
Of the soloists, Danius Turek (Fairfax) and Jennifer Kosh (Elsie) had the best voices; their singing made Sullivan's score sound like the more-than-respectable operatic music it is. Norma Levin's Phoebe was marred by singing that borrowed too much from the coyness of musical comedy. However, her acting more than made up for her vocal failings Mary Duffy as Dame Carruthers was, with the Yeomen, the only real musical disappointment of the evening. Totally oblivious to rhythm, projection, conductor, and pitch, she barely got through her own number and came near to ruining the ensembles in which she took part.
Yeomen was no less exciting dramatically than it was musically. Randall Darwell's set is a gallant attempt at reproducing the grim masonry of the Tower of London. Steve Michales' direction was excellent, although at times a questionable rendering of Yeomen the way Gilbert had intended it. The G&S Players have a tradition of making the plays funnies and livelier than the recordings would indicate, sometimes funnier than they are. Michales' conception tended toward the slapstick and away from the sentimental element -- which, let's face it, is there.
Kudos for acting go without question to Dick Backus as Wilfred and David Cole as Point. Backus, looking like a Bil Baird marioneette, stole the show every time he was on stage, and even if G&S suffered a bit in the process, he was outrageously funny. Cole played his part with panache, executing the comic baritone's infamous patter songs with skill and incisiveness.
Sullivan's music may be warmed-over Mendelssohn, but this Yeomen was anything but warmed-over Gilbert and Sullivan. As usual, the players took a work that is generally regarded as a museum piece and made it into living musical theatre.
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