Friday, May 16, 2014


Opera della Luna at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

The Venetian Initiative sees Opera della Luna, that iconoclastic, hugely entertaining pocket opera company, taking the Gilbert and Sullivan gospel into the community. In its most ambitious venture yet, with Arts Council funding, they are recruiting a team of young music-theatre performers for each venue, opening in Ipswich before moving up for a week in the Lowry, Salford.
They've chosen The Gondoliers, the last of the Savoy Opera successes, richly scored, with a clever blend of satire and Latin charm.
Perversely, perhaps because this is basically the production Jeff Clarke did for Buxton a couple of years ago, they've chosen to play it relatively straight. None of their usual spin, no googlies, little of their traditional invention born of necessity.
Money has been well spent. We are greeted with a familiar Venetian skyline, gondolas in front, lovely flown pieces of architectural detail, and a stage filled with those “roses white and roses red” which will spell out not only the names of favourite gondoliers, but, cheekily, AMORE, OMG and more. And for Act Two, after a protracted interval, a gloriously baroque Barataria, gilded mouldings and a magnificent throne, which swivels to reveal the Inquisitor's torture chamber for the dénouement.
The frocks are fabulous, too – the Duchess's generous gown, needing a divan all to itself, traditional garb for the nobs, but a more modern look for the contadine: flowery prints with matching galoshes [Venice being wet underfoot, presumably].
The opening sequence is splendid, with the gondoliers in sexy dark glasses given some impressively macho dance moves.
Elsewhere the inspiration is uneven: the jointly ruling monarchs – sharing the role and the regalia – were a tad dull in their “pleasures of a king” number, but the rhythmic boot blacking and spud bashing works wonderfully for Take A Pair Of Sparkling Eyes. Good use is made of freeze motion moments.
It is a great cast: Greg Castiglioni as Luiz, the rightful king, and Victoria Joyce in fine voice as his Casilda. Stephen Brown and Robert Gildon make likeable republican royalty, with Maria Jones and Lynsey Docherty strongly characterized as their feisty rustic wives.
Traditional G&S performances from Kristin Finnigan as an imposing Duchess [her big number a highlight] and Carl Sanderson as a very British hidalgo. Opera della Luna favourite Ian Belsey does not disappoint as Don Alhambra, the dialogue and the vocals richly relished, wearing the kind of character slap you don't see so often nowadays.
The locally sourced chorus fill the stage nicely, and are given dance routines and individual characters to work with.
Perhaps not “travelling with a full band”, but an excellent palm court pit ensemble, with director Jeff Clarke at the piano as usual.
On opening night there were one of two glitches and uncertainties, and the lighting was patchy. It's a big production for Opera della Luna, and will bed in nicely at the Lowry, I'm sure.
Musical theatre has an enthusiastic following amongst young people. Fuddy-duddy G&S less so. This laudable initiative aims to redress the balance. But I still can't help thinking that a less straightforward treatment, perhaps along the lines of their catwalk Mikado, might be a more accessible way into the Savoy canon.

photograph from the Buxton production

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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