1946 Opera: The Gondoliers
Senior House Drama
The Gondoliers was not the favourite opera of its authors, but audiences have always taken it to their hearts for the charm and romance of its music and the colour and gaiety of its setting. Yet it is not an easy opera to Cast since it requires two sets of principals and so makes heavy demands on the talent at the disposal of the producer. That "the most even production ever," would seem to be the general verdict of those who were present at any-of the 'performances last December, is therefore sufficient encomium in itself.
A good deal of the success of the piece depends on the two Gondoliers (Marco and Giuseppe) and the two Contadine (Gianetta and Tessa). Kevin O'Dwyer as Marco played with understanding and spirit. The lyrics in this part are a heavy undertaking for a schoolboy, but Kevin rose well to the occasion. His rendering of " Take a pair of sparkling eyes," taken at a fairly rapid pace was novel and pleasing, especially in the lower register, where his rich quality of voice told. Peter McCabe (playing Giuseppe) was a happy choice. His first entry with that half diffident, half whimsical smile was well conceived and balanced nicely against his partner's more spirited characterization. We loved the way he said Baptisto Palmieri (touches like that simply ,shout" atmosphere ") and his pensive attitude during Marco's best known number created just the right setting for that lovely song. Dan Morgan as Antonio sang and danced with complete abandon and in that very important" Merriest fellows are we," gave the necessary' lift' to the scene after the lovely, but quiet, " Roses white and roses red."
Gianetta (Laurence McGovern) and Tessa (Brian Slowey) early captivated the audience, heart and head. Gianetta's “Kind Sir, you cannot have the heart," was excellently done. The clear flute-like quality of her voice was in pleasing contrast to the more mellow tones of Tessa (Brian Slowey). Brian sang the pathetic" when a Maiden marries" with a sincerity and understanding remarkable in one so young, and when he laughed merrily with his eyes, criticism simply slunk shamefaced out of court. Both Tessa and Gianetta were especially good in those all important lyrics at the end of Act 1 - lyrics never very far from tears. And when the curtain rose after that first finale to show us the weeping maidens, it was hard not to remember those songs that created the mood for that lonely unforgettable embarking.
John McCabe as Casilda was perhaps the prettiest picture in the piece. As far as we were concerned Casilda was a revenant from that easy-going delightful old world of hooped-gowns, gilt-furnishing and sedan chairs. John's voice is good and the lyrics suited it. Listening to him, one felt that delightful "freshness" that somehow or other belongs only to school-productions at their best.
To be dignified without being dampening, to be stern without being strong, in fine to hide a very nearly golden heart beneath a very dark coat, is the not altogether enviable part of Don Alhambl'a Del Bolero, Grand Inquisitor, played by Joe Masterson. Joe gave a worthy interpretation of this nicely balanced character. His fine speaking voice 'and dignified bearing gave him the necessary note of authority, while at the same time allowing the humour of the character a chance of peeping through. His two big numbers, "I stole the Prince" and" There lived a King," went over with the flourish appropriate to character and theme.
To our way of thinking, Plaza-Taro is one of the great creations of Gilbert. Need we say that Jim Boland stepped straight out of the Gilbertian gallery? His voice resonant and clear sent the lines sailing over the footlights. But Plaza-Taro does not crash into our consciousness. True to type, he rather, gradually dawns. In the first Act, he and his Duchess are being" built-up." But in that delightful scene culminating in the Gavotte, Jim reaped his reward. The graceful dance, the hauteur of the Duchess, the naive beauty of Casilda, the captivating lilt of the music, all, somehow or other, finding their unity in the dignified old grandee humbug who minced about and beamed through his monocle on it all, made the Gavotte the high-light of the evening.
Playing opposite Jim, was John O'Byrne as the Duchess. About his singing there is little to say. The applause that greeted his principal number spoke for itself. He looked the quintessence of hauteur. Indeed after seeing John's Duchess for a few moments, we felt that if she did happen to pass us on the" grand canal," she would not only pass but look" through" us. To us the Duchess grew more convincing with every wave of her fan. And at the end when the curtain rang down on the final ensemble, was it our imagination or did she still hold His Grace subdued with that very serviceable eyebrow?
Completing the "Ducal party" was Maurice Shipsey as Luiz, "His Grace's own particular drum." Maurice played a difficult role with a quiet sincerity, appropriate to the part and delivered his lines with a very pleasing speaking voice.
And now for the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus.
From the first rise of the curtain when they struck the key-note of the piece with the lingering beauty of" Roses white and Roses red," we felt that this chorus was not merely something that was going to come to life during the Cachucha (and by the way, how they did throw themselves into the Cachucha!) These were real Venetian maidens and Gondoliers who talked and laughed and joked and threw us plumb into the middle of the Gilbertian world, a jolly company inviting us to forget ourselves and lilt or romp our way with them through the show.
In the second act the colouring of the costumes patterned in a pleasing blend with the wigs-those delightful silvery things one inevitably associated with snuffboxes, old lace and shining candelabra. And those costumes didn't look like props borrowed for the evening. Maids and men slipped as easily into them as they did into eighteenth century court life. Running one's eye across that tellingly grouped scene, there were no " wooden" pieces. Every face was" alive." It is significant to note that the scene itself evoked a spontaneous outburst of applause. Our best thanks are once more due to all who helped to make the show such a success.