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Performances

The Gondoliers —  English National Opera
13 Mar 2007

The Gondoliers — English National Opera

Speaking to a trusted chorus-member friend after this performance, I was told that I had benefited from not having seen this production when new three months ago.

The Gondoliers — English National Opera
London, 2 March 2007

 

It would seem that the production has taken a while to come together — fortunately the result is a funny, well-sung, polished family show.

Ashley Martin-Davis’s primary-coloured 1950s stage and costume designs, lit by Paul Pyant, were sunny, fresh and cheerful with an air of La dolce vita. It certainly provided easy escapism from a rainy evening in London in early March! After a slightly weak start, partly the fault of the piece itself, a young and elegant cast brought to life the gondolieri and contadine roles. Toby Stafford-Allen’s red-blooded Giuseppe offset the campery of the chorus choreography, and as Marco, David Curry gave a sincere performance despite not being especially strong of voice (it was a shame that conductor Richard Balcombe didn’t give him a little more flexibility in ‘Take a pair of sparkling eyes’).

They were partnered by Sarah Tynan’s delightful and poised Giannetta, and Stephanie Marshall’s beautifully-sung Tessa (though she did not seem entirely comfortable in the role).

The one new member of the cast (since the show opened in December) was Henry Goodman — a hugely likeable comic actor — as the Duke of Plaza-Toro. At his side, Ann Murray was an imperious Duchess, while Rebecca Bottone’s haughty and limpid-toned Casilda was well-matched with Robert Murray’s ardent Luiz.

The characters in this operetta live in two very different worlds — three if you count the land of Barataria for which the crown is up for grabs — and the single lynch-pin is Don Alhambra del Bolero, the bloodthirsty and lecherous Grand Inquisitor of Spain. Donald Maxwell delivered his dialogue with lip-smacking relish.

The show was practically stolen almost at the end by Deborah Davison’s Inez, who in eight lines of recitative made a greater comic impression than any principal singer besides Donald Maxwell. The chorus were near-impeccable throughout, with tidy choreography and poised phrasing.

Following their disastrous attempt at The Pirates of Penzance a couple of seasons ago, hopes were tentatively high that ENO’s latest Gilbert and Sullivan production might prove a hit to rival Jonathan Miller’s perennially popular staging of The Mikado. While I can’t say that this Gondoliers quite reaches that level, it is an infectiously enjoyable production with a high-quality ensemble cast. This is the sort of show that ENO should be best at. I hope there will be more where this came from.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

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