|ETO Patience - Valerie Reid, Bradley Travis, Suzanne Fischer, Aled Hall & chorus (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 10 2017
Taking itself seriously, but not too much so; ETO's sparkling production of its first G&S opera
|Lauren Zolezzi (photo Richard Hubert Smith)|
We caught the second performance of Patience at the Hackney Empire on Friday 10 March 2017, in a new production directed by Liam Steel, conducted by Timothy Burke with designs by Florence de Mare and lighting by Mark Howland. Lauren Zolezzi was Patience, Bradley Travis was Reginald Bunthorne, Ross Ramgobin was Archibald Grosvenor, Valerie Reid as the Lady Jane, Andrew Slater was Colonel Calverley, Aled Hall was Lieutenant the Duke of Dunstable, with Suzanne Fischer, Gaynor Keeble, and Jan Capinski. The opera was performed in a new critical edition by Andrew Griffiths.
|Ross Ramgobin & chorus (photo Richard Hubert Smith)|
For a company like English Touring Opera, Gilbert and Sullivan's operas have a number of great advantages, the orchestra does not need significant reduction, there are a number of roles which are ideal for young voices, and a plethora of character roles for older singers. Also, the operas showcase the chorus in a wonderful way. Here, the seventeen strong ETO Ensemble was on superb form producing much vibrantly characterful singing, admirable words, a great sense of comedy, and a wonderful willingness to send themselves up (Florence de Mare's costumes were definitely not flattering to the fuller figures in both men and women, to great effect).
All concerned got the words over superbly; we had surtitles for the music but not the dialogue and none were really needed. The dialogue went very well, given in a slightly arch rather stylised manner. All spoke in cut-glass accents, quite deliberately; as with most Gilbert plots, the characters are frequently middle and upper class people playing at being something else.
|Jan Capinski, Andrew Slater, Aled Hall (photo Richard Hubert Smith)|
Patience has two suitors, the aesthetic poets Reginald Bunthorne (Bradley Travis) and Ross Ramgobin (Archibald Grosvenor). Both had the measure of the combination of words and music necessary to make these roles work. Travis really worked Liam Steele's physical theatre approach to great effect, and showed great comic timing in moments like his confessional monologue 'Am I alone and unobserved?". Whilst Ramgobin had a lovely supercilious air, conscious of his great beauty. The engine of the piece is the rivalry of the two, which worked well here.
The three aesthetic ladies (rapturous maidens), Lady Jane (Valerie Reid), Lady Saphir (Suzanne Fischer) and Gaynor Keeble (Lady Angela) form a sort of semi-chorus, with each providing a nicely differentiated character in her solo moments. The standard G&S trope of the 'elderly' contralto in unsuitable situations (Lady Jane is still vividly in love with the much younger Bunthorne) remains one of the operas' biggest modern stumbling blocks. At the recent ENO performance of The Pirates of Penance, Lucy Schaufer successfully reinvented Ruth. For ETO Valerie Reid made Lady Jane's solo, with double bass obbligato (!), 'Sad is that woman's lot' dignified, rather moving and gently regretful when it can sometimes veer towards the cruel.
|Andrew Slater; Bradley Travis, Aled Hall & chorus (Richard Hubert Smith)|
As I have said, the chorus were on superb form and they were ably supported by Timothy Burke and the ETO Orchestra. Sullivan's orchestrations were always designed to facilitate the audibility of the words. But this does not mean that they play themselves, Burke and the orchestra gave us crisp wit and some lovely lyricism.
Patience is not one of the G&S operas which is sure fire, it needs careful pointing. I have extremely fond memories of past performances which I experienced, notably Derek Hammond Stroud as Bunthorne in ENO's production at the London Coliseum in the early 1980s. Liam Steel, Timothy Burke and the ensemble made Patience sparkle, keeping the long exposition of Act One moving and showing that in the right hands the opera works well today without radical re-invention. Can we have Princess Ida next please?
|ETO Patience - male chorus (Richard Hubert Smith)|
And the company continues to have an admirable range, this autumn Handel's Giulio Cesare and Rameau's Dardanus are planned, and further ahead we can look forward to Puccini's Il tabarro and Gianni Schicch, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Handel's Radamisto, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Carissimi's Jonas, plans for Verdi's Macbeth, Mozart's Idomeneo and Rossini's Ermione in the pipeline. Visit the company's Support ETO pages to learn how to support its work.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- We're crowdfunding for Quickening, a disc of new settings of Rowan Williams, AE Housman, Ivor Gurney, Christina Rossetti by Robert Hugill coming out on the Navona Records label, please visit http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/quickening
- Its heart in the right place: ETO's Tosca - Opera review
- Sacred and Profane: Netherlands Chamber Choir and Peter Dijkstra - Concert review
- Shedding light on a forgotten Romantic: Mehul's Uthal - CD review
- Sunday afternoon delights: I Musicanti at St John's Smith Square - concert review
- Mescaline, therapy & the Berlin Wall: rough for opera #15 - opera review
- Ancient and Modern: Carolyn Sampson and Matthew Wadsworth in Dowland, Britten, Goss, Purcell - concert review
- Imaginative & engaging: Tara Erraught at Rosenblatt Recitals - concert review
- Powerful and deeply felt: James MacMillan's Stabat Mater - CD review
- Revitalising her reputation: Francesca Caccini's Alcina - CD review
- Before he was famous: Bellini's first opera Adelson e Salvini from Opera Rara - CD review