Woodley Light Operatic Society - WLOS
NODA REVIEW - Gondoliers
On Thursday 21st November 2013 I was invited to review Woodley Light Operatic Society’s latest production “The Gondoliers” performed at the Kenton Theatre, Henley-on-Thames. In the past I think I have performed in all the G & S Operas and I think “The Gondoliers” is one of my favourites. To me, it is some of the most tuneful music written by Sullivan, it is a score that sparkles from beginning to the end and the libretto by Gilbert beautifully describes the wide difference in social rank between the gondoliers and their loves and the Ducal party and on the showing on the Thursday night, I think Woodley L.O.S. got the balance just right.
Tom Dance – (The Duke of Plaza-Toro, a Grandee of Spain) – As the ‘Duke of Plaza Toro’ Tom was excellent portraying well his need for money and was not particular in how he remedied the drawback. Vocally his singing of his various numbers displayed his light baritone voice to perfection with good diction throughout – Well done.
Jane Andrews-Wilson – (The Duchess of Plaza-Toro) – Jane can always be relied on to give a good performance in any character she plays and this was no exception. As the aristocratic ‘Battle Axe’ with an overbearing nature, you could not have seen better and together with her strong contralto voice which came to the fore in the number “On The Day That I Was Wedded,” which brought out all the feeling on her position – this was a good interpretation – Well done.
Kate Shaw – (Casilda, Their daughter) – As the daughter of the ‘Duke’ and ‘Duchess’ Kate was suitably aristocratic, extremely aloof and disdainful when in public, but was warm and tender when in the company of ‘Luiz,’ this was a good characterisation. Vocally Kate has a good soprano voice and to me this character has probably two of the best duets in any G & S Opera. You blended well with ‘Luiz’ but try not to push your top register as it can slip very slightly off-key – Well done.
Chris Wakelin – (Luiz, the Duke’s Attendant) – As the ‘Duke’s’ attendant who performs his duties with military precision Chris did quite well. I would have liked to have seen a little more military precision when in the company of the ‘Ducal Party,’ but your feelings towards ‘Casilda’ were well displayed. Vocally you used your high baritone voice in the two duets, blending well with ‘Casilda,’ but again, watch your top register, don’t push it – Apart from that small point – a good performance.
Alistair Parry – (Don Alhambra Del Bolero, Grand Inquisitor) – Alistair gave this character a different interpretation as one normally sees, making him more lightweight. I am not sure that this came off. Vocally the character needs a bass / baritone voice to have the necessary impact and which helps to present a ‘personage of great dignity.’ Vocally Alistair sang his various numbers well with good intonation but would have liked a slightly slower tempo which would have enhanced the character. Unfortunately your costume did you no favours, you looked more like a funeral director as opposed to a ‘Grand Inquisitor’ a man of great dignity. It needed a larger lace cravat and lace on the sleeve cuffs and possibly a coloured cummerbund to relieve the starkness of the black. Also you should have had a long cane with a silver top on your entrance in the first act which would have helped to present the right characterisation – That said, this was a good effort.
Lucy Hutson – (Gianetta, Contadina) – As the other half of the Contadina pair Lucy gave me the ‘Gianetta’ I wanted to see, showing well her feelings at being selected by ‘Marco’ and then her disappointment in losing him after just being married, to her joy at being reunited, all well expressed. Vocally Lucy used her soprano voice to good effect with a well sung solo “Kind Sir, You Cannot Have The Heart,” and with a well sustained soprano line in the difficult quartet “In a Contemplative Fashion” – Well done.
Melissa Harper – (Tessa, Contadina) – I have watched Mel over the years and witnessed her develop into a fine performer. Her expressions and movements are a joy to watch and indicate her professional training. Her superlative acting ability is sustained throughout her performance, not once dropping out of character. Vocally Mel has an expressive mezzo-soprano voice which blended well in such numbers “In a Contemplative Fashion” and “Then One of Us” – Congratulations – a fine performance.
Simon Hutson – (Marco Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier) – I understand you took over this role at very short notice, you would never know, This was a superb presentation of the character ‘Marco Palmeiri’ by Simon. You had the swagger of a young gondolier and a real lady killer, your feelings, facial expressions and movements were spot-on all coupled with a superb tenor voice of power and control, your singing of the well known number “Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes” was a joy, you brought out all your sincere feelings for your beloved ‘Gianetta’ – A great performance.
Lee Anderson – (Guiseppe Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier) – Lee made a great effort in presenting this character and on the whole did very well. I would have liked to have seen more swagger, particularly on your first entrance with ‘Marco.’ I also felt you lacked the ‘lady-killing’ instinct, so essential in this role. Your movement, diction and facial expressions were good. Vocally you used your baritone voice to good effect in the quartet “In a Contemplative Fashion” blending well with the others. Your number in the opening of the second act “Rising Early in The Morning” is a difficult number to sing requiring excellent breath control. One needs impeccable words and rhythm and to take it at steady pace but I would have liked to have seen more business whilst singing it, bearing in mind that it is a descriptive number.
Carol Woodroffe – (Inez, the King’s foster-mother) – This character only appears at the end of the performance and drops a ‘bombshell’ by revealing that the true King of Barataria is ‘Luiz.’ This is done in the form of a short recitative and is a study in suspense; Carol got the delivery spot-on with a dramatic pause after ‘His name’ — ‘Luiz’ – Well done.
John Robertson – (Antonio, a Venetian Gondolier) – As one of the ‘rank and file’ gondoliers, and who has his moment of glory in the opening sequence singing, “For The Merriest Fellows are We” John sang the number very well displaying a good singing voice, but most importantly he kept the ‘sparkle’ going as so often this number is dragged back which makes it more difficult for ‘Marco’ and ‘Giuseppe’s’ entrance who have to restore the ‘sparkle’ – Well done.
Julie Easton – (Fiametta)
Jenny Stacey – (Vittoria)
Michelle Nelson – (Giulia)
Tony Towers – (Francesco)
John Bagshaw – (Giorgio) – This group played their minor roles very well, entering into the spirit of the production and lending their voices to the many musical numbers.
Chorus of Gondoliers and Contadine – This group certainly entered into the spirit of this production enhancing the colourful scenes on stage with their movement and choreographic routines. Vocally they presented a good balance of voices in the many musical numbers.
Jane Murphy – (Director & Choreographer), assisted by Claire Rowell – Being an old G & S aficionado I was pleased to see that Jane had kept to the original format as I feel you cannot improve perfection. This was a well presented production with the assistance of Claire. It had a good pace throughout with well picked up cues. The chorus had been well positioned and in particular the choreography for the “Cachucha” was well devised and danced as was the ‘Gavotte’ sequence. Overall the characters had been well developed and exhibited a joy of performing – Congratulations on a well presented and enjoyable show.
Gemma Bagshaw – (Musical Director) – The pit at the Kenton restricts the number of musicians who can fit in the space available, which is a pity because Sullivan’s music really needs a large orchestra to do it justice, that said, Gemma had recruited musicians who played the music most sensitively, making it sparkle from beginning to end and at a good tempo throughout. All members of the cast, both principals and chorus, had been well rehearsed in the music making a very good and well balanced sound – Congratulations.
Stage Manager & Crew – This appeared a well managed stage throughout the performance under the control of David Parsonson and with no visible hitches. A pity the curtain was five minutes late in going up!
Lighting & Sound – The lighting and sound plot by the Dinrino Theatre Services was overall good. The lighting was well controlled and gave a good indication of sun-kissed Venice in the first act and a more subdued plot for the interior of the Ducal Palace. The use of individual spots in such numbers as “In a Contemplative Fashion” etc; had quite a dramatic impact. One small point, I did notice one or two dark spots on stage, noticeable when cast members moved from light to shadow. The sound plot and control was excellent with every word spoken or sung being heard at the back of the auditorium.
Set – This was a neat, simplistic set constructed in house which depicted well the two acts. It was colourful and well constructed ensuring the maximum space on the Kenton stage. I particularly liked the Ducal party walking on the gondola, a nice, humorous touch and in some ways helped to indicate their impoverished condition.
Costumes – This was a good set of costumes sourced from the Shinfield Players and WLOS, they were all in the Venetian fashion with a good contrast between the Ducal Party and the gondoliers and contadine. I have commented on the ‘Don Alhambra’s’ costume previously.
Wardrobe Mistresses – The wardrobe mistresses in the form of Jane Murphy and Jane Wilson had done a good job in ensuring the cast appeared on stage in clean, well pressed and fitted costumes. It was also good to see correct footwear on stage, an item that is so often overlooked.
Make-up – Nobody was listed in the programme responsible for make-up so I assume the cast were responsible for their own and which looked good for normal stage make-up, but in this instance it needed more attention to detail and the period. The contadine and gondoliers are sun-soaked peasants and whose base should have been a real golden tan on face, neck, hands and arms. The Ducal party however are Castilians and the true Castilian make-up for the ladies was a very white one, with rouged cheeks, pencilled eyebrows and shadowed eyes. It is this attention to detail that raises a performance above the norm.
Programme – How nice in this day and age to see a programme not inundated with adverts, in fact none. It had been well laid out with items of interest, good cast photographs and biographies, all printed on good quality paper with an eye catching cover.
Front of House – As one has come to expect from this society, Front of House staff were smartly dressed, easily identifiable, friendly and helpful to their audience.
Thank you for inviting me to review your latest production “The Gondoliers,” a most enjoyable production which I thoroughly enjoyed. May I take this opportunity of wishing all members of the Woodley Light Operatic Society a Very Merry Christmas and all success in the New Year.
NODA Representative – London Region – Area 13