The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 8, 2002


Savoyards perform The Mikado at MFA

It was the last rehearsal before the big performance, and director Margot Law's signature smile was looking a bit tighter than usual. Her stomach, she admitted, was churning with stress. At one point during the evening, music director Fred Frabotta, who can work up a sweat with
his enthusiastic conducting, reacted to a missed choral entrance by falling off his chair and sprawling on the floor. Ensemble members forgot where they were supposed to stand during the finale. A lead performer missed a cue and seemed surprised that he was even included in the scene.

And in only three days, Carlisle's Savoyard Light Opera Company (SLOC) would have the honor of performing Gilbert and Sullivan's musical The Mikado at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

This special performance presented November 3, two weeks before opening night of The Mikado in Carlisle on November 15 had seemed like a great idea last spring when the Museum of Fine Arts contacted SLOC president Larry Millner to request that the group perform as part of their fall concert series.

"We had performed [at the MFA] a few years back and the concert coordinator remembered us," says Millner. Based on the past performance, the good reputation of the group and the fact that the Japanese theme of The Mikado nicely supplemented museum exhibits on Japanese art and culture, SLOC was booked to perform at the MFA's Remis Auditorium Sunday afternoon, November 3.

A performance at the Museum of Fine Arts was a coup on many levels. First and foremost, there was the prestige and honor of performing at the museum. (The Boston Globe Thursday Calendar section even spotlighted the performance as a "Calendar Choice" for the weekend.) Plus, the museum would be paying a stipend from which SLOC, a non-profit, for-the-love-of-it theater group, would greatly benefit. Not to mention all the great publicity and word-of-mouth buzz that would be generated a full two weeks before The Mikado opened at Corey Auditorium in Carlisle. But therein existed the trigger for stress-churned stomachs and prostrate music directors: two weeks before opening night.

"When I agreed to this, I don't think I knew the ramifications," says Frabotta, who has been the music director for the past three SLOC productions. "As the time grew closer, I found myself wondering, 'What have I done?'" Two weeks, in thespian time, is an eternity. The two final weeks amounting to at least eight rehearsals is a critical time in the life span of a performance, time needed to tweak and hone, perfect and polish.

Certainly, the SLOC group had the goods: strong lead characters with trained, professional voices and impressive credentials; a solid men's and women's ensemble; plus beautiful Japanese costumes and Kabuki make-up. But the question remained hanging in the air: did the group have enough time to deliver the goods?

"I was in a blind panic [the morning of the performance]," Law admits. There were several concerns on her mind: the fact that the 30-member group had not had an opportunity to rehearse the show on the small and unfamiliar Remis Auditorium stage; the fact that the performers had never run through an entire rehearsal dressed in the cumbersome kimonos, wigs and make-up. The program itself was also unfamiliar featuring all the musical numbers from the show, but interspersed with snippets of dialogue and brief narrations to help explain the story. There was an entire list of things that could go wrong.

Then, at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, the music started; the lights came up, and there, in front of an MFA audience of about 150 people, the magic occurred.

The music, which had been strong nearly since day one, soared. With the added energy of a rapt audience, performances sparkled. Ensemble members finding themselves in the wrong place on stage responded by acting as if this was exactly where they planned to be all along. Even the final bow, which had not been rehearsed, went smoothly. Clearly, amid all the things that could have gone wrong, an amazing number of things had gone right.

The staff at the MFA was "very happy with us," says Millner. "The audience was bigger than expectedand several people mentioned that this was the best performance they had seen at the museum."

Call it the power of a deadline, the universal motivator of fear, or pure luck — whatever it was, it worked. Even amid all the anxiety and not-quite-ready jitters, the performance earned some unexpected praise: a standing ovation.

The Mikado (in all its tweaked, honed and polished splendor) will be performed at Corey Auditorium on Church Street on November 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m., and on November 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $10 for children 12 and under. Call 978-371-SLOC, or visit their website at

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito