The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 2, 2007


Savoyards revisit their roots with The Gondoliers

Phil Drew (center) leads his chorus of gondoliers during an early rehearsal, minus costumes and set, in Union Hall. (Photo by Dave Ives)
On October 10, 1881, the Savoy Theatre opened in London's West End on the site of the old Savoy Palace. It was the first public building in the world to be illuminated entirely by electricity, and not only the lighting was electric. The theater had been built expressly to showcase the works of the wildly popular W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, as well as other light operas of the era that came to be known as the Savoy Operas. Except for the Gilbert and Sullivan pieces, most of those light operas, or operettas, have largely, and perhaps understandably, been lost to time, so that the term Savoy Opera has pretty much become synonymous with "G&S" work. Not only that, but because they had their own opera house, contemporary critics termed Gilbert and Sullivan themselves the "Savoyards."

Gilbert and Sullivan in Carlisle

One hundred and twenty-six years and one month after London's Savoy Theatre opened, Carlisle's Savoyard Light Opera Company (SLOC) presents the G&S collaboration, The Gondoliers. Produced by Carlisle's Philip Drew (who also appears as Annibale), staged by Donna DeWitt and with music direction by Fred Frabotta, The Gondoliers opens next Friday, November 9, for a two-weekend run at the Corey Auditorium at Carlisle School. It will feature a full orchestra and the original lighting, costumes and scenery for which Savoyard productions are known.

Also from Carlisle is 14-year-old Cameron Reid, who appears as one of the "Gondolieri." Indeed, the cast spans generations, and even contains the father-daughter duo of Michael and Zoë Daniel, playing Francesco and Giulia respectively.

It also features some very fine voices. G&S music is sung "legit," i.e. with operatic technique, rather than with American musical comedy technique, and encompasses not only lyric arias, but also recitative, familiarly known in G&S pieces as "patter" singing. Particularly outstanding in this production are area singers Tom Frates, Duane Sullivan, Elaine Crane, Sarah Powell, Michael Goodwin, Elizabeth Gondek, Randy Posey and Rick Barnes.

Highlighting humor and absurdity

The Gondoliers crams into its libretto and score almost every element that distinguishes a G&S work, and director Donna DeWitt has playfully tweaked them all. G&S fans are familiar with the "Gilbert and Sullivan half circle," static blocking in which singers stand stiffly in demi-lune formation with hands clasped tightly in front of them to sing a chorus piece, usually a ballad. At Monday night's rehearsal, the singers often mocked the configuration by forming different patterns on the stage. DeWitt maintained the formality and stylization of an original G&S operetta, but added movement and unabashedly hammy gestures to wink at the old-fashioned "stand-there-and-sing" technique. The effect was to highlight the music and the punch lines in the libretto and play up the humor and absurdity inherent in both. Love arias, notably "Ah, well Beloved" and "There was a Time," were performed with exaggerated poses, simultaneously rendering them as sweet as a love scene in a silent movie, acknowledging their origins in grand opera, and communicating them as sparkling, comic moments.

A typically convoluted plot

Like all G&S operettas, The Gondoliers is fully loaded with an incredibly convoluted plot, send-ups of political and social figures (jokes involving "Wesleyan Methodists" who are converts from Spanish nobility come to mind), and plenty of Gilbert's famous rapier thrusts at snobbery and class distinctions. There are mistaken identities, babies switched in infancy, an arranged marriage that goes wrong, boys-meet-girls-lose-girls-and-get-girls, and a parade of increasingly farcical characters and plot devices resulting in twice the usual number of lead singers. The music keeps pace with the repartée, and the effect, in the capable hands of the Savoyards who have returned to their roots with this operetta, will delight faithful Gilbert and Sullivan fans as well as a new generation of theater-goers.

Productions are November 9, 10 and 17 at 7:30 p.m., and November 11, 17 and 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $24/adults, $22/seniors and students, and $16/childen 12 and under for reserved seats and may be ordered by sending a check and SASE to: Savoyard Light Opera Company, P.O. Box 333, Carlisle, MA. Tickets may also be ordered online at or by phone at 1-978-371-7562. They will also be available at the door, about one hour before showtime.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito