Tag Archives: Patience

ETO’s Patience

11 Mar

Patience may not be the best known of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas but it’s near the top of my list of favourites and it was great to see that English Touring Opera had chosen it as their first ever G&S piece.  I caught its second performance at the Hackney Empire on 10th March.

It’s an interesting piece in their canon.  It’s probably the most directly satirical of a particular idea.  It’s also one of the few without an obvious romantic couple and, for that reason, may be probably Gilbert’s finest libretto.  You don’t have to have seen Topsy Turvy to suspect that he probably had a deep cynicism about romantic love and this, piece, with barely a sympathetic character in it enable him to poke fun at ideas, at pomposity at self-indulgence – which is what he did best.

I’m very, very fond of Sullivan’s score.  There’s a lot of really beautiful music here: from the simply gorgeous opening interesting to that rather gorgeous sextet, I hear the soft note of the echoing voice, and the teasing Long years ago, it’s all glorious stuff.  Perhaps, however, it shows more than most the way in which Sullivan undermines Gilbert’s satire by producing music that is absolutely serious.  I find this tension one of the most interesting things about their partnership.

This was a very good performance of it, indeed.  It was a joy to read Timothy Burkes’s appreciation of the score in his programme note.  He conducted it with love, perhaps with a slightly gentler edge to it than, say, Mackerras or even Isidore Godfrey for the old D’Oyly Carte, but the music sounded as good as it should.

And the cast was excellent.  I hugely enjoyed Lauren Zolezzi’s Patience.  As the one individual with anything like common sense, she caught the intelligence of the character and sang really well: a lovely light soprano who can sing words with taste and spirit – probably the best Patience that I’ve heard.  Bradley Travis played Bunthorne as the heartless, self-indulgent popinjay that he is andmade the most of his arias.  Ross Ramgobin as Grosvenor gave one of the best acting performances that I’ve in Gilbert and Sullivan. His way with the dialogue was incredibly assured and he gave an object lesson in how to make intelligible and funny without guying it.  I was slightly less taken by his voice – there’s a bit of work to be done there.

Valerie Reid made an excellent Lady Jane – notably older than the other ladies, with the right wry sense of humour and she had a nice way with her double bass in Silvered is the raven hair – is there a better example of Sullivan ignoring the sheer nastiness of Gilbert’s text?  Gaynor Keeble was a strong Lady Angela, seconded admirably by Suzanne Fischer as Saphir (Ella was cut – no great loss).

Andrew Slater was as good as you’d hope as Colonel Calverley – managing the two patter songs really well and maintaining just the right element of bemused outsrage.  Aled Hall didn’t make as much of the Duke as he could have done and I’ve heard more lyrical singing.  Chorus and orchestra were excellent and this was a really excellent, loving, musical performance.

Liam Steel directed.  It was a firmly traditional production: set in that Victorian/aesthetic/pre-Raphaelite look that, doubtless, Gilbert intended.  I enjoyed the alert direction of the dialogue and the words (even if there were rather more glitches about those than you’d expect at this performance).  There were lots of deft touches (Patience seemed the only person able to lift anything) and there was pelnty of fun with flowers.  This was a production which would not upset anyone who thought that D’Oyly Carte, c. 1960 was the acme of perfection.  And, on its own terms it was really enjoyable.  I was smiling throughout and enjoying the opportunity to see the opera again.

And yet I had doubts.  If you’d never seen G&S before, would you think that this was an outstanding example of their wit and satire?  Did the business and moves not look a bit like what you’d get from a very good school or amateur performance?  There are enough example of pretension and fatuousness in our time for this piece to have much greater resonance than it did here.  You can also, I think, be a bit more outrageous with You hold yourself like this. I enjoyed it because I love the piece and, I suspect, there are enough people  who feel the same way for this to be a success.  But don’t you need a bit more; a bit more flair and brilliance to persuade people that this isn’t a museum piece of limited interest.  I was sitting next to a ten or eleven year old boy with his parents.  I really wondered if there was enough there to engage him  (I don’t think there was).  A more modern approach might have been even more fun.

That’s the only cavil.  On its own terms, it’s a lovely, intelligent, musically delightful performance. Anyone who enjoys G&S, let alone Patience, will love it and I do hope ETO decide to do some more.  We’re crying out for Iolanthe.







Pub Patience

14 Jun

I’ve so far avoided the small scale opera in pubs trend that’s cropped up in London over the last few years. There are lots of reasons: the venues tend to be out of my way, the operas ones that I know pretty well and, to be frank, if I’m going to hear them, I prefer them to be with a full orchestra in a comfortable, air conditioned theatre rather than with a piano, on benches in an overheated pub.  I’ve no doubt that you can get a lot from the intimacy of the experience, but you miss a lot as well.  However, Charles Court Opera is currently doing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at the KIng’s Head and, performances of Patience being scarce and it being in my top three or four G&S favourites, I thought I’d see what it was like and went to the performance on 13th June.  You couldn’t imagine a much greater contrast to Rosenkaverlier at Glyndebourne the night before.

Patience has Gilbert’s finest libretto and one that seems to work perennially.  It’s a satire on the aesthetic movement but, more importantly, on fashion and pretension.  Musically, it may not have same level of sure-fire hits as some of the others, but there isn’t a weak number in the piece and the scene for the dragoons dressing up as aesthetes is among their greatest comic moments.  It’s also from the pre-Savoy period when casts were smaller and scenic requirements less lavish.  It’s a very easy one to have a lot of fun with.

This show was, actually, better than a lot of fun.  John Savournin’s nine-person and a piano production found a way of making the cramped location work so that you barely missed the accoutrements of chorus that we’re used to.  He’d set it in a pub.  Patience is the barmaid (rather than the milkmaid), the twenty lovesick maidens become three “melancholic maidens” and they, together with the three dragoons supplied the chorus.  It was fine.

Even better was the sense of style, the gentle updating and the wit and good ideas.  The cast was alert, were as skilful with the dialogue as with the singing and understood how to put the piece across. The pub setting worked nicely – the ladies singing “Ah misery” as they poured another drink, Lady Jane deciding not to help herself to a bag of crisps before launching into the second verse of her Act II number about putting on weight and the ladies as Goths.

It was a nice cast.  Joanna Marie Skillett was a delight in the title role.  Patience is probably the stupidest of Gilbert’s heroines, which says quite a lot, but she conveyed the simplicity in the dialogue beautifully and sang her Act II number really well, with complete sincerity.  I’d happily see her again.  Ditto Henry Manning’s Grosvenor.  He managed the lines about his manly beauty to perfection simply because he wasn’t worried about making them funny.  He has a nice baritone and a good wit and some real talent.  Amy J Payne as Lady Jane could possibly have been larger and more of a battle-axe than her colleagues, but the voice suits the role and she was very funny indeed.

Of the others, Helen Evora and Andrea Tweedale were very funny as the other ladies and I very much enjoyed David Menezes’s clear, attractive tenor as the Duke.  Together with Giles Davies’s excellent Calverley and Michael Kerry’s Murgatroyd, this was very funny, believable trio of officers.

My one slight doubt was over David Phipps-Davis’s Bunthorne.  He had a lovely time camping it up and doing a lot of the obvious things very well.  He was very funny and put the words and music across well.  I wondered, however, whether there isn’t another way of doing this role – one where he was less knowingly ridiculous.  I felt he tried a bit hard and that a quieter approach could have been even more effective and, possibly, what Gilbert was getting at.

David Eaton accompanied valiantly on the piano – making me aware of how like Schubert’s lieder accompaniments they sounded.  He couldn’t get the effects of the orchestrations, but in this environment it didn’t matter.

Now this Patience worked because of its setting – in a larger setting, rather like The Mikado in Hastings last year, the absence of a chorus and orchestra would have been missed and the more intimate gestures and acting would have been lost.  It’s difficult to judge, in a place, this size whether these singers would survive in a larger auditorium – though I’m pretty sure that Mr Manning and Ms Skillett would have a very good chance.  That, however, doesn’t make it necessarily any worse.  I had a lovely time, relishing the opera (as with all good G&S performances, I came out thinking that Patience is my favourite), enjoying the wit and the confident performance.  I didn’t have to make allowances.  I also felt that, maybe, I ought to give some other small scale performances of opera a try sometime and that I might get something out of them that I wouldn’t necessarily get from the ROH.  it was worth the uncomfortable seats and the very hot auditorium.

There were seats available at this performance.  The run is on until the 28th.  We don’t see Patience enough.  If you like G&S, I’d strongly recommend you to go.