Monday, February 18, 2013

Princess Ida

I got to see a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Princess Ida. This was about as different from the Stanford Savoyards' H.M.S. Pinafore as may be, because it was by the Lamplighters Music Theatre, and the Lamplighters, though technically also nonprofessional, know emphatically exactly what they are doing. I rarely see their productions any more, because their normal venue for many years now has been the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, which is all fine and dandy for an OtherMinds techno-post-modernism concert, but is as ill-suited for the warmth and intimacy of Victorian musical comedy as might be imagined.

However, sometimes they take their productions elsewhere for a weekend or two, and such was the case here. I like Princess Ida, which tends to be neglected: it has some magnificent music in it, and I once celebrated it in a post here.

Star, I think, of this production was the costumes, which, though of a completely default style for this show - vaguely pseudo-post-medieval; imagine an idealized 15th century - were magnificently done within that style. Scenic and costume design by John Gilkerson and Melissa Wortman, so all hail to them and their crew. I particularly liked that the girl student chorus in Act 2, though their gowns might have looked at first identical, were all wearing different styled hats and different colored sashes. It made them into individuals.

As singers, the chorus were loud and clear, and as actors, they were always clearly choreographed and involved in their roles. None of this confused milling around. Orchestra considerably less wobbly than I sometimes heard of the Lamplighters of old.

Ida was Jennifer Ashworth, a powerful low soprano. Her program bio says she's performed Mozart's Queen of the Night, and I can believe it. Hilarion, Robert Vann, had a highly reedy voice, but strong. I liked Florian, played by Chris Uzelac, who strongly resembles Stephen Fry both in appearance and manner. King Gama was played by veteran Lamplighters grossmith Rick Williams, who was just what you'd expect if you'd ever seen him before in anything. Jamie McDonald as Lady Blanche was thin but glowering and imperious. Charles Martin as Arac hulked impressively, and his brothers (Sean Irwin and Jordan Eldredge), though given nothing to do by Gilbert, made good character backups. King Hildebrand - a tough role, as apart from the Lt of the Tower in Yeoman he's the only character in all G&S who is both absolutely firm-minded and entirely competent - was carried with some dedication by Robby Stafford, and I liked the use of some moments between him and Hilarion in the first act to demonstrate that the king and his son share a warm mutual affection. This helps explain why the peppery, impatient king lets Hilarion head off on his unlikely expedition to woo the objecting and hard-edged Ida with flowers and wine.

On the other hand, while the crumbling of Ida's forces, the women's chorus at the start of Act 3, was impressively silly, Ida's own change of mind at the end of the act did not hang together well at all. It's possible that Ashworth's singing simply considerably outdoes her acting.

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