Sunday, March 25, 2018

Iolanthe audience

The Lamplighters, the esteemed local Gilbert and Sullivan company, was devoting one of its occasional audience singalong events to Iolanthe, perhaps as high as the fourth most popular G&S operetta, and the first time they'd gone that far down the fame range on a singalong. But it's my favorite of them all, so I decided to go.

I'd been to a singalong before once, years ago, of The Mikado. At that one, the orchestra was on stage, and the speaking parts were done by company members, in street clothes, scattered among the audience. Some of them weren't even the right vocal types to sing those parts, but it didn't matter, because the audience, which packed the theater, sang everything in full voice.

Except for the orchestra being on stage, that didn't happen here. There was no set, but not only the principals but a few chorus members were in full costume and both spoke and sang all their parts from in front of the orchestra. They needed to, because the auditorium was only about half-full and the audience singing was mostly pretty anemic. That may have been in part because, unlike on the previous occasion, only about 3 or 4 of the audience brought along vocal scores. (I was one who did.) Unless you know your part really well - and if you've never sung it on stage, why would you? - you need a vocal score, because supertitles, which we had here, are insufficient for conveying the complexity of Sullivan's multi-part vocal writing.

The net effect was of a concert performance with an unusually small chorus and the intermittently audible sound of some audience members singing along. Quite differently from that long-ago Mikado, this framing made it feel very transgressive for the audience to sing at all, since in any other stage performance it would be the grossest offense. That may feel fun if you enjoy being transgressive. But I don't.

Everyone is welcome to try singing anything, and I tried a few bits outside of my range in more comfortable octaves, but mostly I stuck with the baritone roles, of which there are three so it gave me plenty to do. Having a score gave me some confidence, and I might have been the loudest and best baritone in the audience, though if so that's a real indictment of the audience's singing quality. Still, at the curtain call one of the baritones on stage caught my eye and gave me a thumbs up. He was playing Strephon, which is the part I know least well of the three, though his voice was loud, deep, and smooth, which made him easy to sing along with.

This being Lamplighters, there were some good staging moments. Phyllis reacting to learning that Strephon is half-fairy was particularly good. Earlier, instead of wandering offstage in bliss after their love song, "None shall part us from each other," the two lingered until driven off by the martial opening of the following March of the Peers. The Lord Chancellor stepped out of character and coached the audience in the fermatas and extra-textual pauses and ritards in the patter songs he was about to sing, which was really appreciated. There was one mistake, too: Private Willis, having no sentry box, went offstage after his song and forgot to return for his next spoken lines, so the conductor hastily drafted himself as a substitute, stepping off the podium and holding his baton on his shoulder as if it were his rifle.

I enjoyed this, but I'd have enjoyed it a lot more as part of a lusty audience chorus.

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