Light opera brightens the stage
January 24, 2011
The very nature of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience,” performed last weekend by Sinfonicron — ¬ the student-run light opera company — can put a reviewer in an awkward position. It is, in its own way, a contradiction in terms: a satire against the aesthetic ideal and the intellectual pretensions of the educated class, gloriously fulfilled by the comic opera’s sweeping score and vivid characterizations through song and script. When one is attempting to evaluate a production of “Patience” in terms of artistic merit it may well appear to some that the critic is missing the point.
It is fortunate then that Andrew Collie’s ’11 production, impressively staged after only two weeks of intensive rehearsal, was a rousing success, both to the appraiser of appearances and to the scholar of well-executed satire. This “Patience” was big, bold and unafraid to make a fool of itself to get its point across — and when the material in question is over one century old, that may very well have been the best way to do it.
The opera began with a group of maidens, wallowing in their love for Reginald Bunthorne (Christopher Richardson ’13), an aesthetic poet light on substance and heavy on bluster. Bunthorne has, however, become smitten with Patience (Nora Pace ’14), an unassuming milkmaid who hasn’t the slightest idea what love is, yet still knows enough to keep away from Bunthorne’s amorous advances. The maidens were unfailing in their adoration, which presented a problem for the company of dragoons to which they were previously betrothed. As the opera continued, worldviews were altered to accommodate shifts in affection, revealing the ephemeral nature of any ideal, no matter how noble or poetic in nature.
The cast of “Patience” was so large it required far more space than allotted here to give it its due praise. Richardson was the biggest personality in a cast full of exaggerated characters. His expressive range, most notably punctuated by the guttural sounds uttered as his predicament grew worse, goes far beyond the bass-baritone his music required (although that, too, was a delight to hear). Pace presented a portrait of blissful ignorance that slowly gave way to a skewed understanding of the heart’s designs. Her soprano, in contrast, was clear and ringing, suggesting a deeper knowledge of humanity beneath her nearly permanently perplexed face. As the more appealing idyllic poet Grosvenor Dave Thomas ’11, was a hilariously conceived man of unintentional vanity. He, like Patience, had little sense as to what was going on, making him a far better matched love interest to the milkmaid through Thomas’s performance. In a smaller but no less fully realized role is Rebecca Phillips ’11 as the one remaining adulator of Bunthorne, playing an almost-crazed old woman with absurd intensity.
As far as the dual choruses of the maidens and the dragoons are concerned, they were, in a word, magnificent. Those who attended this past weekend’s production ought to take note of each name in the program and utter thanks to those cast members for together contributing an immense amount to the success of the production as a whole.
Speaking of utter successes, it would be a crime not to mention the orchestra of “Patience,” which took a difficult and lengthy piece of music and made it its own. To conjure strong feeling during an overture is a rare feat for an orchestra, even with the talents of Gilbert and Sullivan at its disposal. From the moment the first note started, to the end of the show, the sound was transcendent.
The work of the technical designers did much to make the production complete: Lauren Cheniae ’11 created a set simple enough to use for the entire show, yet detailed enough to be a believable mise-en-scene. Cameron Rust’s ’11 light work was nearly organic in its relationship to the actors and music. Ruth Hedburg ’13 and Nick Martin ’13 constructed elegant oppositions in their costume work: The dreamy pastels of the maidens contrasted well with the strict regimented dragoons, and Bunthorne’s extravagant garb clashed against Grosvenor’s sleeker, yet still extremely striking, suit.
A spoilsport might mention the very rare occasion of an actor smiling or laughing at the proceedings of “Patience.” But when it comes to a joyous and pleassant theatrical display like this one, who could blame them?