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William S. Gilbert & Arthur S. Sullivan: The Mikado – H.M.S. Pinafore – Trial by Jury – Patience – The Gondoliers
Opera Australia
Sung in English with English subtitles - Liner notes in English (see detailed casts below)
Sound format: Stereo – Picture format 4:3 (16:9 for H.M.S. Pinafore)
Opus Arte Catalogue #: F4028D

Australians have always shown great interest, and talent, in performing works by Gilbert and Sullivan. Opus Arte just released a praiseworthy four-DVD box set comprised of five “comic operas” performed by Opera Australia at various dates, in various venues, and by various artists. All five productions make for a grand old giggle and capture the very essence of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas in their gentle, witty satires. One can hardly imagine fresher casts and more inspired directors.

The Mikado: Anne-Maree McDonald (Yum-Yum), Peter Cousens (Nanki-Poo), Heather Begg (Katisha), Graeme Ewer (Ko-Ko), Gregory Yurisich (Pooh-Bah), Robert Eddie (The Mikado), Jennifer Bermingham (Pitti-Sing), the Elizabethan Sydney Orchestra, Andrew Greene (Conductor), the Australian Opera Chorus, Gordon Kember (Chorus Master), Christopher Renshaw (Director), Tim Goodchild (Sets and Costumes), John Rayment (Lights), Carole Todd (Choreography), Cherryl Forrest (TV Director) - Recorded live at Sydney Opera House in 1987 – 151’

The Mikado (1885) lampoons English bureaucracy, thinly disguised by its Japanese setting. Christopher Renshaw’s staging is a real feast for the eyes. It is incredibly vivacious and never loses momentum. Sets and costumes are whimsical, sometimes wild, while extravagant make-up and hairdos would leave Lady Gaga pallid with jealousy. All cast members demonstrate undeniable flair as singers and as comedians, with special mention to Anne-Maree McDonald’s clear soprano (Yum-Yum), Heather Begg’s portentous Katisha, and Gregory Yurisich’s feisty Pooh-Ba.

HMS Pinafore: Colette Mann (Little Buttercup), Andrew Jones (Bill Bobstay), Richard Alexander (Dick Deadeye), David Hobson (Ralph Rack straw) Anthony Warlow (Captain Corcoran), Tiffany Speight (Josephine), John Bolton Wood (Sir Joseph Porter), Roxane Hislop (Cousin Hebe), Jerzy Kozlowski (Bob Beckett)

Trial by Jury: Richard Alexander (Usher), David Hobson (Defendant), Anthony Warlow (Learned Judge), John Bolton Wood (Counsel for the Plaintiff), Ali McGregor (Plaintiff), Andrew Jones (Foreman for the Jury)
Orchestra Victoria and Opera Australia Chorus, Melbourne, Andrew Greene (Conductor), Stuart Maunder (Director), Robert Kirk (Sets & Costumes), Trudy Dalgleish (lights), Elizabeth Hill (choreography), Andrew Lord (TV Director), recorded live at the Arts Center, Melbourne (2005) - 130’

H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) was Gilbert and Sullivan’s first international success, satirizing the rise of unqualified people to positions of authority, and poking good-natured fun at the English obsession with social status. Trial by Jury (1874), composed in a matter of weeks, mocks the legal profession, based on Gilbert’s own experience as an attorney. The outrageous antics of the characters led to the work being the toast of London and a runaway success.

In both pieces, Stuart Maunder pens an upbeat direction. The action is set on the main deck of H.M.S. Pinafore, with two flights of stairs on either side leading to the bridge, thus allowing fluid movements of the chorus. Stylish costumes - especially the women’s hats - add to this high-spirited presentation. All singers bring a polished contribution to the evening, especially Colette Mann (Buttercup), John Bolton Wood as the preposterous Sir Joseph, impeccable in his articulation of the patter song “Ruler of the Queen’s navy”, and David Hobson (Ralph).

Trial by Jury (1874), a thirty-three minute operetta, is set in modern times. Maunder creates a topsy-turvy courtroom, perhaps just a weeny bit too Grand Guignol-esque, with riotous characters, and yet another extravagant hat worn by soprano Ali McGregor.

Patience: Christine Douglas (Patience), Heather Begg (The Lady Jane), Anthony Warlow (Archibald Grosvenor), Dennis Olsen (Reginald Bunthorne), the Elizabethan Philharmonic Orchestra, David Stanhope (Conductor), John Cox (Director), John Napier (sets and costumes), Cameron Kirkpatrick (TV Director), recorded live at Sydney Opera House in 1995 - 130’

In Patience (1881), a satire of male chauvinism and vanity in the military, the aesthetic poet Bunthorne sings his love for Patience, the village milkmaid. Meanwhile, he has captured the heart of every other lady in the village. Upon the arrival of the idyllic poet Grosvenor, all hell breaks loose when he proposes to Patience.

Patience may not be Gilbert and Sullivan’s best work and by the end of Act 1, one might think that this DVD is the weak link of the compilation. In spite of some appealing tunes, splendid Art Nouveau sets and costumes, the evening only takes off with the Jane/Bunthorne duet in the middle of the last act. From then on, it is thirty-five minutes of pure bliss. The duet Bunthorne/Grosvenor is irresistible. A rib-tickling mishap is thrown in when mezzo-soprano Heather Begg (Jane) is seized by uncontrollable giggles when she involuntarily jostles tenor Anthony Warlow to the floor as she makes her tempestuous entrance (now this writer has seen everything on an opera stage). Thank God it was not edited. It is soon followed by a zesty and infectious finale where everyone returns to Victorian costumes.

The Gondoliers: David Hobson (Marco Palmieri), Roger Lemke (Giuseppe Palmieri), Suzanne Johnston (Tessa), Christine Douglas (Gianetta), Robert Gard (Duke of Plaza-Toro), Graeme Ewer (Duchess of Plaza-Toro), Fiona Maconaghie (Casilda), Martin Croft (Luiz), Dennis Olsen (Don Alhambra), Jennifer Bermingham (Inez), Brian MacDonald (Director, Choreographer), Susan Benson (sets and costumes), the Elizabethan Philharmonic Orchestra, Dobbs Franks (Conductor)
Filmed live at Sydney Opera (1990) - 152”

Yet another bubbly production! Fun and vitality abound from beginning to end with some sidesplitting moments, namely the entrance of the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro, Giuseppe’s song “Rising early in the morning”, or the departure of Marco and Giuseppe for the island of Barataria. Sets are simple and only occupy the back of the stage, leaving ample room for a stunning choreography. It is amazing to watch the amount of dancing that is required from the chorus and principals. The famous Cachucha in Act two is positively the most hilarious moment of the performance. Just like in The Mikado, curtain calls are so well choreographed that they amount to a number in and of itself, bringing the house to their feet.

Christian Dalzon




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