|Tom Hamann, Becca Stuhlbarg, Anne Hubble and Rob Patrick|
By Tina Arth
My first exposure to LOoP (Light Opera of Portland) – then called “The Dairyville Players” - was on stage in The Mikado at the Alpenrose Opera House in 2013 – not as a performer, but as part of the audience. At the time, the nascent group’s productions (and audiences) were so small that cast and patrons all fit easily onto the stage of the massive theater (with room to spare for the lone pianist). LOoP’s current production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers is a startling reminder of just how far this once–tiny band of performers has come in just a few years. An accomplished seven-person orchestra, 30+ cast members, and a satisfyingly large and enthusiastic audience greeted me at last Sunday’s matinee – clearly, contemporary Portlanders are dying to avail themselves of the joys of light opera, and LOoP director Dennis Britten is doing a great job of filling this need.
Like the majority of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, 1889’s The Gondoliers tells a convoluted story filled with none-too-veiled ironic commentary on the politics and societal mores of England’s Victorian era. Despite the 128 years that has elapsed since the show was first performed, the humorous critiques are shockingly apt today and resonate well with modern audiences – elitism, cronyism, nepotism, civil unrest, class warfare, intractable political divisions, and anti-democratic autocrats are all familiar features of modern society, and it’s delightful to see these topics skewered with melodic charm and wit.
The story revolves around newlywed gondoliers Giuseppe and Marco, who learn right after the weddings that one of them is the long-lost king of Barataria. Barataria is in a mess, and needs leadership now – but the only person who knows which of the gondoliers is king is a missing foster mother. The Grand Inquisitor sends the men, both diehard republicans, off to rule Baritaria (sans their brides) jointly until the missing foster mother is found. He also reveals that one of the two is already married, having been wed in infancy to the fair Casilda (daughter of a Spanish nobleman, and madly in love with the servant Luiz). Things are finally sorted out with the arrival of the foster mother, who supplies a typical Gilbert and Sullivan twist that results in everybody living happily ever after.
The solo and ensemble work is often lovely, and always funny – this is definitely a show that requires serious comedic chops from the cast, and LOoP’s group earned an abundance of “bravos” from the audience for both their vocal and acting prowess. The show has an abundance of great roles, including leads Jacob Mott as Marco, John Kost as Giuseppe, Lindsey Lefler as Gianetta, Sheryl Wood as Tessa, Laurence Cox as The Grand Inquisitor, Rob Patrick as the Duke, Anne Hubble as the Duchess, Becca Stuhlbarg as Casilda, and Tom Hamman as Luiz. Hubble and Patrick share some wonderful comic moments, as do Wood and Kost, and Cox is having way too much fun creating the evil Inquisitor with his ominous bass, glowering sneers, and arrogant swagger. Sara Rivera is only on stage for a few minutes in her role as Inez, the missing foster mother, but while she is there she captures 100% of the audience’s attention with her demented mezzo ranting and her appallingly funny lack of social grace. Special mention must go also to chorus member Gabrielle Widman, whose work on the castanets turns an already lively dance number into sheer delight.
The Gondoliers is only in town for one more weekend – if you are not already a fan of the genre, check it out and see if it changes your mind about light opera! By the way, be sure to take the time to read the director’s notes and glossary in the program – it’s well worth your time and you will undoubtedly learn a few things. Run time (with one intermission) is about 160 minutes.
Light Opera of Portland’s production of The Gondoliers is playing at the Alpenrose Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Rd., Portland through Sunday, October 1 with performances at 7:30 P.M. on Friday and Saturday and 3:30 P.M. on Sunday.