Thursday, March 22, 2018

LOoP’s The Student Prince – Not G&S, Still Fun

Lindsey Lefler and Jacob Mott
By Tina Arth

My background in light opera is very, very light – so much so that I didn’t realize that The Student Prince was not a Gilbert and Sullivan work until I saw the program at the Light Opera of Portland (LOoP) production Sunday evening. When I talked to some cast members after the show I understood – Dorothy Donnelly and Sigmund Romberg’s 1924 operetta, billed on the program as “A Spectacular Light Opera,” is exactly the kind of thing that Gilbert and Sullivan so brilliantly skewered in their slyly subversive body of work. It is a real tribute to director Dennis Britten and his cast that I was able to thoroughly enjoy the production despite its markedly aristocratic bent.

While the book lacks the relentlessly witty patter of G&S, the story is structured exactly like some of their best-loved classics – the wealthy prince/king falls in love with the beautiful, but humbly-born barmaid, while the lovely and high-born princess (the king’s betrothed) seems to have given her heart to the soldier assigned to be her companion and bodyguard. I fully expected the king to abandon his throne, or at the very least to discover that the barmaid and princess had been switched at birth – but alas, in The Student Prince duty trumps passion, and it is honorable to uphold class distinctions. The play is by no means dry – it’s actually a joyous celebration of the freedom and exuberance of youth (at least, for men of the right background) expressed through their enthusiastic embrace of wine, women and song at the University of Heidelberg. It is loaded with rousing songs, stirring harmonies, familiar melodies, nostalgia, melodrama and beer-swilling frat boys (or the their 19th century Heidelberg predecessors), with a nice touch of pathos as the prince’s loyal tutor/mentor rescues him temporarily from the chains of his noble birth yet counsels him ultimately back into the life of civic obligation into which he was born. Better yet, the vocals are every bit as challenging – sometimes simply breathtaking (quite literally for the artists, I’m sure).

 Bill Wuertz’s work as Doctor Engel, the tutor, is a real highlight. His voice occasionally wobbles, but no more than one would expect of an old man who spends his last days briefly recapturing his lost youth, and “Golden Days” is genuinely touching. For comic relief, we have both the prince’s valet Lutz (Rob Patrick) and the valet’s valet, Hubert (Linh Nguyen), jointly painting a picture of snobbery taken to hilarious extreme. On the distaff side, Pat Lach (as the Grand Duchess Anastasia) sweeps around the stage with delicious grandeur, and Gabrielle Widman (Gretchen, the maid at the Inn) counters with earthy humor until her reappearance in Act III, when she dons a fine dress and puts on lofty airs of her own. Becca Stuhlberg plays a key role as Princess Margaret; she is a deft vocalist, dances gracefully, and tackles perhaps the most challenging acting in the show as she grows from a spoiled princess into a dedicated and dutiful future queen.

The real stars, however, are Jacob Mott as Prince Karl Franz and Lindsey Lefler as barmaid Kathie. Mott and Lefler have nice chemistry, and they are more than equal to their demanding tenor and soprano roles. Lefler’s soaring coloratura work, often delivered from her perch atop a barroom table, leaves the audience breathless yet never betrays the humble origins of her character. Mott’s vibrant tenor voice handles the songs with ease, and he is equally adept at expressing his character’s shifts: sheltered prince, free-spirited rake, ardent lover, and ultimately mature monarch.


The LOoP production is blessed with a fine orchestra, under the direction of the remarkable Dr. Linda Smith. I was particularly happy to see that each of the musicians is given a separate bio in the program – these hard working, talented folks deserve all the attention they can get. Lucy Tait’s costumes are really quite stunning – the ball gowns elaborate and authentic, and the costumes for the Rheinisher and Saxon Corps as well as the members of the court add a great deal of color and character to the production.


Dennis Britten’s love of light opera fuels this almost unprecedented opportunity for locals to experience an amazingly entertaining art form. With only a two-week run, there’s not much time. Luckily, the Alpenrose Opera House is huge, and there’s ample space for all.


The Student Prince plays Friday, March 23d and Saturday, March 24th at 7:30 PM and Sunday, March 25th at 2:00 PM at the Alpenrose Opera House, 6149 SW Shattuck Road, Portland.

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