OPERA REVIEW: Valley Light Opera’s “The Gondoliers” in Northampton [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Jenny Hansell
Photograph by Phil Helzer
Is there anything sturdier and more resilient than a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta? There are occasional professional productions of Pirates of Penzance or HMS Pinafore at opera houses and regional theaters, but I’d bet that it’s local amateur companies that have kept the operettas alive for 130 years and counting.
Why so evergreen? G&S shows offer plentiful opportunities for amateur ensembles to sing complex and lovely music, and the lead roles give the best singers in the community a chance to shine, while leaving room for the character actor with limited singing range or two left feet. Every G&S production I’ve seen (or performed in, with the late, lamented Light Opera Company of Salisbury, CT) has a large chorus of simpering maids played by women from their teens through their 80s, and assorted pirates, policeman or “gentlemen of Japan” played by men who may struggle to hit the high notes of their younger days, or remember in which order their feet should grapevine, but are as courtly or dastardly as the moment requires. The simple plots, the witty lyrics, the tradition of updating them with current references, and above all the gorgeous music, so much fun to sing and to listen to, has kept the G&S repertory going in communities around the world, with the traditions passed on like folk tales.
The Gondoliers is less well known than the “big three” of Pirates, Pinafore and Mikado, but with its gorgeous score and perfectly silly plot, it deserves to be seen, and the Valley Light Opera is currently mounting a very entertaining production at the Academy of Music in Northampton. With a cast of thousands (not really, but it’s big) and a full orchestra, this community production fills the stage with color.