The Gondoliers – Festival Theatre

Directed by Stuart Maunder

Conducted by Derek Clark and Jonathon Cole-Swinard

Rating: 4 out of 5.

With tremendous beliefs comes temptation, and when one of two happy-go-lucky Gondoliers is revealed to be the rightful inheritor of a distant kingdom, their Republican ideals are put to the test. Not for greed or glory, but to revolutionise the archaic rule with idealistic equality. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Will it work out this way? Well, would it be an Opera without a spot of chaos?

Undoubtedly one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s brightest scores rammed to the rafters with sticky sweetness and spectacular characters, The Gondoliers is a relentlessly joyful operatic piece, a much-needed levity in trying times. And you’d be forgiven for finding the indulgence of Gilbert and Sullivan a tad nauseating if performed incorrectly, but this production is a solid reminder of (when done right) the exuberant brilliance that can be brought to life by a company who adore their craft.

Feisty, sickeningly attractive, and as energetic as puppies on Prozac – William Morgan and Mark Nathan channel a fun-loving charm to the Palmieri brothers. The pair have a revelry and chemistry with all who pass by, even ensemble vocalists become part of the grand story for a fleeting moment. Their harmonies shine, cheerful and clear, and their timing with the always sensational Scottish Opera orchestra is sublime to watch.

Yes, as expected, and unsurprisingly, The Gondoliers sounds fantastic – but the real treat from Scottish Opera is the visual phantasmagorical which is the utter delicacy of Dick Bird’s set and costume. Almost a sin to divulge what audiences will be treated to (particularly costume-wise) – this is a lurid trip, where the set design stretches the already grand space of the Festival Theatre as the depth perception elongates the gondola channels.

Yvonne Howard, who likely requires a license to operate her dress, maintains a smoothness in momentum, gliding across the stage with aid from her Duke – Richard Stuart. The pair are majestic to watch, in a similar way to a rather well-orchestrated cat and mouse. And though it may strike as the highlight, the remaining cast’s costume brings an additional joy to behold – particular the brother’s second act garbs, two princes attempting to share the throne, along with their noble coats…

An air of two fashionable Thenardiers, the rag-clad Duke and his opulent Duchess command the stage and introduce the spoken portions of the production – effective in conveying storytelling and easing the audience into the rhythm of the opera. And their daughter Casilda, performed by Scottish Opera emerging artist Catriona Hewitson is a delight and fully capable of controlling the stage both solo and with love interest Luiz. Their passion is evident, and it’s a shame the limitations of the role of Dan Shelvy, a sudden turn around towards the end a justifiably enjoyable moment if only tempting us with more.

Though the production maintains a light-heartedness, an ounce of villainy can be sniffed out by Ben McAteer’s Grand Inquisitor, a booming and delicious role. And though not necessarily the most diabolical of Gilbert & Sullivan’s rogues, McAteer devours the scenes, capitalising on every opportunity with his bass-baritone and imposing vocals.

And whilst the snivelling commanding movements of the Inquisitor are something to behold, Isabel Baquero’s choreography takes a much-valued role amongst the stellar composition and vocals. And though dance and movement sequences are present, they don’t detract from the overall production, enhancing the more carefree group numbers and infusing the gayety and grandeur Scottish Opera channel into their operas.

In these movement orientated sequences, the projection of voice becomes an issue, a battleground of clattering feet orchestrations and vocals fighting for dominance. Some vocalists come out on top, others with more delicate or softer tones find themselves drowned somewhat by the power and ferocity of the Scottish Opera orchestration.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s last great piece (some say), this Savoy Opera, satirises class distinction in a manner of ways. Stuart Maunder stitches this directly into the contemporary field of cronyism and backhanded elitist behaviour. It tackles the difficulties of continued class dynamics but in a more palatable form. Gleeful, jovial and addictive, Scottish Opera’s The Gondoliers is the light in the dark many have been waiting for – a witty, yet upbeat and uplifting piece with stellar visuals.

The Gondoliers runs at The Festival Theatre until November 6th. Book tickets here.

Photo Credit – James Glossop

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