VSGirlish assumptions, silly plots, and the ruthless typography of women apart, a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta never fails to provide some pleasure. What ever? Well hardly – no need to finish. You know the rest. WS Gilbert’s brilliant verbal ingenuity has made its way into the language even though the origin is forgotten. Likewise, Sullivan’s tunes, once heard, are likely to tickle the brain forever. The duo is ahead HMS chasuble (1878) offers two tireless hours of catchy songs and choruses. The English National Opera chose it as their first new production for the 2021/22 season.
Bumping into the GuardianMichael Billington’s illustrious theater critic emeritus in the meantime, I was enamored by his suggestion that there is a lifecycle to appreciating G&S, from youthful enthusiasm to middle-aged disdain. – that inevitable sophisticated cooling, yes, guilty – to the pleasure renewed in the advanced years. (Michael actually said “when you reach senility,” but I won’t let him.) Will keep wanting these shows. Is there still an appetite?
ENO must think so. For its very first Apron, the company has created a lavish and visually delightful staging that’s built to last, produced by Cal McCrystal (responsible for ENO 2018 Iolanthe), conceived by takis, choreographed by Lizzi gee and led by Chris Hopkins. The jokes, many added, are upsetting and slightly dirty (you can do a lot with the “pock deck.” They do.) An invention, an elderly woman who staggers insanely, is offensive and can be circumcised. The rest, in their looks and ridiculousness, are innocently funny, sometimes cutting edge, and a perfect replacement for ENO Mikado (Produced by Jonathan Miller in 1986), which took its course.
The main name of the cast is actor and comedian Les Dennis, as Sir Joseph Porter, “the ruler of the na-vee queen”. There are self-defense jokes about whether or not Dennis can sing. His patter song, When I Was a Lad, is half-spoken, and Hopkins has to reduce the volume of the orchestral brisk and lively, but Dennis is mostly tuned in and tackling his new career change, albeit momentary, with courage. In this tariff, you need an interpreter whose presence zaps energy; who can sing and articulate beautifully, and who has that rare comedic timing that makes a simple funny eyebrow twitch.
Here that person is the bass-baritone Jean Savournin (Captain Corcoran). Versatile also in other repertoires, he has made a specialty of Gilbert and Sullivan, as singer and director. In his naughty cabin boy, 13-year-old Johnny Jackson (alternating with Rufus Bateman), he has a perfect pint-sized tap partner. Their hornpipe with sparkling toes captivated. Elgan Llir Thomas and Alexandra Oomens are lyrical and fresh like Ralph Rackstraw and Joséphine. Henry Waddington, Marcus Farnsworth, Bethan langford and, with and without clothes, Ossian Huskinson make spiritual contributions. The chorus excels. As a buttercup, Hilary summers Skillfully pulls every ounce of comedy out of the role, which I guess will get a lot hotter once the improv takes off. If the spectacle, which is long lasting, hits an iceberg, all that mast, rigging and dry ice can still be put back into service for the Wagner. The Flying Dutchman.
The exceptional string group 12 Together, who plays without a conductor, was formed in 2012 by the violinist Eloisa-Fleur Thom and cellist Max Ruisi. At Kings Place, Thom was a soloist in Max Richter‘s Four seasons: recomposed, in which the Anglo-German composer rejected most of Vivaldi’s score and remade it: a ghostly silhouette of the original, strangely light and bewitching despite an at times surging bassline. When the work was new in 2012, it caused a stir and a certain predictable condescension, just as the savage and groundbreaking version of Nigel Kennedy had in 1989. Songs from this set happened to be on Kennedy’s new album. Uncensored (Warner), launched to promote his autobiography of the same name. Cold-blooded Richter and hot-headed “muvvafukkin” Kennedy – to quote the man himself – are as different in their approach as they get. Both invigorate the spirit of music.
Ratings (out of five)
HMS chasuble ??
12 Set ??