Review: THE GONDOLIERS - Comic Opera At Its Finest

By: Jun. 28, 2016

Celebrating its 40th year, The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin brings us a world class production of THE GONDOLIERS. A sumptuous feast for the senses, the entire show is on point perfection.
Premiering in 1889, THE GONDOLIERS; OR THE KING OF BARATARIA was the last great success of legendary duo Gilbert and Sullivan and contains biting commentary on the Victorian class system. The story begins in Venice where the brotherly pair of Marco (Holton Johnson) and Giuseppe (Derek Smootz) are looking for brides. The local maidens line up to vie for the young men. A game of blind man's bluff is decided on to make the choice of wife seemingly random. However, there is a bit of cheating going on during the game and the prospective grooms end up with the girls they really wanted. Gianetta (Priscillia Salisbury) and Tessa (Angela Irving) make ready for their double wedding. The Duke (Bob Beare) and Duchess (Patricia Combs) of Plaza-Toro enter with their daughter Casilda (Corinna Browning) and Luiz (Jerry Cordova), their attendant after enduring a rough sea journey to Venice. The noble family is looking for the young prince, now king that Casilda wed as an infant. The baby prince was taken from his home by Don Alhambra del Bolero, The Grand Inquisitor of Spain (Arthur DiBianca) who secreted the child away to the city of canals. We discover that Casilda and Luiz are deeply in love but decide that they can never be together because she is already married to the missing young king. The Grand Inquisitor arrives to explain that the Baratarian monarch has been raised incognito as a simple gondolier, but the drunken man who raised him forgot which of his two sons is actually a prince. The brothers are informed of their change in fortune and must leave their new brides to venture to Barataria to take up duties as joint rulers until the former royal nursemaid can be found and brought to identify the true ruler. The second act takes us to the palace of Barataria three months later where Marco and Giuseppe have converted the government to more republican sensibilities benefiting the chorus of gondoliers they have brought with the from Venice. Tessa and Gianetta arrive with the contadine (their troupe of friends) and the couples are happily reunited. The whole mystery is solved by Inez (Janette Jones), the nursemaid and the ending is sweet and satisfying in the traditional comic opera style.
I admit that this is the first time I have seen a live production of a comic opera, my background is more firmly based in Shakespeare, musicals and modern drama. I entered the beautiful Worley Barton Theatre at Brentwood Christian School with a little trepidation, not entirely sure of what I would experience. I can only tell you that after seeing The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin's production, I am now in complete awe and the Society has a new fan. The entire production is a faithful reproduction in the grand style of Gilbert and Sullivan, not a single flaw could be seen. One could easily imagine being in the audience at the Savoy for its original performance.The superior cast, without a single weak link, are pitch perfect on every level. Every song, every dance, every line is delivered with ease and grace with the evening gliding by effortlessly. Stand out performances in an amazingly talented cast include Johnson and Smootz as the title characters, are both charm itself. Beare, Combs and Browning as the Duke, Duchess and their daughter are the perfect comic family unit. Salisbury and Irving as the brides are an utter delight. The Grand Inquisitor, DiBianca, was the icing on beautiful, hilarious cake. The ensemble is flawless and is deserving of the highest praise. The Gillman Light Opera Orchestra provides the score magnificently directed by Jeffrey Jones-Regona. Choreographer Christine Jean-Jacques moves the cast in harmony making the movement natural and full of joy. My highest praise is reserved for Michelle Haché director par excellence, for her unerring attention to every tiny detail of the immaculate production. Her faithful adherence to tradition and love of the material is evident in so many ways. Haché's vision is apparent in every aspect and is faultless in execution.
I await, with great anticipation, future productions with The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin. I will be in the audience and I highly recommend that you are too.

Written by W.S. Gilbert
Composed by Arthur Sullivan
Presented by The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin
Directed by Michelle Haché
Music Director Jeffrey Jones-Ragona

June 16 - 26, 2016

Running time: 2.5 hours with one 15 minute intermission.