Gondoliers Giuseppe Palmieri (Ryan Johnson) and Marco Palmieri (Michael Burton) with their maybe wives Tessa (Maggie Burr) and Gianetta (Blanka Melbostad) in GSVLOC’s The Gondoliers.
The Gondoliers was only the fourth-most popular work in the Gilbert & Sullivan canon when it was written, as counted by the length of its original theatrical run. That might make it sound positively second-rate until you realize that the higher-scoring competition consisted of H.M.S. Pinafore, Patience and The Mikado, and that The Gondoliers racked up 50% more performances than The Pirates of Penzance. It is far from a second-rate work, and neither is the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s current production.
The plot of The Gondoliers involves, among other things, a lost royal baby, mistaken identities, convoluted legal situations, and a pair of hunky gondoliers caught in the middle of it. As with many of W. S. Gilbert’s best librettos, the political commentary rings through surprisingly well today; many of the jokes about the United Kingdom’s Stock Company Act read as if they were directed at Citizens United v. FEC. It’s a fun tangle of a romp.
The large ensemble casts and live orchestra are an expected highlight of GSVLOC productions; this production had for whatever acoustic reasons a more full and direct orchestral sound than last year’s Iolanthe, which was appreciated. The sets by Larry Rostad are whimsical, and enlivened by a pair of children running around and taking part in adult-level business here and there.
As the Duke of Plaza-Toro, Jim Ahrens shows a wry humor in his delivery; his put-upon daughter Casilda (Cassandra Utt) is pleasantly lovely in her despondence at an arranged marriage, with or without her love Luiz (Philip Eschweiler). There are a lot of duet passages in this work, and this particular dynamic works very nicely.
The titular gondoliers, Giuseppe Palmieri (Ryan Johnson) and Marco Palmieri (Michael Burton), are introduced with the adoration of a small crowd of Venetian women – not quite the two dozen specified by G&S, but close enough. Soon, they are (maybe) married to Tessa (Maggie Burr) and Gianetta (Blanka Melbostad) – only to be immediately whisked off to political affairs, marital complications, and more. There’s a lot of exposition to be sung all around, which doesn’t bog things down.
One of the sonic pitfalls of the theatre at Plymouth Congregational Church is balancing the voices in small ensemble pieces; another is cutting through the cloud of sound when the theatre is packed full of singers. The second was not an issue, but the first sometimes was. At the reviewed performance, Burton and Burr’s voices were noticeably fuller and more clearly heard above their counterparts in the duets, making one muse about how it might have been better to take up the Palmieri brothers’ Act I offer to swap brides, purely for the sake of vocal balance.
As directed by Lesley Hendrickson, this production of The Gondoliers flows easily through sticky situation after sticky situation. It’s fun, it’s light, and pleasing. And it has a scene-stealing cameo by Deb Haas as Inez.
The Gondoliers plays through April 2 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, MN.