In the second production of its 15th season, Winter Opera Saint Louis once again demonstrated its knack for presenting operettas with a fine production of The Gondoliers. It was the company’s fourth staging of a Gilbert and Sullivan classic.
In the opening scene of The Gondoliers, the title characters choose brides and look forward to married life. Their prospects change radically, however, when they learn of a long-kept secret.
Giuseppe and Marco Palmieri were raised as brothers, but only one of them is their father’s son. The other is now the King of a wealthy country, Barataria. As an infant, he was spirited away from his homeland by the country’s Grand Inquisitor to protect the heir to throne from political unrest that would soon kill his father.
The boy was brought to Venice and left in the care of a highly respectable gondolier. He promised to raise his own son and the royal offspring together and teach them both his trade. When the Grand Inquisitor returned to Venice to collect the child, the Gondolier had died, leaving the Grand Inquisitor no way to tell the brothers apart.
While still an infant, the royal child was married by proxy to Casilda, the daughter of the Duke of Plaza-Toro. To repair his family’s fortune, the financially strapped Duke now wants his daughter to take her place as queen of Barataria. He has come up with a way to identify the true king, but until this plan can be enacted, Giuseppe and Marco serve jointly as king. The only problem is they must leave their new wives behind when they go off to Barataria.
The plot advances at a leisurely pace and reaches a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.
The Winter Opera staging was a delight. The orchestra played with complete assurance in conductor Dario Salvi’s stylish interpretation of the score. The principals sang beautifully, as did the ensemble under chorus master Jesse Cunningham.
My admiration for director John Stephens in comic opera goes back to his splendid performances in the early days of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. In The Gondoliers, Stephens drew performances from the cast in a consistent approach well suited to the humor of 19th century comic satire. The stylishness extended to the steps provided for the performers in their musical numbers.
The Palmieris were thoroughly likeable protagonists in the performances by Andrew Pardini as Giuseppe and Alexander Scheuermann as Marco. Their brides were played by the charming Lauren Nash Silberstein as Gianetta (Marco’s wife) and Holly Janz as Tessa (Giuseppe’s wife).
The Grand Inquisitor was an imposing presence both vocally and physically in Tyler Putnam’s performance. Toro Gary Moss and Angela Christine Smith captured the comic potential of the Duke and Duchess of Plaza Toro.
Priscilla Salisbury and Clark Sturdevant were a sympathetic couple as Casilda (the Duke’s daughter) and Luiz (the Duke’s private drummer), whose difference in social standing was not a barrier to love.
Scott Loebl’s scenic design featured a large, handsome painted backdrop in both acts: for The Piazetta in Venice in Act 1 and the Palace of Barataria in Act 2. The set in the first act cleverly allowed gondolas to cross the stage without visible means of propulsion. The look of the production was enhanced by Lauren Smith Bearden’s costumes, Neil Bearden’s lighting, Jessica Dana’s wigs and makeup, and Laura Skroska’s props.
The screen for Sarah Collins’s supertitles was higher above the stage than I would have liked. Otherwise, the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center was a rich-sounding, comfortable venue for Winter Opera’s production.
Photo by Riq Dilly