TRADITION is a fine thing, but it must be broken occasionally, and Derek Collins has shown great enterprise in his fine production of "The Gondoliers" at Witham by making a few subtle changes which the seasoned Gilbert and Sullivan fans will quickly spot.
The show, which is on all this week, deserves good support. The lighting and setting and the costumes are very colourful and the grouping of 'a' rather too large chorus on a smallish stage, a triumph.
The music, under the direction of Ken Ferris, is absolutely right, avoiding the common fault of drowning the voices.
There is no star part in this opera but nearly all the cast has a chance, and in almost every case it is seized. The singing and dancing of Pat Harris, Freda Wynne, Tim Sheppard and Don Miller is delightful.
"//Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes//", as usual, nearly, stopped the show, and we all wanted to hear more of Elizabeth Miller's lovely voice.
There is not much dialogue in "The Gondoliers", and one could wish it to be taken a little lighter and quicker. Gilbert's humour is not particularly subtle, and becomes a trifle ponderous if we are allowed too long to think, but no doubt this will be smoothed out as the week progresses as also will the make-up, which in the case of the two gondoliers and their wives is not sufficiently tanned,
Altogether a triumph for the producer, orchestra and the company as a whole.
THE Witham Musical and Amateur Operatic Society last produced "The Gondoliers" in 1930. The present production probably differs very little from what happened then.
What it would be exciting to see is a production that has been completely re-thought. Derek Collins has provided us with a reasonable evening's entertainment at Witham's Public Hall but in spite of some good singing and a few pieces of interesting characterisation the whole thing has a slightly tired atmosphere.
I know and appreciate how difficult and costly it is to costume and make scenery for a show but some new talent in this department would give a fresh look to Gilbert and Sullivan in Witham.
Surely all those new people moving in from London could produce a carpenter or two to help. There is little evidence of their involvement either side of the curtain at the moment.
Musically "The Gondoliers" seemed beyond the capabilities of the orchestra. Too often we were conscious of the string, particularly, scurrying after the beat or scraping ineffectually during some of the faster passages. However, towards the end of the evening the sound was generally very pleasant. David Fletcher had his moments as The Grand Inquisitor; Don Miller and Tim Sheppard were well cast as the two chief Gondoliers; Pat Harris and Freda Wynne sang well as their sometime wives and Elisabeth Miller contributed another fine singing performance as Casilda.
Towards the end Geoff Coverdale and Margaret Bloomfield were very funny as the Duke and. Duchess of Plaza-Toro, but even more could have been made of the situation. William Blenkinsop showed considerable promise in the small romantic part of Luiz.
The chorus sang well if never very inventively placed on stage.
Tim Sheppard and Don Miller are in good voice as the two Gondoliers, each of whom might have turned out to be the King of Barataria, while Pat Harris and Freda Wynne partner them attractively as their wives, Freda deserving a special mention for her solo, When A Merry Maiden Marries. Elizabeth Miller sings delightfully as Casilda, daughter of the Duke of Plaza-Toro, played with sprightly verve by Geoff Coverdale. Margaret Bloomfield is suitably imposing as the Duchess, although on Monday some of her singing was inaudible.
As the Grand Inquisitor David Fletcher sings and acts with considerable authority, and William Blenkinsop's Luiz is another good performance. Both chorus and soloists on Monday had to contend with a scratchy orchestra, and although overall Derek Collins' production is attractive, the Gondoliers is not one of Witham's best shows. Many of Gilbert's very good words are lost through inaudibility and this problem must be tackled if one is to hold the audience's attention.
FANS of the Savoy Operas are in for a surprise when the curtain goes up on Act 2 of Witham Operatic Society’s Gondoliers this week. Inspired by their new rulers' republicanism, the lower orders at court are indulging in what looks suspiciously like an orgy.
This presents a scene Hogarth would have loved to paint and the participants grasp with both hands the opportunity for a little uninhibited acting. Our minds are, therefore, somewhat distracted from the singing, which is a little hard on the soloists.
The rest of the operetta is on more conventional lines. Very well dressed and staged, with a young, vital chorus who don't miss a trick. The Cachucha is danced with suitable abandon and should be a show-stopper as the week goes on. William Blenkinsop (Luiz) and Elizabeth Miller (Casilda) top the list of credits with some fine singing and acting with David Fletcher (Don Alhambra), the four spritely Venetians, Pat Harris (Gianetta) Freda Wynne (Tessa), Tim Sheppard (Guiseppe) and Don Miller (Marco) not very far behind.
Derek Collins produces with Ken Ferris wielding the conductor's baton.
Witham Musical and Operatic Society
IN AN age when we have a naked Lady Macbeth nursing her goose pimples on a chilly stage, it cannot come as a surprise to find that Gilbert and Sullivan, as well as Shakespeare, is due to be brought into line with modern thinking. So Derek Collins, producer of Witham's Gondoliers has, with admirable logic, given us a glimpse of what the Court of Barataria might be like when the authority of a monarch is replaced with a couple of egalitarians.
The opening of the second act showed a quasi-Rabelaisian picture, with the wine and the women rather interfering with the song. It was 5D hard to follow Don Miller (Marco) singing Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes when one was ever wondering what the prostrate couple on the floor were up to.
However, when everyone was on their feet, the lyrical and scenic beauties of the old Venetian story were well displayed. Perhaps Gilbert's witty dialogue dragged a little on the first night and some principal's voices lacked the necessary bite and power but, once again, the chorus work was quite exemplary and they dressed the stage attractively. Don Miller, Tim Sheppard, Freda Wynne and Pat Harris were convincing as the young Venetians while Rinette Steed, Janet Fletcher, Tom Payton and Edward Maltby were outstanding in support.
The most polished pair on view were Elisabeth Miller (Casilda) and Bill Blenkinsop (Luiz). They sang and acted together delightfully. Geoffrey Coverdale, as the Duke of Plaza-Toro, was having his first stab at a “Lytton”" role and acquitted himself well while Margaret Bloomfield was an imposing Duchess. David Fletcher made an authoritative Don Alhambra without delving too deeply into the character and Kathleen Adams beat the final curtain by a short head to provide a good character study of old age as Inez the King's foster-mother.
Derek Collins' direction ensured flowing movement, interesting grouping and a stirring Cachucha, Ken Ferris and his orchestra gave us the accompaniment we expect and booking-office records indicate nearly full houses for the rest of the week - what more could any society desire?