|Chris Reynolds (piano), David Hyde Pierce, Abigail Levis, Hal Cazalet, Lauren Worsham, and Bryce Pinkham
There was, as usual, lots of dry humor in Steven Blier's account of his childhood fascination with Gilbert and Sullivan. Last night's New York Festival of Song Spring Gala at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall offered patrons the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear Broadway stars joyfully tackle duets and ensembles from several comic operas composed by that incredibly gifted writing team.
Writing during the Victorian period, Gilbert's librettos satirized the political and social constructs of that epoch. The stories treat the most absurd situations as if they were normal, turning the world upside-down--hence the title of that marvelous film Topsy-Turvy. Sullivan wrote the most singable melodies, tunes that get inside the ear and brain and never let go.
When one thinks of marvelous writing teams in America one thinks immediately of Rogers and Hammerstein. In England, one thinks of Gilbert and Sullivan. We have written often about how difficult it is to set the English language. Serious works often appear deadly and boring, without much vocal line. Comic or ironic works seem to lend themselves better to musical involvement. Think Cole Porter and Steven Sondheim.
As Maestro Blier so aptly pointed out, most of G&S' comic operas deal with the strange laws and customs that keep lovers apart and the clever ways the characters get around the law. With his marvelous sense of humor he pointed out that Nanki-Poo in The Mikado would never wind up with Katisha because "tenors don't marry contraltos". It does seem that each and every one of their operas has some peculiarly absurd--but logically absurd--solution to the problem that results in a happy ending and a happy audience.
Last night's happy audience enjoyed selections from The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore, Iolanthe, Ruddigore, and Princess Ida. There was no printed program so we will rely on our memory to share a few of the very special moments.
Mezzo-soprano Abigail Levis was hilarious as Mad Margaret in Ruddigore, being brought down from her mania by the safe word "Basingstoke". Mr. Blier's hilarious contribution was the joke that "the portraits of the disapproving ancestors could be removed to the Frick--where no one would ever see them".
The three gentlemen of the cast--David Hyde Pierce, Hal Cazalet, and Bryce Pinkham had a great time with the cross-dressing scene in Princess Ida, which they performed solely with acting and without benefit of costume changes.
Soprano Lauren Worsham was delightful in the trio from H.M.S. Pinafore as she turns Sir Joseph Porter's lesson in class distinction around to suit her own romantic ideals. And when Mr. Pierce sang the famous number about his rise to Admiral of the Queen's Navy, the rest of the ensemble indulged in some hilarious hand-jive in unison.
Accompanying the singers were Maestro Blier himself, assisted by Chris Reynolds, whose playing we enjoyed so much at a prior NYFOS event.
It was an altogether charming evening! Our only reservation was the sporadic use of scores. One might have hoped that the cast would have memorized the material.
(c) meche kroop