Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Also see Richard's review of Christine Ebersole
The Lamplighters Music Theatre is celebrating their 50th season by presenting their famed winning revival of Gilbert and Sullivan's lesser known operetta, Princess Ida. This production won the Best Production honors at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England in 1995. Barbara Heroux once again directs the melodic operetta that almost borders on grand opera.
Sullivan wrote the music in 1884, and his score has a skillful counterpoint of melodies and some very fine arias. Sullivan always wanted to write grand opera rather than the patter songs that William Gilbert wanted. Princess Ida comes nearer to Arthur Sullivan's vision of grand opera. Gilbert's tongue twisting "patter songs" and tricky rhymes are incorporated into the operetta. Gilbert is presenting a respectful perversion of Tennyson's Princess in blank verse. It is predictably witty and very dramatic in some scenes. The operetta is rarely performed these days since most people only want to see Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous works, like The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance. However, it is a great pleasure to see a gorgeous production of this little known operetta.
The plot is typically Gilbert and Sullivan. A treaty was signed 20 years prior by King Hildebrand and King Gama stating that Prince Hilarion, son of King Hildebrand, would marry the daughter of King Gama, Princess Ida, when both come of age at 20 years. That time has come, but Ida refuses to honor the commitment made on her behalf when she was an infant. She goes off to the country and starts a women's university. There she teaches an interesting variation on Darwin's theory: man - not woman, just man - is descended from the apes. As a result, men are inferior to women.
Prince Hilarion, an unabashed romantic, decides to woo Ida and win her love. This will also avert war between their fathers' kingdoms. The Prince and two of his friends make their way to Ida's university where they disguise themselves as women to enroll and get close to the princess. Of course, their true identities are revealed toward the end of the second act, and Ida, furious at being betrayed, vows she will fight rather than marry the Prince. I won't betray the ending of this delightful comic opera.
The singing of the principals is superior, with Lanier McNab being in full soprano voice as Princess Ida. She has a beautiful delicate voice with great range. Joshua LaForce has a rich tenor voice for Prince Hilarion and does a campy bit of acting when playing in drag. William Neely is excellent as King Hildebrand, with a powerful booming voice and clear lyrics to match. I must admit it is a little difficult hearing the voice of Philip Lowery as King Gama. He tends to race through the patter songs like "If You Give Me Your Attention" and "Whene'er I Spoke."
The two friends of Prince Hilarion are played by David Sasse and Philip Sokolov, and both are excellent in their roles. Kathi Brotemarkle as Lady Pysche and Michele Krapp as Melissa are quite charming in their roles and both have lovely voices. Once again, Christine Macomber almost steals the show playing Lady Blanche, Professor of Abstract Science. She always reminds me of Bea Lillie.
The chorus work as usual is superb and the full orchestra is brilliant. The sets and costumes are breathtaking, especially the opening scene that take place in the court of King Hildebrand. It is a wonderful tableau of color and spectacle.
Princess Ida runs through February 16th at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. For tickets call 925-943-7469 or on line at www.lamplighters.org. The Lamplighters' next production will be two "bookend" programs by Gilbert and Sullivan: Trial by Jury and the little known The Grand Duke, in staged concert form. These open in Walnut Creek on April 24 -27 at the Del Valle Theatre and May 2-4, 7 11 at the Presentation Theater in San Francisco.