Monday, July 15, 2002

Patience (Lyric Opera)

Wooden, Over-directed 'PATIENCE' at Lyric Opera

Gilbert and Sullivan wrote fourteen operettas including 'TRIAL BY JURY,' 'H.M.S. PINAFORE,' 'PIRATES OF PENZANCE,' and 'MIKADO.' The duo is noted for their creativity and cleverness as well as their social and political satire.

The Gilbert and Sullivan partnership was absolutely unique. Neither could create alone, but as a duo they were the light opera masters of their day. This is interesting since the two men did not get along very well. Sullivan, without Gilbert, seemed to lose the gift of melody, and Gilbert, without Sullivan was parted from that exquisite humor which made him, even above Mark Twain, the merrymaker of his generation. Their works were often descirbed as vehicles which convulsed audiences.

'PATIENCE 'opened April 23, 1881 at the Opera Comique and ran for 578 performances. It concerns a bevy of county dames who are in love with two poets. The poets, however, are both in love with Patience, the village milkmaid. The dames are sought after by the Dragoons, a brigade of soldiers who don’t understand or appreicate the need for aesthetics, such as poetry, but decide they had better give it a try to win the women's love.

In reality, the opera satirizes Great Britain’s aesthetic craze. It also pokes fun at Oscar Wilde, an acknowledged wit and dramatist, who became famous as the leader of aestheticism in England. The dialogue of 'PATIENCE 'is witty and the music full of richness.

Productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works vary greatly in their quality as their shows require a special directorial touch and fine musical and comic talent. Credit must be given to a director who has a clear image of what he or she wants from a cast and production and achieves it. Unfortunately, sometimes that vision gets in the way of the production.

Cleveland Lyric Opera’s 'PATIENCE,' under the heavy hand of director Philip Kraus, comes off as wooden, affected, and as one of the lines states, “Hollow and unsatisfactory.” Much of Gilbert and Sullivan’s humor was lost in the maze of over stylized movements and lack of spontaneity on the part of the cast.

The singing was accepatable, though many of the words to the clever patter songs that G & S are famous for were lost due to poor diction amd improper phrasing. This was especially true with the performance of John Payonk, the Colonel Calvery. Lance Ashmore, as Reginald, one of the poets, sings well, but his overly stressed facial expressions, affected speech patterns and excessive makeup, made him come off more like a marrionette than a person. Marian Vogel, who portrayed Patience, has a nice voice. Todd Ranney has a fine sense of comic timing, though, again, stylization got in the way of meaning. The chorus sings well.

Don McBridge’s set design was funcitional and attractive. Though they sometimes drowned out the singers, the orchestra, under conductor Dennis Northway, had a solid sound.

Capsule judgement: Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas not only carry a message, but are supposed to be fun. Since the performers in Cleveland Lyric Opera’s 'PATIENCE' did not appear to be having fun, neither did the audience. There were titters, but not the myrth that often accompanies G &S.