The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) began their season with two short comic operas and then some, at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater, on October 29. The first of three performances of this charming program is discussed here. The staged works were performed with piano, sans chorus as well as orchestra.
Rarity “Cox and Box,” with libretto by F.C. Burnand and music by Arthur S. Sullivan, began the presentation. Dishonest landlord and former military man Sergeant Bouncer (Matthew Wages), seeks to profit from one tenant, hatter James John Cox (David Macaluso), working days, and another, printer John James Box (Daniel Greenwood), working nights, by renting them, unbeknownst to them, the same room. Musical Director and pianist Elizabeth Hastings assisted, the singers devised the staging, and Macaluso prepared the performing edition.
Merry martial refrains of “Rataplan,” echoing the like in Donizetti’s “La Fille du Régiment” and Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino,” punctuated rich baritone Wages’ Bouncer’s solo and other numbers. Over-the-top dramatic encounters, reflecting Verdi’s influence, took place when the distinguished tenor tenants discovered each other in the space they shared without consent. Greenwood’s Box sang a sweet lullaby to his meal, “Hush-a-Bye, Bacon,” and the eponymous men blended voices in a no-less-dulcet serenade, “The Buttercup.” “Tit-willow” and “Pooh-Bah” and found their way into the script. Playing on the coincidences that abound in traditional opera, the men found, first, that they were engaged to the same unwanted fiancée, and then, that they were long-lost brothers. Happiness reigned.
William S. Gilbert and Arthur S. Sullivan’s “Trial by Jury” was performed, in a version for quintet, by NYGASP’s Wand’ring Minstrels. Artistic Director Albert Bergeret conducted and directed and Andrea Stryker-Rodda provided piano accompaniment. The Minstrels sang the ensembles, as well as their solo assignments, and the audience, augmenting the jury, was invited to join in. The music of the Furies, from Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” was recognizable in the jury’s fierce “Monster, dread our fury,” and that of “D’un pensiero e d’un accento,” from Bellini’s “La Sonnambula,” in the central ensemble “A nice dilemma,” in which unexpected and perplexing developments are similarly pondered.
Buffo baritone Stephen Quint, as the learned judge, told us his story, in nimble patter, in “When I, Good Friends (was called to the bar).” Cameron Smith as the ruffianly defendant, Edwin, lent a romantic tenor to the cad’s “When first my old, old love I knew” and “Oh, Gentlemen, listen I pray,” and Laurelyn Watson Chase, a lovely soprano to the role of the plaintiff, the jilted bride Angelina. The counsel for the plaintiff’s part was lyrically sung by mezzo-soprano Angela Christine Smith, in lieu of a baritone, and bel canto baritone Richard Holmes ably dropped down from that role to that of the usher. A.C. Smith doubled as a bridesmaid, joining Watson Chase in her entrance song, and Holmes doubled as the foreman of the jury. It all worked.
Rounding out the afternoon were the “Cox and Box” cast’s “I am so proud,” from “The Mikado;” Quint pattering again in the tour-de-force “Nightmare Song,” from “Iolanthe;” A.C. Smith, Greenwood, and Holmes cheerfully explaining the “most ingenious paradox” of a February 29 birthday, in the trio from “Pirates of Penzance;” Watson Chase limning a beautiful “The sun whose rays,” from “Mikado;” the company’s classic “Try We Lifelong,” from “The Gondoliers;” and Quint and Watson Chase’s elegant “I have a song to sing,” from “Yeoman of the Guard,” backed by A.C. Smith, C. Smith, Macaluso, and Holmes.
NYGASP’s season continues, at the Kaye Playhouse, at Hunter College, with a new production of “The Mikado,” from December 28 to January 8, 2017, and “Patience,” on April 29 and 30. Visit www.nygasp.org
for further information.