Thursday, 16 May 2013

On the merits of this opera you're at present in the dark

The show I did more recently was a double bill of Trial By Jury and The Zoo. The former is G&S, but the second is only Sullivan, with words by Bolton Rowe, whoever he was. Although The Zoo seems to be fairly well known about within G&S circles, because it's not Gilbert and only one act, it's not often performed. Trial similarly is only one act. Societies tend to want a full two act show to perform. If you want to do a one act show you need to do two, or do it as a short curtain-opener to something longer. It's always going to be more thought to figure out what you want to do, so one act shows tend to be less frequently done. Trial probably more than Zoo, since it's the famous duo, but still.

So, let's talk about these shows. I'm going to take them in reverse order, because I was only chorus in Zoo whereas I was a principal in Trial, and also I prefer Trial.

The Zoo

Rapid plot summary: the members of the British public arrive at the London Zoological Gardens to find that Aesculapius Carboy (a modest chemist, tenor) is about to hang himself because Mr. Grinder (a retired grocer, baritone) won't let him marry Laetitia (his daughter, soprano), also he thinks he's accidentally given her a blister, which was intended to be his revenge on her father. But it turns out she's fine. The romance between Tom Brown (alias the Duke of Islington in disguise, baritone) and Eliza Smith (in charge of the refreshments stall, mezzo I think) leads to Tom Brown trying to prove his devotion by eating an excessive amount of food from Eliza's refreshments stall. Tom Brown faints from eating too much. After a bit of an argument, Eliza goes off with a prescription from Carboy to get him some medicine. Then Carboy, in loosening some of Tom Brown's clothes to make him more comfortable, discovers the order of the Garter concealed in his jacket and realises he's a peer in disguise. After much kneeling and awkwardly telling them not to kneel, and a highly unclear speech, he agrees with the chorus that he should propose as soon as he's got his full Ducal regalia on. Grinder turns up and refuses Carboy his consent again, so Carboy goes back to the suicide plan and lowers himself into the bear pit. Tom Brown returns as the Duke, proposes to Eliza and gives her the zoo as a wedding gift. Carboy emerges unharmed from the bearpit, because the bears had been moved, and Tom Brown resolves that point as well by giving Grinder a lot of money. The two couples can get married and everyone is happy! Hooray!

Some productions, ours included, have a narrator to explain what's going on. Despite which it can still be somewhat confusing in places. The Zoo definitely makes you appreciate Gilbert more. Gilbert may make everything weird and topsy-turvy, but you can generally follow the weirdness well enough.
I'm not sure exactly  what it is about The Zoo that doesn't appeal to me as much. Maybeone could say Sullivan didn't quite bring his A game to it, but it's still good, and there are certainly a few decent songs in there (Well, I suppose one thing I didn't like so much was that the tunes got stuck in my head and just kept looping and annoying me). There aren't many gaps in the plot (There's one thing which isn't really explained involving the switching of labels on medicines and consequent placing of blisters). It's all ridiculously overblown, granting an excessive amount of emphasis to things which don't really matter that much, but then the same can be said of some stuff Gilbert wrote. I suppose Gilbert's often had the added depth of satirising something. Maybe it's just that I don't think prescriptions are interesting enough to warrant singing about them. Or... hm. Maybe a bit of a mis-matching of styles of the words and music? I don't know.
The Zoo was apparently originally intended as 'a light-hearted tilt at the conventions of grand opera', so maybe my issue is that I'm not sufficiently experiences in those conventions to recognise what it's poking fun at.

Regardless of this, I enjoyed doing it. I loved the way we did it - everything ridiculously over the top. Actually, that might be the key to my issue with the show - I kind of feel like at least some of it doesn't really work without making it ridiculously over the top to make the most of the ridiculousness of the situation, but at the same time I feel like it may not have been intended that way. There are bits of it where it seems to me like Rowe may have wanted them played out a bit more seriously, but if they were I think they'd just come across to me as stupid.

Whatever the reason, despite enjoying doing the show, my favourite bit of it is still "And if the noble breast could speak, what would it say?" Which is not an actual line from the show, but a hilarious misreading on the part of our MD, which I struggled not to actually sing in rehearsals and performances.
OK, now that I've got all that aside, I guess the way I'd describe it is something along the lines of "not a great show, but a fun show with the right group/director." Certainly there are bits of it which really stick in my mind as great fun regardless, like Mr. Grinder's bits of angry singing (That is, all of his singing); Thomas Brown trying to stop everyone kneeling to him and failing to give a speech; some other nice songs as well. But there are other bits which I just don't think I would have enjoyed if they'd been directed more traditionally and less playfully.

Oh, one point on a joke we put in which I was shocked and dismayed to find not everyone understood - at a mention of an armadillo, there was produced a packet of Dime bars (Yes, they changed the spelling to 'Daim', but I think that's stupid). This is why.

Trial By Jury

Rapid summary - Angelina/the Plaintiff (Soprano) is suing Edwin/the Defendant (Tenor) for breach of promise of marriage. The Usher (Baritone) struggles to keep the court in order and silence. Edwin explains he doesn't want to marry Angelina because he's fallen in love with somebody else, gets no sympathy. The Judge (Comic baritone) explains how he became a judge - currying favour with a rich attorney by courting his elderly, ugly daughter, then leaving her as soon as he was rich and successful. The Plaintiff arrives and everyone male instantly falls in love with her. The Counsel for the Plaintiff (Traditionally high baritone but often turned into a mezzo nowadays, including in our production) lays out the details of how the Defendant is a deceitful scumbag. The Defendant, after trying to explain himself further, offers as a compromise to marry Angelina today and marry his new lover tomorrow, but according to the Counsel, "To marry two at once is burglaree!" A nice dilemma. Angelina plays up her feelings for Edwin, making more of her loss so she'll get more money in damages; Edwin counters by explaining he's not that much of a loss as he's a terrible person and would probably beat her when he got drunk. Surprisingly enough, no-one really likes the Judge's suggestion that they get him drunk and find out. Finally, tired of the  proceedings, the Judge simply declares that he will marry her himself!

Our Trial was updated to modern times and had some characterisations played about with a bit. Edwin, rather than being the dastardly cad he usually is, was instead a nice young man easily flustered and overwhelmed, leading to him saying stupid things (Like "I'll marry both of them!" and "I'd probably get drunk and hit her or something!") In contrast Angelina didn't care about him at all, but was just playing it up to get money from him. The Counsel and the Usher were both idiots, of different sorts, and... well, I suppose the Judge being generally bored with the proceedings is traditional enough, but I think we made more of it, and of him not really paying attention to what was going on, than most productions you would likely come across.

The downside of Trial as a show is it's hard not to make it rather static. I mean, it all takes place in a courtroom, people don't generally jump up and start dancing around during a trial. Certainly our jury, between the opening chorus and the finale, basically just sat there, occasionally standing up in respect or anger, and kneeling at one point to be sworn in. And in general, even the characters who do get up to do things will most likely have directions along the lines of "Move to here. Act. Now move to here and act some more. Now sit down for ten minutes getting bored, and fall asleep." (Obviously that's not verbatim - no-one actually timed how long I was sitting there before falling asleep...)

I suppose in contrast to above I should try to figure out what it is about Trial that makes me like it more than Zoo. The music's more complicated and interesting - while I did get bits of it stuck in my head from time to time, it didn't generally annoy me. I like the humour of it more. I guess I think it's cleverer. Depends less on ridiculously over the top melodrama and more on typical Gilbertian topsy-turviness and hypocrisy (The Usher saying "From bias free of every kind, this trial must be tried," meanwhile displaying an obvious bias towards Angelina over Edwin; the Judge basically explaining over the course of his entrance that he is guilty of exactly the same crime that Edwin is accused of, etc). To be honest, on my hypothetical ranking of G&S shows, Trial probably falls near the bottom, though that may just be because it's shorter than the others and has no lib. Given that it has no lib, I suppose the fact the music is so good is pretty important.

...I'm running out of things to say so I'm just going to throw some photos in here:


Monday, 13 May 2013

Toffee in rehearsals, toffee backstage, toffee at the after-show!

To have it supposed that you care for nothing but toffee... I can't be bothered to keep going with the quote, but I was recently in a production of Patience.
...I've actually taken long enough writing this show post that I've been in another show since. In my defence, there were only two weeks between the two shows, and one of the reasons this post took so long to write is that I had to keep rushing out to rehearsals. Anyway. Patience.

Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride, was originally planned to be about two rival curates, but Gilbert after a while turned them into poets and the opera became a satire on the craze for the aesthetic movement. It's probably one of the shows directors are most fond of updating, because the aesthetic craze can be easily analogised to a more modern craze. Replace the poets with popstars or something.
Of course, I've mentioned Patience on this blog before, when I talked about a production I went to see, in which for some unknown reason they decided to backdate it instead of updating it... it didn't really work for me. The production I was in left it in the original setting, and was much better.

Dramatis Personae

Colonel Calverley - Baritone. Fairly standard gruff army officer. Leads the chorus of dragoons.

Major Murgatroyd - Baritone. Basically just a lesser version of the Colonel.

Lieutenant the Duke of Dunstable - Tenor. Joined the regiment of dragoons because he was sick of people flattering him all the time because he feels he doesn't deserve it. This is the part I played, and my inspiration for the way I did it was part generic excessively posh simpering fop, and part Eeyore. He's sad about everything!

Reginald Bunthorne (A fleshly poet) - Comic Baritone. Secretly doesn't actually like poetry, just likes being adored by women. Gloomy, moody, fitful, uncertain in temper and selfish in disposition. Very egotistical. A bit like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, actually.

Archibald Grosvenor (An idyllic poet) - Lyric Baritone. Rather self-absorbed and vain without realising it - so many people have told him he's perfectly beautiful that he believes it to be an objective fact. Doesn't actually like being adored by every woman he meets because he's in love with Patience, but sees it as his duty to make them happy in this way.

Mr. Bunthorne's Solicitor - Silent. Walks on in the act 1 finale to conduct a raffle with Bunthorne as the prize. Leaves once the plot moves on.

Ladies Angela, Saphir and Ella (Rapturous maidens) - Mezzo, Mezzo, Soprano. Dedicated followers of the fashion for aesthetic poetry, and therefore of Bunthorne, until Grosvenor arrives. As Patience observes, none of the women are particularly happy about being in love.

Lady Jane - Alto. The one maiden who doesn't abandon Bunthorne for Grosvenor. Clearly aware of and concerned about the decay of her personal charms with age. While the other maidens are more likely to gaze adoringly at their poet of choice, and maybe swoon elegantly, Jane tends to be more forceful.

Patience (A dairy maid) - Soprano. Simple, but not necessarily stupid, and may in fact have more common sense than most of the rest of the cast.

So. Plot. Dragoons love women. Women love poet. Poet loves milkmaid. Milkmaid (Patience) hasn't loved anyone since she was four years old. In fact, she doesn't even know what love is. On being told that love is "of all passions the most essential" and that it must be unselfish, she concludes that she has to fall in love as soon as possible. Unfortunately, though she does re-meet her childhood sweetheart (Grosvenor, another poet), she reasons that since he's so incredibly beautiful and everything, falling in love with him would be incredibly selfish, so to be unselfish she must instead fall in love with someone she doesn't actually like - Bunthorne (The first poet). Bunthorne and Patience are together, women with the exception of Lady Jane fall in love with Grosvenor, Bunthorne is annoyed, dragoons are still annoyed, Grosvenor's unhappy, end act 1.
Act 2, after much faffing on worrying about who's in love with who and who will marry which women given Grosvenor doesn't want any of them. Bunthorne, in an attempt to get the women to like him again instead of Grosvenor, forces Grosvenor to become a commonplace young man. Unfortunately it backfires, the women reasoning that if Grosvenor doesn't want to be aesthetic any more, they don't either. Since he's no longer a perfect beauty, Patience can love him without it being selfish. Finally, the Duke declares his intention to marry Jane in the spirit of fairness, since she's the only one of the women who isn't beautiful, thus leaving Bunthorne with no-one.

I've omitted some important details, like the three officers attempting to become aesthetic to win back the ladies,
 the fact that Bunthorne never had a mother, though he did have an aunt,

 magnets, eyeglasses in oculars, and so on. Thing is, they don't actually impact the plot particularly in the long run. They're just funny.
I was actually realising at some point during the rehearsal process that if I had to rank the G&S shows in order of preference, Patience would probably be somewhere towards the bottom of the list. Though of course it must be noted that this is all relative - I love all the shows rather a lot, unlike many other G&S enthusiasts I know who all seem to have one or two that they just don't. And then, this production in particular I thought there might have been some issues, maybe things would go wrong, etc. But then, pretty much in the week of the show, suddenly everything was amazing and it was some of the most fun I've ever had doing G&S.


OK, so an interesting thought I had about Patience, which wasn't so much a thing in this production, but if I were to direct it myself I might try to play with this idea - the most actually aesthetic person in the show is debatably the Duke. Bunthorne isn't aesthetic, he's just pretending to be to make women like him. The women aren't really aesthetic, they just pretend to be to make poets like them. Grosvenor... his poetry really isn't all that. I like to think that adoring women just assumed he was a poet because he's so beautiful, and he just believed them. On the other hand, the Duke's whole spiel about how he doesn't deserve all this adulation and too much toffee becomes so awful; to me, at least, this seems reminiscent of Bunthorne's spiel about how everything is hollow, except the Duke really believes it and doesn't realise it could be kind of poetic. The Duke was probably brought up too much thinking that poetry was wishy-washy and effeminate or whatever and so he wouldn't go for it but instead would try to do something more appropriately manly like joining a second-class cavalry regiment. I may have put a slightly excessive amount of thought into this, but it was interesting, and I had nothing in particular to do on a metro journey home after rehearsal.

I'm sure I had more things to say about this show... oh, a kind of interesting thing is that the last time I did this show, four years ago, I auditioned for the same 3 parts that I did this time (Bunthorne, Grosvenor, Duke). I think in most cases I've gotten more interested in other parts than I would've wanted back then when I was still fairly new to G&S. I don't know if there's anything particularly insightful about that, if it says anything about the show, it just suddenly struck me just now.
I'm trying to think if there's anything more about the show I can really talk about... I don't know if there is. I guess one of the reasons it would (as I said further up) probably be lowish on my list of favourites is because there's nothing that makes it particularly stand out - it's not long and in need of cutting, it's not viewed as problematic in subject matter at all, it's just your standard "this is a G&S". All you really need to do with it is decide on how to play things out. Bring out the comedy primarily, other emotions also, have fun with it.

Oh, though not certain, it's certainly plausible and fairly well speculated that Gilbert changed his mind about how he wanted the romances to play out partway through the show - it seems obvious that one should pair up all the major principals, so the Duke would have Ella and Bunthorne would have Jane, who never abandoned him. But instead the Duke chooses Jane and Ella is kind of forgotten about and marries the Solicitor. So one thinks, maybe Gilbert just partway through thought "Actually, wouldn't it be funnier if the Duke married Jane and left Bunthorne with nobody?" and changed it.
Of course, it's even a bit more problematic in amateur societies, when the women outnumber the men and yet somehow there still isn't anyone left for Bunthorne. As a sort of related sidenote, Patience is also one of the few shows with lyrics specifying the number of chorus members, throwing up similar issues since most societies can't actually find exactly twenty lovesick maidens to put on stage.

Oh, and one more thing: Bunthorne is not Oscar Wilde. This is a popular misconception, apparently. Wilde was certainly part of the aesthetic movement Patience was satirising, and indeed the most famous member of it now. And apparently D'Oyly Carte got him to do an American lecture tour to make sure the American audiences would understand it (Poor benighted yanks not understanding Gilbert's brilliance/British humour in general...) But Bunthorne is his own character, blah blah etc, Wilde may be an easy association but he's not the character.

Is there more stuff? Maybe tomorrow I'll remember loads of other things I wanted to say about Patience and be annoyed that I forgot them. Wait, wait. OK, I remembered the two paragraphs right above this bit and threw them in. Maybe I've still forgotten things, but if so it'll be less things now. Whatever, I have another show post to write already, and some not-show posts. Farewell, Patience! Patience, farewell!