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:


1 comment:

  1. I found that I didn't really understand either show until I watched them. Even then there were bits that I noticed left or not explained but this is the main issue with short, solely music shows. If there was lib they could easily and quickly explain away things but owel.
    I agree with The Zoo sticking in your head more and looping although I got a loop that combined the two. Don't remember which lines but THAT was bothersome!

    ALSO sad first picture is sad! :(

    You were all fabulous and despite that the rehearsal schedual being too much for me to cope with I am super jealous I wasn't on stage with all you guys! Looking forward to fluting in Buxton though :D x