The Gondoliers — English National Opera

It would seem that the
production has taken a while to come together — fortunately the result is a funny, well-sung,
polished family show.

Ashley Martin-Davis’s primary-coloured 1950s stage and costume designs, lit by Paul Pyant,
were sunny, fresh and cheerful with an air of La dolce vita. It certainly provided easy escapism
from a rainy evening in London in early March! After a slightly weak start, partly the fault of the
piece itself, a young and elegant cast brought to life the gondolieri and contadine roles. Toby
Stafford-Allen’s red-blooded Giuseppe offset the campery of the chorus choreography, and as
Marco, David Curry gave a sincere performance despite not being especially strong of voice (it
was a shame that conductor Richard Balcombe didn’t give him a little more flexibility in ‘Take a
pair of sparkling eyes’).

They were partnered by Sarah Tynan’s delightful and poised Giannetta, and Stephanie Marshall’s
beautifully-sung Tessa (though she did not seem entirely comfortable in the role).

The one new member of the cast (since the show opened in December) was Henry Goodman —
a hugely likeable comic actor — as the Duke of Plaza-Toro. At his side, Ann Murray was an
imperious Duchess, while Rebecca Bottone’s haughty and limpid-toned Casilda was well-matched with Robert Murray’s ardent Luiz.

The characters in this operetta live in two very different worlds — three if you count the land of
Barataria for which the crown is up for grabs — and the single lynch-pin is Don Alhambra del
Bolero, the bloodthirsty and lecherous Grand Inquisitor of Spain. Donald Maxwell delivered his
dialogue with lip-smacking relish.

The show was practically stolen almost at the end by Deborah Davison’s Inez, who in eight lines
of recitative made a greater comic impression than any principal singer besides Donald Maxwell.
The chorus were near-impeccable throughout, with tidy choreography and poised phrasing.

Following their disastrous attempt at The Pirates of Penzance a couple of seasons ago, hopes
were tentatively high that ENO’s latest Gilbert and Sullivan production might prove a hit to rival
Jonathan Miller’s perennially popular staging of The Mikado. While I can’t say that this
Gondoliers quite reaches that level, it is an infectiously enjoyable production with a high-quality
ensemble cast. This is the sort of show that ENO should be best at. I hope there will be more
where this came from.

Ruth Elleson © 2007

image_description=The Gondoliers — English National Opera
product_title=The Gondoliers — English National Opera
London, 2 March 2007