Good Balance between Orchestra and Singers in Princess Ida

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Gilbert & Sullivan, Princess Ida: Peak Opera / Richard Baker (conductor), Ian Henderson (director),  Buxton Gilbert & Sullivan Festival, Opera House, Buxton, 31.7.2013 (RJW)

"We will defy them" Photo credit: Charles Smith
“We will defy them”
Photo credit: Charles Smith


David Craig … King Hildebrand
Celia Craig … Queen Clothilde
Harry Bagnall … Hilarion
Matthew Hughes … Cyril
Liam Geohegan … Florian
Ian Henderson King Gama
James Coleman … Arac
Adam Bishop … Guron
Kimmo Eriksson … Scynthius
Helen Clutterbuck … Princess Ida
Angela Lowe … Lady Blanche
Lucy Appleyard … Lady Psyche
Caroline Taylor … Melissa
Augusta Lees … Sacharissa
Mary Clare … Chloe

It occurs to me that this Festival must be somewhat unique. A number of its amateur performing groups that reappear each year for adjudication, like Oxbridge, Savoynet, and Peak, will arrive in Buxton a week beforehand to plan and rehearse their one-night performance. This is made possible because the Festival committee makes available rehearsal space, scenery, and costumes where required. And the performers come from far and wide. Here, Peak Opera, as one such group.

An impactful opening scene of King Hildebrand’s Pavilion revealed an appealing, well-dressed set by the festival’s scenic artist, Paul Lazell. Colourfully attired courtiers provided a lovely stage picture for a well sung first number, “Search throughout the panorama”. Hilarion, Cyril and Florian worked well as a team, and in “Gently, gently, evidently”  were nicely measured in their exposure to the bewildered girls of Castle Adamant. The interaction between Lady Blanche and Melissa concerning the new girls (one unusually a baritone and another smoking cigars) was nicely played, Blanche speaking with a French accent. She sang her usually omitted song, “Come mighty must” with appropriate strength.

Star of the show was soprano Helen Clutterbuck’s Princess Ida. She had a strong voice and believable command over the company: her singing was utterly delightful, and she held her top notes effortlessly in Sullivan’s ensemble pieces. Ida’s encounter with the ‘new’ girls had the right balance of tone though maybe they were so closely placed that their transvestism should have been recognisable by any woman of intelligence.  The quartet, “The world is but a broken toy”  was superbly sung. Melissa’s excitable charm was endearing when confronted by her mother and earlier when recognising her brother with his companions.

It made good sense to have the students sitting down in a formation of an open air tutorial. The neat and swift preparation for what became an ornate picnic lunch was well achieved. Perhaps clearing away could have been delayed as the time given to eating was sure to bring indigestion or leave the chorus starving. Here, the properties were numerous and authentic in detail. Cyril’s drunken episode was a bit over the top for the mild shock of surprise it generated amongst the girls, and made his fast recovery somewhat artificial.

Correctly dressed in genuine armour, the three bold sons of Gama were a focus of attention with exaggerated height difference and huge swords wielded, nearly as big as one of them. All good singers, the velvety bass toned Arac (James Coleman) sang well in the Handelian “This helmet, I suppose”. I liked Gama’s vicious tongue in his scene with Hilarion, Cyril and Florian (Gilbert’s scriptwriting at its best). Ian Henderson’s performance as the irritable and twisted King Gama was well paced. King Hildebrand was convincingly authoritative, but his lack of vocal strength, especially in the Act II finale, was unfortunate.

The music was in the very capable hands of Richard Baker and the balance between orchestra and cast was spot on (unlike some of the performances this week where there was a tendency to drown the singing). I liked many aspects of this production and, apart from its good direction, the enthusiasm of the cast was clearly evident.

Raymond J Walker