United Kingdom Gilbert & Sullivan, The Grand Duke: Manchester University Gilbert & Sullivan Society / James Hendry, (conductor), Buxton G&S Festival, Pavilion Theatre, Buxton, England, 28.7.2013 (RJW)
Grand Duke Rudolph – Ben Freeburn
Ernest Dummkopf – Sebastian Freeburn
Ludwig – Jono Miles
Dr Tannhauser, Notary – Scott Sharp
Prince of Monte Carlo – Michael Clarke
Ben Hashbaz – Rob Chilton
Herald – Andrew Green
Princess of Monte Carlo – Freya Turton
Baroness von Krakenfeldt – Laura Hill
Julia Jellicoe – Meinir Wyn Roberts
Lisa – Elizabeth Barry
Elsa – Olivia O’Connell
Choreographer – Vicki Newton
Director – Joel Fisher
This performance was of the Manchester University production staged in March 2013. See (full review.) It is good to have this production brought to the Festival as it links well with the professional production staged last summer and is the only version of this opera, the last of the G&S canon, to be seen. The newish Pavilion theatre is not the best of venues for acoustics and a cast has to work hard to have their words reach the back of the circle. Also backstage space is severely limited yet they got around the structural difficulties without any noticeable problem.
What I did notice in this performance was the superior confidence shown by the company and the much stronger projection of their voices. Yet they were out to enjoy themselves and this enthusiasm warmed the audience to appreciate the well-devised activity on stage. Two of the original cast had been replaced for this performance and so it was good to see that their singing was confident and strong. It is clear that the smooth-running of the Acts was due to thorough recent rehearsal.
An Act II trio With wily brain for Rudolph, Ernest and the Notary (unnoticeably dropped in from Utopia’s No.20) blended well with the development of the plot and was excellently delivered, particularly since the orchestra fell apart in the opening bars. Yet the cast sang in the right key and kept things going without any stage hiccup until the band recovered. This is hard to achieve and points to the thoroughness of rehearsing which I understand was a solid two weeks beforehand. Bravo!
Although the Buxton audiences know G&S inside out, casual conversation showed that they had not noticed that the libretto had been skillfully edited to give a more meaningful plot, and if any noticed the Utopia insertion then nothing was commented on in earshot of me. The editing had been brilliantly carried out by Joel Fisher, the director, and it does him credit that nobody had spotted the changes, which usefully shortened this over-long and complex opera.
To bring to Buxton a large composite set and redress the production for one performance was a big and expensive undertaking for students who by this time are often scattered to the four corners of the kingdom for the summer recess.
Raymond J Walker