Musical favourites at the 29th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom The 29th International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival [3] – The Best of Gilbert & Sullivan Concert: Simon Butteriss (narrator and baritone), Gaynor Keeble (mezzo-soprano), Phoebe Smith (soprano), Jack Roberts (tenor), Matthew Siveter (baritone), National Festival Orchestra / Murray Hipkin (conductor). Opera House, Buxton, 4.8.2023. (RJW)

The Best of Gilbert & Sullivan: (l-r) Jack Roberts, Phoebe Smith, Simon Butteriss, Gaynor Keeble and Matthew Siveter © Jane Stokes

From time to time, over the years the Festival has been running, we are provided with an opportunity to see the wonderful Festival Orchestra as they really are and not hidden in the theatre pit all evening. Some years back they presented the more obscure of Sullivan pieces, but this year they devoted the evening to the chestnuts of the Savoy operas. Murray Hipkin conducted with confidence and good tempi.

Five soloists of the National Gilbert & Sullivan Company filled the evening with a kaleidoscope of numbers from the popular operas and the orchestra added an overture interlude. The quality of musicianship from this medium-sized orchestra is outstanding — never a late entry or wrong note has been heard in all the years of attending the Festival, now in its 30th year.

The bright opening by Jack Roberts and Matthew Siveter as republican kings gave an energetic performance of ‘We’re called Gondolieri’. The quartet, ‘Brightly dawns our Wedding Day’ was delightful with an excellent balance of voices. Outstanding was Phoebe Smith’s rendering of ‘Poor Wandering One’ with her addition of a very high cadence at the close of the aria.

The Fairy Queen’s aria, with its touch of dry humour about Captain Shaw, was boldly sung by Gaynor Keeble. It was particularly charming and sensitively accompanied. Phoebe Smith gave a powerful rendering of Princess Ida’s exalting aria of homage to Minerva, ‘O goddess wise’, in Act II. Likewise, Dr Daly’s aria from The Sorcerer was elegantly sung with crisp diction by Matthew Siveter to Sullivan’s serene setting. Simon Butteriss and Siveter added amusement when they had the audience eating out of their hand when asked to join in as a chorus.

In contrast to the respectful, silent auditorium experienced in the earlier production of The Pirates of Penzance (review here) we became aware of odd murmurs from time to time as certain members of the audience wanted their neighbour to know they knew the music; no foot-tapping luckily, but irritating humming all the same. Perhaps the request to make sure mobiles were turned off should be extended in theatres.

The evening was well planned with excellent narration linking the operas by Simon Butteriss who explained the background between the operas and recalled some very interesting anecdotes that supporters of G&S always love to hear. His patter songs were faultless and I particularly liked his fast-paced ‘My name is John Wellington Wells’. The slick stage business enjoyed in The Yeomen of the Guard’s ‘Tell a tale of Cock and Bull’ was a brilliant idea. Another nice touch was the backdrop of a myriad of stars on the cyclorama that colour-changed to match the mood of the item being sung.

Raymond J Walker

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