Pushing the boat out for festival

G& S Opera Company perform The Gondoliers
G& S Opera Company perform The Gondoliers
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It’s not easy to please both traditionalists and newcomers to the Gilbert & Sullivan canon who might expect something a little more up to date – but Jeff Clarke’s production of The Gondoliers for the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company at the International Festival in Buxton last weekend came very close.

It’s not easy to please both traditionalists and newcomers to the Gilbert & Sullivan canon who might expect something a little more up to date – but Jeff Clarke’s production of The Gondoliers for the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company at the International Festival in Buxton last weekend came very close.

Mostly it followed the conventional path; the libretto was left unaltered, aside from one brief nod to the Olympics opening ceremony. But Gilbert’s delicious humour was supplemented by quirky touches like flower arrangements which spelled the gondoliers’ names, half a king’s costume each when they became joint monarchs, and nursemaid Inez (Hilary Glenny) in chains straight from the torture chamber.

A professional opera company can’t afford to compromise on voice quality, and this one certainly didn’t. It’s a demanding show with 16 principal players; even the smallest of the minor roles was note-perfect, and the chorus gave full measure too.

It’s unfair to pick out a few members of a classy and accomplished cast, but experience showed in the consummate performances of seasoned stagers like Jill Pert and Donald Maxwell (the Duchess of Plaza-Toro and Don Alhambra).

Not that they upstaged the younger element. In particular, Victoria Byron‘s comic timing and creamy contralto breathed life into would-be queen Tessa. And Daniel Hoadley’s Luiz, often a thankless role, was a refreshingly down to earth contrast to the poseur gondoliers in gangster shades and fashion statement jackets.

The ever-popular Cachuca was like something out of Strictly Come Dancing – professional dancers showed the way, then everyone else joined in with variable results, all no doubt carefully choreographed, and highly entertaining.

The festival closes on Sunday.

LYNNE PATRICK