The Troupers Light Opera gave lower Fairfield County a real treat this past weekend: Gilbert and Sullivan’s infrequently performed Ruddigore, a diamond in the rough if ever there was one. It is performed again this Saturday, April 13. Don’t miss it!
Okay, it’s not the big three of H.M.S. Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado,* but it’s infrequently performed for reasons other than its quality. Even compared to the aforementioned top-shelf trio, Ruddigore has an excellent score (it’s a long time favorite of mine) and a plot that is totally Gilbert, albeit not without small snags. Plus, this season Troupers will perform a version of Ruddigore more closely tied to the original 1887 version.**
The Troupers’ cast for Ruddigore is very strong this year, practically hand-picked for their roles. As in seasons past, Brett Kroeger is a master of voice, character, and wit. Her portrayal of Rose Maybud, who is the central love interest here, tacks variously with the emotional winds, though in each direction, short lived as it may be, she is genuinely sincere. Rose is often more erudite than her circumstances as an orphan suggest (Gilbert’s dialogue) and more sentimental and honest (through Sullivan’s music), despite of some of the silly things she comes out with (again, Gilbert’s dialogue). Kroeger’s stage presence is always in the moment, emotions always up front, giving three dimensions to a potentially two dimensional character. Brava!
The man who really loves her, Robin Oakapple (aka Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, bad baronet of Ruddigore), is deftly played by Michael Constantino. Rich in voice and focused in character, Constantino brings more voice to this Grossmith role*** than one usually encounters on stage. Robin is not quite as silly as Ko Ko nor as mushy as Bunthorne nor as stiff as the Lord Chancelor, but rather he is a gentleman with a little problem (painful shyness) and a big problem too (the curse on the lords of Ruddigore hangs over his head, forcing him into disguise). Constantino does exasperation well. But he loves Rose and in the end all will be good. Bravo and welcome!
The other man who “loves” her is Richard Dauntless. He is Robin’s foster brother and a sailor on a Man-o-war who returns after a 10 year absence. Dauntless is energetically sung (and danced) by Erick Sanchez-Canahuate. He captures the energy and waywardness of his character, a man of excessive good cheer, a womanizer, supportive of others when it suits him, but not opposed to a little betrayal now and then. Sanchez-Canahuate brings broad smiles throughout the evening; director Kevin Miller keeps him moving constantly. Bravo and welcome!
Sir Despard Murgatroyd, a wicked Baronet of Ruddigore, is darkly portrayed by Ben Hoyer, also a welcome newcomer to Troupers. Again, as with the three above, Hoyer is strong in voice and in character. Especially well handled is Despard’s transformation from the wild and wicked Baronet at the end of Act I to a quietly settled, mild mannered man in black who, with his new wife Margaret, is making do at normalcy, such as it is.
Marian Shulman’s Mad Margaret is quirky and scatterbrained, but it doesn’t take away from her wit-wandering Scena Cheerily carols the lark and her touching Ballad To a garden full of posies in Act I. It’s a favorite solo of mine in the whole G & S repertory.
Wendy Falconer is Dame Hannah, Rose’s Aunt, who was jilted years ago when the curse of Ruddigore sweeps away Sir Roderic Murgatroyd. She sets the background of the curse in her first solo, but it is in her simple Ballad There grew a little flower that she touches our hearts. In this she is joined by the shade of Roderic, bringing some closure to her sadness.
Long time Trouper John Matilaine is a mellow, not terribly menacing Sir Roderic Murgatroyd, the twenty-first Baronet of Ruddigore, long deceased. He comes to life twice: first to check on Sir Ruthven’s list of crimes, after singing the grand When the night wind howls, and second to see what all the rumpus is. Oh, Robin, now Sir Ruthven, has kidnapped Dame Hannah as one of his required crimes each day. Hannah and Roddy-doddy, as she calls Roderic were once engaged, which is why he joins her in There grew a little flower.
Frank Sisson plays gentle Old Adam Goodheart, Robin’s faithful steward, hearing trumpet and all. Gisella Surapine is a fetching Zorah, one of the Professional Bridesmaids. Apart from her solo in the opening number, Zorah gets the standout question to Robin “Who is the wretch who hath betrayed thee? Let him stand forth!” in the finale of Act I. Big moment well executed. Welcome to Troupers! Pia Romano returns to sing Ruth.
There was dancing, choreographed by Tiffany Williams, who also danced, joined by Neil Flores.
Though the sets for Act I of this Ruddigore are serviceable, appearing even more so on the bare stage of the Norwalk Concert Hall, Act II’s Portrait Gallery, the frames from which the ghosts of bad baronets past appear, is quite effective: the portraits were of the Troupers themselves, not simply approximations of a face, such that any player wearing the same costume could suffice. The effect is well done, despite the realities of lighting in the Norwark Concert Hall.
As to that, obvious in the photos, the costumes are sumptuous and colorful, thanks to Lea Kessler Shaw and Marian Shulman.
Kevin Miller’s direction keeps the action moving, in spite of Gilbert’s less than concise dialogue.**** Miller rounds out the characters and chorus members with signature expressions and behaviors. The ghosts, who are distinguished by costume as well, have their own identities.
Barring a few out-of-synch moments between sections of the orchestra, Erik Kramer led the wonderful music of Ruddigore with fine sense of forward progression. Sullivan’s scores never sag, nor should they ever.
The phrase ‘you never know when they’ll do this one again’ is oft spoken after a performance of one of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas on the third shelf, where Ruddigore, like the half hidden violet amidst the roses, sits. In the Troupers’ seventy-four seasons, the first being 1946, the Company has performed it six times, 2019 being the seventh time. Obvious wise advice: don’t miss it this time around.
Troupers Light Opera will perform Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse at the Norwalk Concert Hall, located on 125 East Avenue in Norwalk, Connecticut, on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Matinees are @ 2:30, Evenings are @ 7:30. Ample free parking is available.
For tickets please visit the Troupers Website: trouperlightopera.org or call 800-838-3006.
* Please reference OM’s preview of this season’s Ruddigore in the post below this one.
** The first performance of Ruddigore at the Savoy Theatre in January of 1887 didn’t go well. G, S, and DC has withdrawn The Mikado, there were boos from the Balcony, Bloody-gore, etc. Gilbert complained to Sullivan that, among other things, George Grossmith’s Recitative Away Remorse! and the ensuing Song For thirty five years I’ve been sober and wary didn’t seem to work. By eleven days after the premiere, Gilbert had crafted a second version of the Song, this time Henceforth all the crimes that I find in the Times. In the first D’Oyly Carte revival of Ruddigore in 1920 neither version of the song was used, and so for the rest of time, until recently. The TER recording of the music and numbers from the premiere production includes For thirty five years; I forget which version Troupers used in Gayden Wren’s Ruddigore in 2003; this season Michael Constantino chose Henceforth all the crimes, but, as this is appropriate in our political climate today, he added an updated set of verses at the end. Quite funny and on target.
*** George Grossmith was an entertainer who came to D’Oyly Carte to play John Wellington Wells in the premiere run Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer in 1877. Energized by its success, Gilbert and Sullivan wrote H.M.S. Pinafore with many of The Sorcerer’s cast, or at least ‘types’ in mind, cementing the musical character for the comic baritone (Sir Joseph, Major General Stanley, Bunthorne, the Lord Chancellor, King Gama, Ko Ko, and, in Ruddigore, Robin). To Sullivan’s frequent frustration, Grossmith, apparently, did not have much of singing voice.
**** Ruddigore seems more wordy than the other G & S libretti, which would explain why the first act is on long side. My deadline demands preclude doing the math necessary to calculate the ratio of dialogue to music and compare it with the others.
Enjoy! Support your local opera and young singers! OM