In spite of its performance history*, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore is a top shelf light opera. It has a unique sound picture within G & S, more characters prone to melancholy, it’s true, and then the ghosts, let’s not forget the ghosts. Happily Ruddigore is performed in Norwalk at the Norwalk Concert Hall by the Troupers Light Opera on two Saturdays, April 6 and 13, a matinee and evening performance on each. Details below.
OperaMetro (OM) talked with soprano Brett Kroeger (BK), who sings Rose Maybud, an eligible young woman with, get this, a troupe of professional bridesmaids on hand every day just in case anybody’s going to marry her. Village employees, these, sure beats being on the dole. Also Director Kevin Miller (KM), who returns to the Troupers after a successful production of the PC Mikado last season. Just got a call from Jim Cooper (JC), who might stop in if he gets a break from multitasking.
Heavy gray skies. As we speak a gentle but persistent chilly mist blows in over Cornwall from the sea. A pub in Rederring: this calls for a hot toddy or a cup of grog...Well, the gray skies part is true today…but we’re speaking through emails, our busy schedules being what they are.
OM: Hello Brett and Kevin!
BK and KM: Hello!
OM: So, Ruddigore this season. Tell me about Ruddigore. Kevin, by the way, nice Company debut with Mikado last season. Congratulations!
KM: Thank you!
OM: Sorry I missed the opportunity to talk with you then. That was your first G & S?
KM: Yes, first opera actually. My background is in musical theater, Broadway especially, a lot of Broadway. Mikado was a jump into a different world. I was recruited by Frank Sisson, a musician whom I’ve known for many years.
OM: First impressions?
KM: Sullivan’s music, Gilbert’s lyrics and dialog, wow! Gilbert has a daunting sense of wit and humor. Through Mikado last season I began to form verbal and musical images of their style. And now for Ruddigore, I’ve again taken a long look at the text and lyrics in the libretto and how Sullivan sets these lyrics to music. You have to get a sense of how they think and create.
OM: It is a unique style within a genre.
KM: Yes, very intelligent, but economic too. And it just begs for accents.
KM: Yes, actions on stage related to the text and accented by the music.
KM: As a kid I was very much into films. I still love films, but even then I was aware of how the best film composers would enhance or accent the actions and dialog on screen with their scores. The G & S operas just beg a director to take advantage of the opportunities for such accents.
OM: In live opera you’re working with a different breed of singer from that of Broadway, in addition to a different type of text and score. Your experiences so far?
KM: I should say that actually this is my third opera. In between Mikado and now Ruddigore I did Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, a collaboration of the Troupers with The American Chamber Orchestra.
OM: I was sorry to have missed that. Schedule conflicts.
KM: The biggest difference is the voices and what goes into producing that sound. I’m struck by how awesome the singing is, how well trained the singers are here with Troupers. Sometimes in rehearsals I have to stop and just listen. I’m learning too that some stage business may work for some singers but not quite fit others, so that what seems like an inspiration is not a really good idea with a particular singer in the current production. This said, the cast members in the Company are wonderful, willing to work on things, willing to take risks, but also willing to give me feedback so we can reach a common ground.
OM: It showed in your Mikado. That’s your cue, Brett. Good to have you again!
BK: Thank you, great to be back.
OM: So this year it’s Rose Maybud. Tell me about Rose Maybud.
BK: (laughing): Well, to be honest, my relationship with Rose has not been easy. Vocally, she’s lovely, no problem, but she is, well, shallow, don’t you think? I mean, she’s pressured from the beginning to be married, and by the end of Act I she’s said ‘yes’ to the man she really loves, Robin Oakapple, a pledge that holds until his true identity as the bad baronet of Ruddigore is revealed at their wedding ceremony. Already in her bridal gown and wasting no time, she then looks to Despard Murgatroyd, who’s just been released from the terrible curse of Ruddigore. She says “Take me—I am thy bride!” But he’s already reunited with Mad Margaret, the woman he ditched when he became a bad baronet. So to Richard Dauntless, a sailor who, for about ten minutes, was her suitor earlier in the Act, she sings “Thou art the only one that’s left, so I am thine!” All the while the Chorus of Bridesmaids sings “Hail the bridegroom, hail the Bride!”
OM: Fast thinking, Maybud! You have to admire that!
BK: But I am not she, is the point.
OM: So you sometimes speak even when not spoken to?
OM: You sometimes say ‘who’ when you should say ‘whom’?
BK: Doesn’t everyone?
OM: Good point! But as to that, though, you’ll agree that having a Chorus of Bridesmaids following Rose around day after day, singing at you before you’re fully awake even, does put an undo amount of pressure for her to wed, yes?
BK: Good point, indeed that would be pressure. Truth is that as the rehearsals progress I’m enjoying her details more and more: I love her quirky insistence on etiquette and her correcting mistakes of grammar, and Kevin is working with me to round out her character a bit more. He brings so much energy to our performances.
***The lights dim. At this point, OperaMetro breaks the fourth wall and addresses you, the gentle reader, directly, rather like the omniscient narrator in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones.
Similar to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or the Monty Python skits, most of Gilbert’s tales with Sullivan have a central absurdity, a knot to be untied or at least dealt with. It could be that infants of different ranks are switched at birth or that a young fellow has an overripe sense of duty and a birthday on February 29, and so on. In the case of Ruddigore, due to the bad behavior of an ancestor, specifically Sir Rupert Murgatroyd, who’s leisure was burning witches at the stake, brought down a curse on the House of Ruddigore. Each lord of Ruddigore must commit a crime every day or, if at last overwhelmed by guilt, die an agonizing death. Noncompliance clause. After his death the curse passes to the next in line.
So far so good, right, me lad? But even more absurd than this is the twist that Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, next in line for the curse when his father passes in agony, has disappeared, like into thin air, leaving the curse to fall on his younger brother Despard. Ruthven, in fact, lives in disguise in the village of Rederring under the name of Robin Oakapple, a young farmer, raised with his foster brother Richard Dauntless. Now I ask you, gentle reader, how could a curse so freakin’ terrible, so automatic in its succession from victim to victim, let someone escape its deathly clutches simply by disguising himself as a farmer and living in the bloody seaside village right straight below Castle Ruddigore? And yet, it’s funny.
Has to get this point out!***
OM: I think there’s someone at the door. Walking to the door, remarking I remember…It’s Jim Cooper! Hello Jim.
OM: I was just about to say that Frank Sisson informed me that Troupers is planning to perform Ruddigore with its original 1887 overture, not the one we usually hear.** If this, then Troupers must be doing at least some of the original but longer Act II, second verse of “Happily coupled” and Robin’s patter song, for two. The music for Robin’s patter song is in that original overture.
JC: Frank is right: we have returned to original material and are using the original overture, written from Sullivan’s sketches by Hamilton Clarke, rather than the 1920 Toye overture, and the original Act II Finale. There are also a few extra measures here and there throughout.
OM: I knew the original material existed. Troupers tackled some of that in 2003 under Gayden Wren.
JC: Yes, but I’ve prepared a new vocal and orchestra score for this show.
OM: Excellent! Thank you, Jim! We’re looking forward to hearing it.
JC: See you Saturday. Bye. Exit Jim Cooper.
OM: This is exciting, oui?
BK: Hmm. Well, for most of us this is our first try at Ruddigore so we don’t know differences between a fall back performing version with cuts and rewrites and a recovered original version. It’s just Ruddigore to us.
OM: It will be wonderful, really! I’m looking forward to meeting you, Kevin, and to seeing you again, Brett. Best wishes to all!
BK and KM: Thank you! See you Saturday!
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 6 and Saturday, April 13, 2019. Matinees are @ 2:30, Evenings are @ 7:30.
Kevin Miller directs the production; Eric Kramer conducts a full orchestra. Principals in the cast include Michael Costantino, Wendy Falconer, Chris Hetherington, Ben Hoyer, John Matilaine, Erick Sanchez-Canahuate, Marian Shulman, Frank Sisson, Gisella Surapina, Pia Romano. plus members of the chorus.
For tickets please visit the Troupers Website: trouperlightopera.org or call 800-838-3006.
* It’s typically performed by companies dedicated to G & S, who’ve done most often the big three (H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado), who’ve also often, not ‘orphan,’ done next three (Iolanthe, The Yeomen of the Guard, and The Gondoliers), excellent creations, these, but they are bigger productions, and then, after several rotations of the six above, one or two of the next four (The Sorcerer, Patience, Princess Ida, and Ruddigore) will surface, entertain, and be filed away for another decade. That’s ten. Each of the ten G & S operas is sui generis, I certainly think, even if, compared to Victor Herbert’s or Franz Lehar’s operettas, they sound a lot alike.
The three other G & S collaborations (Thespis, Utopia, Limited, and The Grand Duke) are like the relatives talked about at Thanksgiving but you never hear from them. But…The Troupers have performed Utopia, Limited in the distant past and Thespis in the very recent past. Only The Grand Duke left! Bless the Troupers Light Opera Company for their occasional revivals of Ruddigore over their 70 plus years of performing G & S. So here we are again!
** This overture and, indeed, the whole reconstructed original score is available on a 1989 TER 2 CD set, based on performances by the New Sadler’s Wells Opera. It’s wonderful. The differences between the revised version and the original are mostly in the second Act: the restoration of deleted verses and even whole numbers. The ‘new’ (now traditional) Ruddigore overture was put together by Geoffrey Toye for the 1920 D’Oyly Carte revival, where also the cuts in Act II were made.
A (relatively) complete discography for Ruddigore is presented on OperaMetro on the page Historic Recordings. But…know that this discography of Ruddigore, including CDs and DVDs, being posted in fall of 2014, the first season for OM, alas, is at the very bottom of the page!! How can this be true? Patience! Cruise down slowly: there are several other interesting reviews there, as in: when was the last time you listened to the Sutherland/Pavarotti Turandot? Would you love it more in remastered sound? OM has a past, my friends…
Embrace the Troupers! See you Saturday, hopefully.