Troupers' Iolanthe reviewed

Troupers Light Opera Co. perform Iolanthe in Norwalk

Since 1946 the Troupers Light Opera Co. has presented the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan with elan to local audiences. Their ‘product’ is well known to the regular faithful; even I, a relative newcomer, have been a part of the audience since the early 1980s. The Troupers’ Iolanthe this season meets our expectations.

As fans discourse about the legendary D’Oyly Carte Opera Company (the original performing troupe for the Gilbert and Sullivan’s oeuvre), I’m sure the local elders know and speak of the various eras of the Troupers, whether framed by the tenures of directors, conductors, presidents, singing board members, venues, or so on and so forth. Since a very large percentage of the persons on stage in any given year are intelligent, successful professionals in something other than music, one wonders if there is talk about an era when, say, most of the soloists were lawyers or physicians?

The common denominator, of course, is their passion for performing light opera, most frequently those of Gilbert and Sullivan. The talent, time, and effort they put in to make it all happen season after season is laudable for sure.

This Iolanthe is the 8th time in the Troupers’ long run of seasons; it has not been performed since 2006, before that 1997. It has scenic demands (sets, lighting, and effects) that sorely stretch even a well healed company in a technologically accommodating venue. The music can be dark, the moments magical, but the stage of the Norwalk Concert Hall this year allowed neither. No surprise here that some of the depth of Iolanthe was missing.

Miran Roberts and David Richy in Iolanthe

Miran Roberts and David Richy in Iolanthe

The strengths of this Iolanthe lie in the performances themselves. Miran Robarts, always vocally solid, is looser and much more feisty as Phyllis than the role of Mabel (in The Pirates of Penzance last season) allowed. Her hissy fit at the end of Act I was a real jolt, a rant voiced high, loudly and clearly. Vocally the role of Strephon suits David Richy better than Frederick (also in The Pirates of Penzance last season). He creates an interesting, borderline odd personality here: after all, he’s been raised by a mother who lives at the bottom of a stream. In our first encounter with him he’s talking to her in a handful of water. But his Strephon is sincere and he makes one feel as if the two, he and Phyllis, actually have feelings each other. Their reconciliation toward the end of Act II was quite touching.

Baritone Michael Costantino gets an A+ on all aspects of the Lord Chancellor. He is articulate, smart, and always in touch with his presentation. The guy never misses a beat. The Lord Chancellor, as staged here, is not so old and not so gray. He also now and then goes from manic to mellow, not to say bipolar, sometimes in the same number. Costantino is very physical: in the big finale of Act I he flings himself behind a rock bench (to swap out his Chancellor’s judicial curls for a white fright wig) and then proceeds to contort and twirl around as though under the Fairy Queen’s spell. His Nightmare Song was executed well and very entertaining.

Wendy Falconer as Iolanthe also struck a tender chord with her plea for young Strephon’s happiness. Linda Mekeel as the Fairy Queen is staged for laughs, particularly funny with her courting of Robert Scrofani’s steadfast Private Willis in Act II. Scrofani amused us with his accent and crumbling self-control in the face of her deft moves.

Kudos to Frank Sisson (Lord Mountararat) and John Matilaine (Lord Tolloller) for happily embodying the line they trade in Act II (“we were boys together”). At least I was…aware how many times they’ve appeared with the Company. They bring years of stage experience to Iolanthe and a great deal of fun.

Deborah Connelly, Maria Jacobi, and Tammy Strom in Iolanthe

Deborah Connelly, Maria Jacobi, and Tammy Strom in Iolanthe

The three solo Fairies (Deborah Connelly as Celia, Maria Jacobi as Leila, and Tammy Strom as Fleta) sounded youthful and remarkably clean; the Fairy Chorus sang well; the Lords were commendable.

Director Dan Montez favors a lot of stage business, which certainly shortstops any characters standing around or losing focus. Though some of the business is perhaps too repetitive (the hoops and the passing of crowns), other bits are more obviously symbolic: for instance, poor Phyllis is burdened one by one with the heavy robes of the Peers, thus weighing her down to a heap on the stage. The weight of these is nothing probably compared to the psychological crush of an actual relationship with one, but we sense she too is getting the point. Montez more often draws gold in his direction of the interactions of the characters.

Jun Nakabayashi conducts the Troupers’ Orchestra with a clear beat. The Overture, one special to Sullivan’s heart, was played adroitly. One suspects that the very lively acoustics of the Norwalk Concert Hall amplified some sections of the orchestra over others, thereby creating imbalances that are different depending on where one sits. Hearing the performance was not a problem certainly.

Iolanthe is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s best. Don’t miss it. Its next season with Troupers is probably not real soon.

Troupers Light Opera Company will perform Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe at the Norwalk Concert Hall, 125 East Avenue in Norwalk, again on Saturday, April 18, a matinee at 2:30 p.m. and an evening performance at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at 800-838 3006 or at www.TroupersLightOpera.org. Adults are $30, Seniors $25 and Students $15.

On the page Gilbert and Sullivan, please find the preview piece for this Iolanthe; on the page Further Reading, please find a bibliography for Gilbert and Sullivan, as well as the link to an excellent purveyor of vintage books. Digging deeper is quite rewarding.

Enjoy. Support local living theater!

JRS