Gilbert & Sullivan take a logical look at equality



If Gilbert and Sullivan’s "The Mikado" is the most often played work in their canon, "The Gondoliers" is by far the most tuneful. It has only one really serious number and the rest of the score is permeated with a Mediterranean breeze such as Sullivan must have felt during his vacation on the Riviera. It is also the last of their popular works, the next two not being very successful and only recently being performed by some companies.

It makes fun of -- don’t get angry yet -- equality! Two very republican (not in the American sense) gondoliers, Marco and Giuseppe, have just married Gianetta and Tessa and learn that one of them is really the King of Barataria. Later they learn that that same gondolier has been married at birth to Casilda, the daughter of the penniless Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro. Casilda, however, has grown up and is in love with the Duke’s drummer-boy Luiz. And like that.

So the two gondoliers and their fellows set out for Barataria and jointly reign over a society in which everybody is a Lord-High-Somingthingorother. But Don Alhambra del Bolero, the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, while waiting for the real King’s nanny to reveal which of the two is the rightful monarch, points out in a song of perfect logic, "If every one is somebodee, then no one’s any body!" And that is as far in that direction as Gilbert’s satire goes.

The songs oscillate between jolly and gorgeous, exemplified by "The Merriest Fellows are we" and "Bridegroom and Bride." The philosophical "Try we Lifelong" takes a look at the meaning of life as a whole, while "In a Contemplative Fashion" is probably the most difficult quartet in G&S to get right. And the very last line of the show, "We leave you with feelings of pleasure" is the most perfect thought at the end of any good performance of any work.

By this time, my readers have guessed that the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society has issued a video of "The Gondoliers," and they are correct. Filmed in 2013, this production lives up to the standards set by their earlier productions put onto DVDs. This means it is faithful to the original, with four exceptions: three minor and one major.

There is one forgivable pun about "Venetian blinds." Then there is a reference to a corporation being treated as a person. Although five of the characters are Spanish, only one speaks with a stage-Spanish accent. And, to my mind unacceptable, someone saw fit to give a third verse to Giuseppe’s song about "the troubles of a king," which mentions parking meter rates. Gilbert does not need this anachronistic kind of help -- or any kind of help at all, if it comes to that.

The singers are all likable in their roles, even the woman-ogling Don Alhambra (Craig Cangley, whose enunciation is hampered by that Spanish accent) and the domineering Duchess (Stacey Porter). The Duke (Scott Bessho) is comic without being silly, and his daughter Casilda (Rachel Nofziger) is pretty and "distinctly jimp," as Don Alhambra puts it. Luiz (Dante Castelli) is believable as her beloved, if not exactly dashing.

The lovers are neatly matched. Marco (Derek Sellers) and his Gianetta (Hayley Gaarde), Giuseppe (Derek Hanson) and his Tessa (Rachel Brinn, a round faced cutie-pie). And I do like the choreography by Maria Gitana for the "regular royal queen" number, but not for the rather tame Spanish dancers in the Cachucha number. (But perhaps they were not professional dancers, which I can understand.)

The entrance of the Duke, Duchess, Casilda and Luiz (plus a gondolier) in a Flintstone-type gondola is priceless and sets an example for a clever way of enhancing a G&S situation without getting a cheap laugh.

And the picture is in widescreen format, a definite plus. The running time is about 145 minutes. Note: the long Act I finale is on a single track, making hard to find excerpts when the disc is used for educational purposes.

As always, conductor Bernard Kwiram loves the score and shows it, while Christine Goff’s stage direction is clean and usually not overly "clever." And kudos to the producer, Mike Storie, for putting it all together.

More information about this group and purchasing copies of their productions can be found on its website at

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays.


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