Who Syracuse University Opera Theater What Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers When January 27-29, 2012, 8 p.m. Where Setnor Auditorium, Crouse College, Syracuse University Tickets General Public: $10; free for students with SU or ESF ID Review SU Opera’s The Gondoliers By Leah Harrison Word about town The Post-Standard
Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers tells the story of a silly mix up regarding the heir to an island kingdom. The Savoy opera is meant to treat the situation — one that includes the intermingling of classes — with satire and cheek, but Syracuse Opera Theater’s Friday night production failed to emit the cleverness required to pull it off.
This performance did not seek to be taken seriously, and confined by that lens, a critique is unwarranted; all that matters is that the participants had fun. And they appeared to. But why would musicians at a university not wish to be taken seriously?
To be fair, opera singers typically receive very little coaching when it comes to acting, and satirizing another culture isn’t exactly simple. But much of Gilbert’s comedy is easy, and the punch lines fell flat almost unanimously. It was like watching inside jokes of which you are not a part. There were a few funny moments for which Evan Wichman (playing the Duke of Plaza-Toro) is responsible—his stage presence was the most theatrical of the students, properly interpreting the Duke’s character.
Eric Johnson, who is a professor at Syracuse University’s Setnor School of Music, produced The Gondoliers and played Don Alhambra del Bolero. His performance far exceeded those of other cast members, his booming voice, comedic timing, and delivery appropriate for the genre.
Though jokes fell flat and the acting left something to be desired, the most upsetting events of the evening occurred in the pit. Not a single piece began without someone accidentally hitting a string right before what should have been the first notes, and the musicians were lousy with intonation problems. At one point, Johnson spoke the lines that lead up to his musical illumination, but there was an awkward pause and scrambling in the pit. It seems that James Welsch, the conductor, had forgotten about that number. He recovered quickly, and it may not have made an impression on someone sitting further from the conductor than I, but the mishap defined the level of preparation.
The production was not void of musical talent, even if the whole package did not come together. Rachel Boucher, whose soprano is sweet and strong, played Gianetta. She was a pleasure to hear and will certainly have a lot to offer as her voice continues to develop. Dominique Forbes played Tessa, and though her tone was gentle and soothing, it was much too thin to be heard over the orchestra in many places.
Carina DiGianfilippo played Casilda, the Duke’s daughter, and her voice is serene, though she would be more at ease singing parlor songs than opera. Matthew
Hernandez played Luiz, the Duke’s servant and Casilda’s love. The duet between them was lovely—on par with what university opera should sound like. There were some particularly charming moments of ensemble that included these two, Casilda’s parents, and the Don.
Various lead singers forgot multiple words, and remembered words lacked clarity and proper diction, so much of the dialogue was lost. Without a clear plot, amusing satire, or in-tune music, the production was an undercooked disappointment.