Gilbert & Sullivan’s THE GONDOLIERS or The King of Barataria at Ardensingers

by Ronald Comer

L-R: Martha Smylie, Ed Nealley, Marisa Robinson, Ron Fava in The Ardensingers' THE GONDOLIERS, running in Arden DE through May 7.

Who better to bring to the stage this Savoy Opera than The Ardensingers who for over 60 years have been performing the works of Gilbert and Sullivan?  This ardent operetta company is located in the art colony and village of Arden, Delaware, founded in 1900 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  After so many productions including slightly better known Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations such as The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore, and The Pirates of Penzance, one would expect nothing less than a polished production of THE GONDOLIERS and one will have their expectations well met in this, the Ardensingers sixth revival of this show over the past half century.

In addition to voices easily up to the task of Sullivan’s score, performers in this production were equally skilled in delivering the comedic prose contained in Gilbert’s libretto.  Members of the general chorus were all excellent in their consistent focus on telling the story through their engaging facial expressions and energetic singing and dancing, even while in the background of scenes taking place center stage between actors performing leading roles.  Additionally well-deserved praise must also be given to the superb musical accompaniment provided by the Ardensingers’ Orchestra under the very capable direction of Helene Furlong.  Finally, for those new to Savoy style Opera, splendid period costumes make the show all that more spectacular and this company seems to have spared no expense in getting it right for each on-stage performer.

Colin Dahma and Ryan Goulden play Giuseppe and Marco, two Venetian Gondoliers who choose brides only to suddenly learn that one of them may be the long lost heir to the throne of Barataria.  Moreover, one of them was betrothed by proxy in infancy to the now beautiful Casilda, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Plaza Toro.  Casilda, performed by Marisa Robinson, is now a queen without a king unless the identity of her earlier betrothed husband can be determined.  Meanwhile, she has secretly fallen in love with Luiz, played by Edwin Nealley, a lowly servant to her father.  Overseeing the untangling of this confusion in the hope of restoring order to Barataria, a kingdom in dire need of a new King, is Don Alhambra, performed by John Dennison, a seasoned operatic singer with international professional credits.  Don Alhambra must first locate the infant prince’s foster mother who is the only one who can tell the difference between the two Gondoliers and thus determine who the rightful heir to the throne is.

L-R: Sara Nealley, Ryan Goulden, Colin Dahms, Petra Deluca in The Ardensingers' THE GONDOLIERS.

Meanwhile, Giuseppe and Marco are instructed that they must jointly rule Barataria until it can be determined which of them is the actual King-to-be.  Given that the two Gondoliers were raised as working class and not as members of a ruling monarchy, they determine to rule Barataria as an egalitarian republic.  This, of course, sets up the satirical poking at class distinctions which is so characteristic of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.  Giuseppe and Marco have no idea how to govern a monarchy and while they give it their best shot, their true desire is to be returned to the loving arms of their recently wed wives still in Venice whom they were convinced to leave behind.

Gilbert and Sullivan fans will know that this review is leaving out many other parts of the story line that comprises this show.  However, the printed program supplied to audience members contains a very thorough rendering of all one needs to know to appreciate the nuances of THE GONDOLIERS.  Also missing from this review are specifically highlighted performances and there is a good reason for this omission.  In short, it is because with the exception of John Dennison’s superior performance of the Don Alhambra role, it would do an injustice to single out others in this large cast because they are all equally fun to watch and pleasing to hear as they perform with enthusiasm the wonderful songs that comprise this show.  Fans and newcomers to Gilbert and Sullivan alike will find much to enjoy in this excellently well-staged production.

Music by Arthur Sullivan
Libretto by W.S. Gilbert
Directed by Katherine Nealley
Musical Direction by Helene Furlong
April 29 – May 7, 2011
2126 The Highway
Arden, DE 19810
(610) 399-6883  

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