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Back to Canaletto's Venice for some vintage Gilbert & Sullivan with Scottish Opera's The Gondoliers


By Margaret Chrystall

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Scottish Opera: The Gondoliers

Eden Court

5 stars

“It’s extraordinary what unprepossessing people one can love, if one gives one’s mind to it,” says the Duke in The Gondoliers.

Ellia Laugharne, William Morgan, Mark Nathan and Sioned Gwen Davies in The Gondoliers. Picture: James Glossop
Ellia Laugharne, William Morgan, Mark Nathan and Sioned Gwen Davies in The Gondoliers. Picture: James Glossop

And, yes, OK, Gilbert & Sullivan and their convoluted Victorian plotlines and tum-ti-tum tunes might not be for everybody.

But surely it was impossible for anyone not to warm to the loveable gondoliers Giuseppe and Marco and their struggle to retain their republican principles in the face of one of them being a king – possibly.

It all seemed long-overdue escapist fun in the hands of Scottish Opera and their co-producers when it hit Eden Court stage last week like a balmy afternoon on your favourite city break.

With streetscapes straight out of Canaletto, Venetian girls like posies of pastel roses and the lighting by designer Paul Keogan casting Dickie Bird’s designs in deepening gold, it created a gorgeous visual treat for eyes more accustomed to peering into lockdown laptop Zoomscapes for our entertainment.

In the subplot, the poverty-stricken Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro arrive in Venice with their apparently grumpy eye-patched daughter Casilda (Catriona Hewitson) to introduce her to both the idea of her new husband and the reality of him, the new King of Barataria. This is unfortunate as we discover her contempt for Luiz, the duke’s drummer, is just a rather convincing act. Secretly, they are in love – and their duet in Act I was – in the performances of Hewitson and Dan Shelvey – a well of tender regret as they “let the whirlwind mourn its requiem” of the love that has no hope. But this is Gilbert & Sullivan, there is always hope ...

Yvonne Howard as the Duchess of Plaza-Toro in her stunning dress (on wheels)! in The Gondoliers.
Yvonne Howard as the Duchess of Plaza-Toro in her stunning dress (on wheels)! in The Gondoliers.

The opera’s breakout song Take A Pair Of Sparkling Eyes was treated to a beautifully-controlled performance from William Morgan as Marco.

In A Contemplative Fashion with Marco, Giuseppe and their wives saw Sullivan’s signature contrasting vocal lines seamlessly weaving across each other.

And there was a little gasp of delight in Act 2 as 2021 abominations were added to the proceedings for mockery with Extinction Rebellion, Dominic Cummings and Carrie Johnson among them.

Comic touches were many – the Duchess's gondola-length wide dress on wheels, Casilda subtly swapping her eye-patch from eye to eye, was one you had to be quick to spot. The stretching torture on a ginormous rack of Inez the nurse who knew the true identity of the king, was pure comedy, matched and just surpassed by the glorious pomposity of Grand Vizier Don Alhambra Del Bolero (Eddie Wade).

This was a production that seemed perfectly matched with the times it found itself arriving in and the audience's mood and hunger for beauty, fun, song and dance. MC

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