Last summer I ended my review of the Lamplighter’s production of The Mikado with a personal plea to F. Lawrence Ewing who had played Ko-Ko:
If you’re looking for professors who are sometimes not profound
Spare this humble essayist
By my readers I’d be missed
To hear you sing King Gama next I want to be around
To see you shake your fist
As a true misogynist
. . . . .
As I opened the program for Princess Ida at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts last Sunday, February 17 2013, I was initially disappointed to see that Ewing was not listed. That disappointment totally disappeared about 30 seconds after King Gama in the persona of Rick Williams humped his way on stage singing,
If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am:
I’m a genuine philanthropist – all other kinds are sham.
Each little fault of temper and each social defect
In my erring fellow-creatures, I endeavor to correct.
To all their little weaknesses I open people’s eyes;
And little plans to snub the self-sufficient I devise;
I love my fellow creatures – I do all the good I can –
Yet everybody says I’m such a disagreeable man!
And I can’t think why!
Williams does not play the part of King Gama; he IS King Gama. I’m sure that Ewing would do an excellent job in the role – but it’s hard to see how it could be Better.
But Gama is only one of the delicious roles in Princess Ida. His three sons, led by Charles Martin as Arac are characters in their own right:
We are warriors three,
Sons of Gama, Rex,
Like most sons are we,
Masculine in sex.
. . . . .
Politics we bar,
They are not our bent;
On the whole we are
With its rousing chorus
Bold and fierce, and strong, ha! ha!
For a war we burn,
With its right or wrong, ha! ha!
We have no concern.
Order comes to fight, ha! ha!
Order is obeyed,
We are men of might, ha! ha!
Fighting is our trade.
Yes, yes, yes,
Fighting is our trade, ha! ha!
All of which is not to slight the male romantic lead, Hilarion, ably sung by Robert Vann. His aria near the end of Act II is one of the loveliest love songs in all of Gilbert and Sullivan:
Whom thou has chained must wear his chain,
Thou canst not set him free,
He wrestles with his bonds in vain
Who lives by loving thee!
If heart of stone for heart of fire,
Be all thou hast to give,
If dead to my heart’s desire,
Why should I wish to live?
Hilarion’s father, King Hildebrand, actually gets a patter song, ending up with
And I’m a peppery kind of King,
Who’s indisposed for parleying
To fit the wit of a bit of chit,
And that’s the long and the short of it!
The astute reader has probably noted that thus far I have talked only about male characters. Well, the story line here is essentially a chapter in James Thurber’s, The War between Men and Women, so it seemed appropriate to keep the two sides separate.
Now it’s the women’s turn – and a formidable lot they are, headed by the romantic lead Princess Ida, sung by Jennifer Ashworth. Before the opera opens, the two Kings had signed a peace treaty that included the betrothal of Hildebrand’s son to Gama’s daughter. Early in Act I Hilarion sings an aria about it:
Ida was a twelve-month old,
Twenty years ago!
I was twice her age, I’m told,
Twenty years ago!
Husband twice as old as wife
Argues ill for married life
Baleful prophecies were rife,
Twenty years ago …
The day has arrived for consummation of the marriage contract, but King Gama arrives without his daughter. It seems that Ida has rebelled against this medieval practice of treating a woman as merchandise, and has run off to found an all-women’s university, Castle Adamant.
Her faculty includes Rose Frazier as Lady Psyche who explains to her students the difference between men and women:
A Lady fair, of lineage high,
Was loved by an Ape, in the days gone by.
The Maid was radiant as the sun,
The Ape was a most unsightly one –
So it would not do –
His scheme fell through,
. . . . . . . . . . .
For the Maiden fair, whom the monkey craved,
Was a radiant Being,
With brain far-seeing –
While Darwinian Man, though well-behaved,
At best is only a monkey shaved!
Also on the faculty is the traditional Gilbert and Sullivan mezzo “heavy,” in this case Lady Blanche sung by Jamie McDonald. She is sure that she is more qualified than Ida to lead Castle Adamant:
Oh, weak Might Be!
Oh, May, Might, Could, Would, Should!
How powerless ye
For evil or for good!
In every sense
Your moods I cheerless call,
Whate’er your tense
Ye are Imperfect all!
Ye have deceived the trust
I’ve shown In ye!
Away! The Mighty Must alone
As with all Lamplighter productions that I have seen, the basic structure is sound. The sets by Peter Compton are up to their usual high standards, as is the costuming and lighting.
The singing and blocking of the two choruses is seamless, including a wonderful sword fight matching Gama’s three sons against Hilarion and his buddies Florian (Chris Uzelac) and Cyril (Michael Desnoyers).
And now for the bad news. If you haven’t seen this 2013 production of Princess Ida, eat your heart out. Mountain View Center for Performing Arts was the fourth of four venues, and I attended the final performance. The good news is that they have one more production for this season: The Sorcerer, playing two weekends only in March. Hope to see you in Walnut Creek or San Francisco:
Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek
925-943-7469 – lesherarts.org
Saturday March 16th 2013, 8pm
Herbst Theater, San Francisco
415-392-4400 – cityboxoffice.com
Saturday March 23rd 2013, 8pm
Sunday March 24th 2013, 2pm
All quotes are from Web Opera