It’s been quite a few years since we last saw John Wilson conduct a piece by Gilbert and Sullivan; that was The Yeoman of the Guard at the Royal Festival Hall.
This time the short piece Trial by Jury is teamed with a selection of other pieces from the oeuvre of G&S, presented in a witty and entertaining programme on the South Bank.
Programme for Trial by Jury
Although all the guest singers were exceptional, it was especially enjoyable to hear patter king Simon Butteriss as The Learned Judge as well as sharing The Mikado‘s “little list” and regaling us of the tale from HMS Pinafore about “ruling the Queen’s navy”.
He was joined by Louise Alder, a light and colourful soprano; tenor Robert Murray (the Defendant, who started his case from within the audience, and who also sang “Is Life a Boon” from the aforementioned Yeoman); baritone Simon Bailey (Plaintiff’s Counsel and a lively devil in the first half); and baritone Michael Craddock as an amusing Usher.
John Wilson rehearsing with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are a accomplished group of musicians, expert in the works of Handel, Bach and Beethoven, but having fun with the 19th century operetta on show here.
Their choir are also wonderful, incorporating six of each of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses (one of which did duty as Trial by Jury‘s foreman). Their ensemble pieces in the first half were clear and bright, and they added to the amusement once the main piece started.
Yesterday afternoon’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall was Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by John Wilson. Wilson is best known for his recreation of popular musical film scores from the Golden Age of Hollywood and has presented a number of concerts with this music, and at least one previous semi-staged production, that of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.
Another review of ‘Yeoman’ I have just read praises the production for not using microphones, but, as someone with a cheaper ticket two thirds back in the stalls, I can report that many of the singers were unintelligible, with the subsequent loss of the wit, humour and wordplay of Gilbert’s lyrics. As this wordplay is particularly key to the enjoyment of the G&S oeuvre, the decision not to use microphones was a great shame.
However, some of the vocalists did transcend the amplification issues – Oliver White as Colonel Fairfax, Jill Pert as Dame Carruthers, Heather Shipp as Phoebe, Richard Angas as Shadbolt. But Sarah Fox as Elsie disappointed from a distance, and Simon Butteriss’s tragicomic turn as Jack Point was lost in places. Having said this the score was rendered superbly by the Philharmonia, and the afternoon was enjoyable. I just wish that everyone in the hall had been considered when the decision not to use amplification for the singers was taken.
The story is one of changed identities, broken promises, and comic situations. In its semi-staged form the plot is easy to follow and the songs are well-written and move the story along with some energy. Wilson’s conducting of the orchestra was also done with fun and pep, which served the material well.