Updated: Aug 2
Gilbert and Sullivan
National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company
Buxton Opera House
July 30-August 12, 2023. 2 hrs 40 mins
Further performances on August 5 (2.30 & 7.30pm), August 9 (7.30pm) and August 12 (2.30pm).
The International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival is back in Buxton – and Buxton only, just as it used to be. It’s 29 years since the festival began, in this very place.
The festival's professional company is giving 13 performances within the 15 days of the festival – three operettas, thick and fast on Wednesdays and weekends (plus a “best of” programme on August 4).
The faithful, including the amateur performers who make up the rest of the festival schedule, have flocked again to the High Peak opera house, and once again they can’t get enough of all things G&S.
The Yeomen of the Guard is a jewel in the canon, directed this time by Simon Butteriss, who also takes the key comic (and ultimately tragic) role of jester Jack Point. He’s deservedly a favourite in the comic baritone G&S characters, and his instincts and stagecraft haven’t let him down. Admittedly there’s no spinning wheel on stage for the opening scene – when Sullivan’s score so clearly mimics its revolving motion – but this is a single-set version and the only movable property seems to be the black beheading block that threatens the brave Colonel Fairfax.
Yeomen is notable among Gilbert’s plots for having nothing “topsy-turvy” in it. Instead it mirrors English Romantic opera of the earlier 19th century in a way that is as much a tribute as a parody, and draws forth some of Sullivan’s loveliest music.
One of its challenges is how to present the final scene, when Jack Point loses his beloved Elsie Maynard to the heroic Fairfax; it can prove overly sentimental or genuinely moving, and in this case is perhaps the former in the reprise of I have a song to sing, O!.
But these are minor things in the context of some really high musical achievements under the sure hands of conductor Murray Hipkin. The chorus singing is strong and among the cast – which mixes experience and youth – there are some outstanding performances. On the youthful side, Kelli-Ann Masterson sings and acts Elsie delightfully, and Meriel Cunningham shows remarkable vocal quality and lively characterisation as Phoebe. Bruce Graham (Sergeant Meryll) is a master of his craft, and Steven Page has commanding presence as Sir Richard Cholmondeley.
Outstanding numbers are the beautifully-balanced duets and trios, a lovely acapella Strange adventure! quartet and the gently persuasive pathos of When a wooer goes a-wooing.
More info and tickets here