The virtues of 'Patience': rollicking and tasteful

~ Newsday - 14/09/05 by Russell Platt ~

Gilbert and Sullivan's "Patience" (which began its run at New York City Opera on Saturday) and Strauss' "Capriccio" (with which the company began its season three days before) both deal with the relationship between high art and the ordinary demands of real life.

"Capriccio" is an erudite conversation piece in which an 18th century countess and her rival suitors, a composer and a poet, try to solve the great question of opera: What's more important, the words or the music? (Guess which one she chooses.) "Patience," in contrast, lampoons the whole idea of erudition: It parodies the Aesthetic Movement of late-Victorian England, personified by such flamboyant personalities as James McNeill Whistler and Oscar Wilde.

Sullivan's music bubbles over with Donizettian passion and Mendelssohnian grace. Gilbert's dexterous rhymes puncture the pretensions of Reginald Bunthorne and Archibald Grosvenor - two dandified poets with 20 lovesick maidens in tow - on the knifepoint of good old English common sense. The result is a rollicking good show which, in Tazewell Thompson's production, has lost none of its natural verve.

"Patience" could never be offered to a diverse audience in the connoisseur style of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players. The City Opera company played to its strength, as a place where grand opera and light opera can meet on common ground.

Thompson gives the piece an ironic but tasteful updating. The set is a simple Georgian mansion, which turns to reveal a glass-enclosed conservatory; the lovesick maidens' costumes are tie-dyed versions of dresses that could have come from the atelier of Aubrey Beardsley.

When the irrepressible Timothy Nolen, as Colonel Calverley, interpolates a third verse in the patter song "If you want a receipt," it closes thus: "George W. Bush needs a lesson or two/But Hillary Clinton waits in the wings." The audience roared.

Michael Ball, the popular English singer-actor, is no Savoy specialist: He made his bones doing Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. But his performance as the insufferable Bunthorne benefited not only from his good looks and easy, charming voice, but from the canny stage instincts of a genuine West End star.

As the vain Grosvenor, company favorite Kevin Burdette effectively countered with his slinky stage presence and whiplash bass - which is essential, since the milkmaid Patience is forced to choose between them. The two danced winningly in the patter number "When I go out the door," in which Grosvenor resolves to lose his fancy airs.

As Patience, Tonna Miller combined the blank innocence the part requires with the secure vocalism of a coloratura soprano. Audience sympathy always goes to the Lady Jane, Bunthorne's oldest and most unlikely inamorata - lovingly embodied by the contralto Myrna Paris, who gracefully lightened what easily could have been a windy Margaret Dumont-type role. Gary Thor Wedow conducted; Jennifer Roderer and Christopher Jackson shone in smaller parts.

PATIENCE. By Gilbert and Sullivan. New York City Opera at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, through Oct. 5. Tickets $45 to $120. Call 212-721-6500.

Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.

Thanks a lot to Doris for sharing this article with us :-)

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