For NYC Opera, 'Patience' is a virtue

~ The Star Ledger - 12/09/2005 by Michael Sommers ~

NEW YORK -- A Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera that enjoys too few revivals in America, "Patience" is the British team's spoof on the excesses of the aesthetic movement in Victorian arts and culture.

Oscar Wilde's famous lecture tour of America coincided with the Manhattan premiere and at one point during the 1881-82 season, three different productions of "Patience" were packing in the local customers.

Times -- and unfortunately popular taste -- have changed in the 124 years since then, but "Patience" remains a fresh piece in both senses of the word, especially in the delightful staging that bowed on Saturday at New York City

A co-production with Glimmerglass Opera, "Patience" has been treated with great smarts by director Tazewell Thompson and his designers.

They stylize the saga about those competing poets -- Bunthorne and Grosvenor -- and their fickle fans into a cartoon that effectively points up the comedy without diminishing the elegance of Gilbert's humor or the loveliness of Sullivan's music.

Donald Eastman's set consists of a chastely white, classical-style mansion that revolves to disclose a gallery where, as the opus opens, 20 "love-sick maidens" practice their swooning poses of adoration for whichever poet drifts into view. Their contortions and Merrily Murray-Walsh's boldly-patterned costumes immediately clue viewers into the show's droll tone.

This tongue-in-cheek mood is nicely carried out by the principals, led by Michael Ball, whose presence as Bunthorne makes this "Patience" one of special interest to Broadway-goers.

Last seen in New York in "Aspects of Love" in 1990, Ball has become one of the West End's most popular stars and later this fall will portray a rococo Italian aristocrat in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White" on Broadway. So Ball's appearance as the "ultra-poetical, super-aesthetical" Bunthorne is something of a sneak preview of his comical gifts.

Bouncing around in eye-dizzying garb and long, brown ringlets, Ball expertly lobs over his character's fruity dialogue while rendering his pattering ditties with easy panache. Not exactly winking at the audience, Ball maintains an ever-so-slightly mocking air that suits Bunthorne's sham pretensions.

A sleek Kevin Burdette possesses a heroic smile and a supple bass voice that gleams with equal appeal as the rival poet Grosvenor. In the title role of the dairy maid, whose simplicity enthralls both bards, saucer-eyed Tonna Miller makes a pert Patience. Myrna Paris raises sympathetic laughter as doggedly faithful Lady Jane. Timothy Nolen's snappy Colonel keeps the male chorus of dragoons in good form.

Gary Thor Wedow's supple conducting of the score -- Sullivan's orchestrations are charming -- and Thompson's fluent staging spin "Patience" along swiftly and very merrily. The results are a classy pleasure for the eye and the ear.

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