The Gondoliers

The Gondoliers
Libretto by William S. Gilbert and Music by Arthur Sullivan. The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Victoria Inc (GSOV). Director / Choreographer: Robert Ray. Musical Director / Conductor: John Ferguson. Inglewood Town Hall, February 5; Alexander Theatre, Melbourne, February 10-12 and Quambatook Memorial Hall, February 19, 2022.

The GSOV, founded in 1935, is one of the oldest continuously performing groups in Australia. When COVID struck early in 2020 the footlights dimming on one of the world's busiest G&S companies was a bitter pill to swallow. Happily, this fourth attempt to bring off this production after three postponements has succeeded. And what a triumph it has proved to be!

The Gondoliers was the last great success of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership. Running for an initial 554 performances in 1889, over 132 years later it still proves to be an audience favourite.

The cheers and applause as the house lights went down in Melbourne was like a huge hug to the company in wishing them well for this long-anticipated production.  I'm sure there wasn't a dry eye in the audience as the twenty plus member orchestra (under the baton of John Ferguson) glistened during the lush six minute overture.  

The lavish Act One set (designed by director Robert Ray) depicts The Piazzetta, Venice, complete with a gondola gliding seamlessly across the stage, beautiful street lamps and striped mooring poles. The opening chorus of contadine (Italian farm girls) and gondoliers was a feast for all the senses. The costumes (designed by Robert Ray and Phillip Rhodes) were pristine and authentic, well chosen for each individual character, and with enough variety throughout each act to continue to dazzle the audience. The Act Two set, depicting the Palace of Barataria, was equally stunning,complete with two thrones for the 'singular' role of the two temporary kings. The Lighting Design (by Frank Croese), including a backdrop depicting Venice at night was very effective and set the mood beautifully during both quiet and show-stopping moments.  

All the principals were perfectly cast according to their singing and acting talents. Each one brought a unique and fresh approach to the characters they were depicting. Two of the standouts were Stephen Carolane and Daniel Felton as gondoliers Marco and Guiseppe Palmieri. They commanded the stage in every scene, their voices blending well and their acting so natural they seemed like real brothers on an adventure. Equally impressive were Laura Slavin and Emilie Washington as Gianetta and Tessa (the gondoliers’ wives in waiting), who sang with both fragility and command. The recit. and duet performed touchingly by Isabelle Mazzarella (as Casilda, the daughter of the Duke & Duchess of Plaza-Toro) and Andrew Alesi (as Luiz, her secret lover) are two of Gilbert and Sullivan's finest offerings ever written and a highlight of this production. The comedic roles including Ron Pidcock and Lynlee Williams (as The Duke & Duchess of Plaza-Toro), and Ian Lowe (as The Grand Inquisitor) were very polished performances, obviously the result of many years of performing experience.  The chorus numbers were vocally strong - jaunty at times and at others delicate and heart wrenching. The subtle choreography throughout was very natural, whilst the major dance scenes including the famous Cachucha (choreographed by Robert Ray) were pure joy!  

Just like the topsy-turvydom in every G&S story, this production has had its own twists and turns during the last two years. The crew under the direction of Robert Ray is to be commended for their tenaciousness in never giving up!  This is just what Melbourne needed - a 'sparkling' production of The Gondoliers. Thank you GSOV!

Jonathan Cox

Photographer:  Andrew McGrail

Subscribe to our E-Newsletter, buy our latest print edition or find a Performing Arts book at Book Nook.