At a concert performance of extracts from the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, we all come to be reminded of the often satirical comedy of Gilbert’s librettos and of Sullivan’s witty adaptation of the serious musical styles of his own and other times. Remarkably, these have become an enduring theatrical classic unique to this country, surviving even in the world of rock and hip-hop.
Both words and music are so familiar that we are content to miss the live on-stage drama for which they were written in the later 19th century. Such is their status that, in a concert such as this, we hardly notice the inevitable unbalance between a chorus of a hundred voices – rarely achievable in the theatre – and the soloists and orchestra.
Many in the audience must have known these works well,which, of course, included Three Little Girls from School, from The Mikado when the whole women’s section of the choir sang. Naturally, there were four soloists. Victoria Joyce has the right sort of soprano voice, and although she was called in at short notice, her extensive operatic experience made her an excellent choice.
Charles Johnston, the bass, was likewise well qualified, and for me his rendering of When I Was A Lad from HMS Pinafore was the best moment in the concert.
Claire Barnett-Jones, mezzo-soprano, is still a student, it will be interesting to watch how her career develops.
Unfortunately Richard Edgar-Wilson had throat trouble, and although he carried on gallantly, perhaps that is why he did not really sound the right sort of tenor for this music.
Two extra soloists deserve a special mention. The extracts were introduced by a compere, Tim Venner, who sings in the bass section of the choir. He spoke clearly and achieved just the right note of irony.
Finally, for the conductor, Terry Edwards, this was his last appearance at the rostrum for the WPO. He sang a short solo in The Pirates of Penzance, and was rightly warmly applauded. We look forward to the future of the WPO under his successor, Michael Cayton.