The Gondoliers makes a splash for Macon audiences
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The recent production of “The Gondoliers” was a great success for the Mercer University Opera. The well-attended event saw three nearly-sold out shows, some fantastic character performances by students and infectious audience engagement.
The comedic and satirical operetta by powerhouse duo W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan has been an international crowd pleaser since its opening in 1889, making it an easy and enjoyable show for a wide range of audience members.
The show features a story of two goofy venetian gondoliers, an impoverished noble Spanish family, marriage and deceit and a transition in monarch politics.
Audiences at the Mercer performance laughed out loud, listened attentively and gave a roaring applause at the end of show.
Opening night saw a standing ovation with great satisfaction from the audience.
This Victorian-era production stayed true to its history with fun and bright costumes and romantic charms.
Yet, during the performance, there were times when the script was noticeably tampered with, which did not always seem necessary or appropriate.
The insurance company Gieco and the Von Trapp family (commonly known from the more contemporary musical “The Sound of Music”) were made mention of as comedic relief.
Although these jokes got a positive audience response, these anachronisms — an act of attributing a custom, event, or object to a period to which it does not belong — may have taken some audience members out of the show.
Gilbert and Sullivan were made famous by their ingenious and provocative word choices throughout their careers as composer and librettist.
There is certain prestige to their work and to freely change the script may come across as obnoxious to some opera or theater enthusiasts.
Opera for today’s modern audience is often already confusing enough. To add contemporary parallels to historic scripts could perpetuate this confusion.
Nonetheless, the night showcased many outstanding and entertaining moments from student performers.
There is no lack of talent at Mercer’s Townsend School of Music.
Graduate students Melissa Rodriguez, Lindsey Rueter and Clay Young, playing the roles of the Spanish noble family, knocked it out of the park.
They were the most poised on stage, professional and committed in their performances and their opening song was wonderfully polished.
The latter, which is widely recognized as a signature style of Gilbert and Sullivan, was especially excellent. It was clean, neat and audible.
Mercer sophomore James Ruffin, playing the role of the Duke of Plaza-Toro in the Spanish court, was equally talented and entertaining next to his fellow graduate-level performers, but it was obvious he still is a young actor.
At moments he was overacting, finding the correct air of nobility for his character. And at other times, pulling focus from actors in-scene with some of his background movement and gesturing.
The stars of the show, gondoliers Nathan Holmes, sophomore, and Peter Schultz, junior, were great fun to watch on stage.
They had brilliant chemistry together and easily played off one another making for a great performance. Their boyish charm was evenly matched and admirable.
However, again, being young actors there were moments of overacting, but all of this is to be expected from a collegiate performance where student players are finding and perfecting their craft.
Though many of the actors in the production had one or two awkward moments on stage, they never took away from the enjoyability of the show nor the audience’s genuine engagement.
Opera Director Dr. Martha Malone showed an intuitive visual eye with her great use of space for the venue’s size. She directed actors to perform in every area of recital hall like in black box theater productions.
Fickling Hall on Mercer’s campus is quite small and crafted to meet the needs of intimate chamber music. To have such a grand production like “The Gondoliers” in a small space could be problematic, but the entire theater was used during the performance, eliminating this issue — a great choice.
Having characters enter and exit through the audience gave theatergoers a special experience as well.
The orchestra, under the direction of Richard Kosowski, was equally brilliant in that it did not overpower the theater.
The Mercer student instrumentalists filled the theater with well-balanced music from an elaborate score, complementing the singers on stage.
Student percussionist Holly Cooper, who was stationed in the audience, was so impressive in that she did not divert attention from the performance. She had full command of her instruments.
All in all, the Mercer production of “The Gondoliers” was entertaining. It had moments of great professionalism and moments of amateurity. It was another great success for the Mercer Opera archives.