Prom 49: The Yeomen of the Guard – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

The most serious of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas – it even has a tragic ending, when the strolling jester Jack Point "falls insensible" as he loses his partner Elsie Maynard to his rival – The Yeomen of the Guard also represents one of the musical highpoints of the collaboration. With a larger orchestra than its predecessors, and a plot that contained sombre reflection as well as melodrama, the piece allowed Sullivan to seize the opportunity to extend his range into what his contemporaries regarded as grand opera territory.

In this Proms staging by Martin Duncan, a cast of experienced singers demonstrated how genuinely expressive Sullivan's writing is when delivered to this level of accomplishment. Andrew Kennedy's Colonel Fairfax was suave and elegant, Lisa Milne's Elsie Maynard cleanly and touchingly sung, and Felicity Palmer's Dame Carruthers a model of focused tone and diction combining in a perfectly realised characterisation: the Tower of London, you feel, would be safe in her hands any day.

The Albert Hall, though, remains a tricky venue for dialogue, even with the aid of microphones. Some scenes needed snappier pacing. Maybe due to their platform placement, the strings of the BBC Concert Orchestra didn't always cut through; the resplendent overture lost some of its richness. Jane Glover's conducting could have done with more dramatic impetus and ebullience.

But the cast knew their work and put their routines over with panache. A natural stage animal, Heather Shipp brought a meaty mezzo to manipulative Phoebe. Toby Stafford-Allen was a lairy, leering Wilfred Shadbolt. Curiously dandified in his late-Victorian costume, Mark Stone registered as an unusually well spoken and sophisticated Jack Point; he sang the role with brio, if not quite enough pathos.

Available to listen again on iPlayer until Sunday. If you're at any Prom this summer, tweet your thoughts about it to @guardianmusic using the hashtag #proms and we'll pull what you've got to say into one of our weekly roundups – or leave your comments below.


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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