The Gondoliers review – a picture-postcard Gilbert and Sullivan from Scottish Opera

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
The company celebrated its return to the Theatre Royal with some good old-fashioned – if not downright antiquated – fun and frivolity

After the pandemic-related hiatus, there was a definite air of celebration as Scottish Opera returned to the Theatre Royal for its first live performances in its home base for 19 months. That they chose to mark this reopening with Gilbert & Sullivan is a little surprising. G&S is fun but also rather frivolous – or perhaps that was the very point? And The Gondoliers, for all it may be a particularly well unified and successful work overall, lacks the really ear-catching tunes of The Mikado. There are a couple that come close, but Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes wouldn’t be in my Top 10 G&S favourites.

The familiar G&S tropes are present and correct: there’s a long-lost heir to a minor Spanish kingdom, languishing lovers and pompous aristocrats. There are the usual patter arias for principal buffoon, in this case the Duke of Plaza-Toro, a role which sees D’Oyly Carte stalwart Richard Suart chewing up the stage. There is only a little modern updating, but when it does come it is slyly funny and definitely garners the most laughs of the night.

Stuart Maunder’s production, designed by Dick Bird, gives us the picture-postcard Venice of the Brit on his 18th-century grand tour. The backdrop is pure Canaletto, the ladies of the chorus clad in pastel-coloured crinolines. The Spanish grandees are like something out of a Velázquez, with some particularly ridiculous pannier skirts for Yvonne Howard’s Duchess. Everyone has an English accent and it all looks gorgeous. The singing is pretty good, too, particularly Catriona Hewitson’s haughty yet coquettish Casilda, whose black and sliver costume, with eye patch, make her look as if she has come straight from the role of Princess Eboli in a production of Verdi’s Don Carlos. Elsewhere, William Morgan and Mark Nathan have fun as the happy-go-lucky gondoliers who may or may not be the heir to the minor Spanish kingdom, with Ellie Laugharne and Sioned Gwen Davies equally spirited as their new wives.

In the pit, Derek Clark and the Orchestra of Scottish Opera keep the action moving along at a well-mannered pace. It’s all good fun, if you can ignore the somewhat dubious Victorian morals underpinning it all (equality is bad, better to stick with the status quo of rich and poor), and Ben McAteer’s uncomfortably lecherous Grand Inquisitor, who just seems out of place in the #MeToo age.

• At Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until 23 October. Then touring.


Rowena Smith

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
British Library hits the right note with purchase of Gilbert and Sullivan archive
Collection of more than a century of material owned by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company will give public insight into comic opera

Maev Kennedy

21, Oct, 2015 @6:18 PM

Article image
The Mikado review – Scottish Opera shakes Gilbert and Sullivan money maker
Colourful new production takes a few pokes at tax evaders and Volkswagen, though it misses the subversive point

Kate Molleson

15, May, 2016 @3:51 PM

Article image
Mike Leigh on board for The Pirates of Penzance opera

Filmmaker to direct English National Opera production of Gilbert and Sullivan classic at Coliseum next year

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

29, Apr, 2014 @7:59 AM

Article image
Modern and major: how Gilbert and Sullivan still skewer England’s absurdities
Dismiss their works at your peril. Strip the barnacles of stale tradition off the Victorian duos’s light operettas and their seditious glory still shines

Michael Simkins

27, Oct, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
Patience – review
The strength of the production lies in its realisation that Sullivan's tunes cry out to be danced, writes Michael Billington

Michael Billington

20, Feb, 2012 @6:56 PM

Article image
Rusalka review – Scottish Opera leave fairytale cruelty to lurk below the surface
With Anne Sophie Duprels as the titular water nymph, backed distinctively by Peter Wedd and Willard White, this stylish production of Dvořák’s dark opera avoids the excesses of some interpretations

Kate Molleson

10, Apr, 2016 @11:10 AM

Article image
Mike Leigh’s Pirates of Penzance: ‘I told them I was going to set it on a spaceship in the 29th century’
Mike Leigh, the great chronicler of real life in all its nitty gritty detail, swore he’d never direct an opera. So why is he tackling Gilbert and Sullivan’s swashbuckler?

Stuart Jeffries

20, Apr, 2015 @5:59 AM

Article image
The Elixir of Love review – Scottish Opera flirts with PG Wodehouse
Scottish Opera has chosen a Donizetti farce for its autumn mini-tour, and the cast play a caricature-riddled story for all the laughs they can get

Kate Molleson

25, Sep, 2016 @1:52 PM

Article image
The Original Chinese Conjuror review – Northern Opera pull off witty magic trick
The strange case of magician Chung Ling Soo’s fatal encounter with a bullet is told with verve is this revival of Raymond Yiu’s music theatre gem

Andrew Clements

26, Aug, 2018 @1:39 PM

Article image
Gilbert and Sullivan make their mark on Buxton
Derbyshire spa town revels in its role as setting for festival of Victorian light opera

Stephen Bates in Buxton

09, Aug, 2010 @5:21 PM