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Galván, Mahoney, Gariaeff; Desnoyers, Melis, Stafford, Williams, Irwin;
Lamplighters Music Theatre, with Chorus and Orchestra, Peeples. Lamplighters Music Theatre (2)
Ah, Iolanthe — what's not to love? Of all the operas in the Gilbert & Sullivan canon, Iolanthe combines Gilbert at his funniest and most satiric with a Sullivan score that contains, arguably, 1) the best men's chorus, "Loudly let the trumpet bray"; 2) the best double chorus, the Act I finale; 3) the best patter number, the Lord Chancellor's "Nightmare Song" in Act II; and 4) the most heartfelt and sincere solo aria, Iolanthe's "He loves." The Iolanthe story, pitting a corps of fairies against the House of Peers, has delighted audiences since 1882, when it became the first G&S opera to have its premiere at the Savoy Theatre. It ran for 398 performances, replete with sparkly wands, courtesy of that new-fangled discovery, electricity.
This new release from Lamplighters Music Theatre of San Francisco, the second in an anticipated sweep of the canon, was recorded live — with audience — at an August 2013 performance. This, of course, carries inherent risks, among them distracting stage noise and varying sound levels, as characters move about the stage. Fortunately, only the latter of these is an issue here (pardoning an errant thump or untimely cough). One case in point: Sonia Gariaeff, the Fairy Queen, sings with a lusty contralto, but I would hazard a guess that most of her entrances were from way upstage, judging from the inaudibility of crucial dialogue lines.
This Iolanthe is musically complete, with all dialogue scenes included. The hallmarks of this recording are the fine, well-rehearsed ensemble singing and the connection between singers and orchestra, a testament to the conducting skills of music director Baker Peeples. The vocal winner, from a truly excellent principal cast, is tenor Michael Desnoyers, whose crystal-clear timbre as Lord Tolloller contrasts with the edgier baritone of his friend Lord Mountararat, sung by the properly smug-sounding Robert Stafford. As the Arcadian shepherdess Phyllis, soprano Elena Galván's appeal is evident; her voice shines with a winsome, lyric luster. As sung by baritone John Melis, her half-a-fairy suitor Strephon is a strapping and commanding presence.
Rick Williams's solid characterization of the Lord Chancellor is tinged with what comes across as anger, combined with no small dose of dirty old man. Indeed, the Act I scene in which Phyllis appears before the lords has the leering, somewhat sinister feel of Susannah among the Elders. Williams also brings terrific diction and energy to his "Nightmare" patter (although there's some snarling, too). Molly Mahoney sings Iolanthe's great Act II aria with simplicity and eloquence. All other principals — including Lizzie Moss and Maayan Voss de Bettancourt, as Celia and Leila, and Sean Irwin, as Private Willis — handle their roles with skill and humor.
CAROL E. DAVIS
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