Gilbert and Sullivan were in the process of splitting up as a writing team at the time they wrote their last big hit. Sullivan wanted to compose grand opera; Gilbert thought the strictures of opera not conducive to the type of catchy lyrics at which he exceeded.
But they wrote “The Gondoliers” in 1898, with a typically convoluted plot about Spanish princess Casilda (Shelly Hart Breneman), brought to Venice by her parents to meet the king of the mythical Barataria, to whom she now finds she was wed when she was 6 months old.
Casilda is not thrilled at this news – she is in love with Luiz (Christian Sanders), attendant to the royal family. Besides, no one seems to know where the king is, since he was raised by a drunken gondolier who also had a son that age. And in a double wedding, both candidates have just been married.
There is much what-iffing while everyone waits for the nurse (Martha Jane Weaver), the only person who knows for sure which prince is actually a king.
Suffice it to say that it works out to everyone’s benefit.
Only two performances remain of Lyric Opera San Diego’s sprightly, upbeat production, whose plot has been moved forward to the post-World War II era to sharpen the political and social satire of money and class. Many fine voices are featured.
My favorites are Breneman’s Casila and the quartet of gondoliers and spouses: tenor Benjamin Robinson’s prince pretender Marco, Laura Bueno’s Tessa, Jordan Miller’s Giuseppe and Caroline Nelms’ Gianetta.
For my money, the music of “Gondoliers” sounds more like Gilbert and Sullivan retreads than an original score, but let’s face it: G&S retreads are better than some contemporary composers’ original songs (Andrew Lloyd Webber comes to mind).
My standard complaint does not change: the Birch has terrible acoustics, not helped by cloth on the walls. Lyric should supertitle their productions.
“The Gondoliers” plays through Feb. 13 at Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave.
Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
For tickets, call (619) 239-8836 or visit lyricoperasandiego.org.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.