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Gilbert and Sullivan Society · Exeter · Devon
Written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Composed by Jacques Offenbach
English translation by W S Gilbert
Opéra Bouffe in Three Acts
Produced at the Théâtre des Variétés, Paris on 10th December 1869
British première of Gilbert translation at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth on
2nd September 1889
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1931 — Leigh Operatic and Dramatic Society
1985 — Comic Opera Guild
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Reviews currently included here have been posted by contributor, Ian Bond, and are his personal views, and these may not necessarily represent the views of St David’s Players
It may seem strange to be including a review of an Offenbach opera on a website dedicated to Gilbert and Sullivan, but in fact the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company were not strangers to the French maestro’s works as they presented his Grand Duchess in the late 1890’s at the Savoy and a century later both Orpheus in the Underworld (recorded) and La Vie Parisienne toured in repertoire with various
G & S works.
In the case of The Brigands, W S Gilbert prepared a translation of the work for the music publisher Boosey as early as 1871, ostensibly to secure the UK copyright to the piece. The opera eventually achieve a stage production in 1889 at the Palace Theatre, Plymouth and then toured.
As far as I am aware this is the first and only recording of Gilbert’s translation. Recordings by Ohio Light Opera often seem too laid back and also suffer from strong American accents which grate badly on the British ear when associated with Gilbert and Sullivan or indeed with European operetta in general.
In this case these objections are addressed. After a rather slow-paced overture the speed is soon picked up and then the piece rattles off in true Offenbachian style. Gilbert’s lyrics and dialogue catch the flavour of the French Opera Bouffe beautifully and the whole piece is great fun.
Nicholas Wuehmann is a suitably comic and inept brigand chief as Falsacappa. His daughter Fiorella is absolutely charming as played by Arlene Simmonds, and her lover, Fragoletto (usually a trouser role), is played excellently by Grant Knox. Number after number delights the ear with the ‘Ola! Ola!’ ensemble, the Chef’s Trio and the arrival of the Princess of Grenada (all in Act Two) as particular gems.
Gilbert is as adept as ever at recycling. Lyrics from Fiorella’s first area were used again five years later in the Act One Finale of Princess Toto and, of course, the idea of the ineffectual policemen who always arrive too late would resurface in Pirates of Penzance.
All in all this is an excellent issue which no Gilbert and Sullivan collection should be without. The recording is issued on the Albany label TROY 660/661 and is available from most good record shops and also from Amazon.