Opera Review

Gilbert & Sullivan The Yeomen of the Guard Opera Holland Park/Tom Higgins. 25 July 2000 (PGW)

The first Opera Holland Park foray into G&S (in association with the Evening Standard & BBC Music Magazine) was a huge success, and vastly enjoyed by a first night audience which applauded every item. The Yeomen is a typically elaborate Gilbert contrivance, with gags repeated from one Savoy Opera to the next. This time an escaped condemned murderer is disguised as one of his Beefeater gaolers and pretends to be searching for himself. There is a 'tormentor' who swap professions with a jester, and a marriage of convenience entered into with the promise of immediate widowhood, which is frustrated becomes a true love match instead; such a complicated farrago of incident that some in the audience decided to spare their brains and abandon efforts to disentangle the plot. Henry Moss, solicitor turned opera singer, was the hero who contemplated beheading with a light heart and got more worried at finding himself later still alive and married. Gordon Sandison was the lachrymose torturer and executioner's assistant who fancied himself as a comic; Richard Suart stole the show as Jack Point, the jester who cheers everyone up before finally collapsing as a tragic loser in love; his diction was exemplary in an acoustic which needs every effort to get across Gilbert's patter texts - switching off the adjacent fountain close to the tented auditorium would help. The women folk (Catherine Mikic, Sarah Sweeting & Gillian Knight) all sing well and achieve happy endings with universal coupledom by curtain fall.

It was a classy, well rehearsed production; fairly conventional, no updating or director's modernistic alienations to ruffle nostalgic contentment. The Holland Park façade made a perfect substitute for the Tower of London, and the wide stage had plenty of room for all the marching. Peacocks did duty deputising for the Tower's ravens. It began late (the conductor was held up in West London traffic and the second double bass only showed up at half-time) but, after a little gentle barracking, British stoicism and good spirits saved the day easily.

Tom Higgins is a widely experienced conductor and Sullivan specialist, with credits including discovery of a rare manuscript from which the cello concerto (played the same week at the Proms) was reconstructed. He maintained a firm yet delicate touch on the proceedings, with a responsive young orchestra which revelled in its opportunities, and well coordinated ensemble singing from the stage. Direction, costume, set & design were in safe, experienced hands; Richard Fawkes, Peter Rice, Roger Frith and Michele Hardy.

Marvellous tunes, gentle parodies of operatic styles, German & Italian, delicate orchestration to remind those who had forgotten Sullivan's consummate professionalism - a great entertainment, The Yeomen of the Guard is on all this week in Holland Park, Kensington, with some seats still available. On a fine summer evening (or Saturday afternoon) you can't do better in the Metropolis.

Tom Higgins, music director of the Hanover Wind Band, made a fine CD for BBC Music Magazine of The Rose of Persia by Sullivan (without Gilbert). Richard Suart can be enjoyed as Jack Point in Sir Charles Mackerras's recording for Telarc.

Peter Grahame Woolf


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