Writer W. S. Gilbert
Composer Arthur Sullivan
Director Cav. Vivian J. Coates
Conductor James Hendry
Reviewer Ron Simpson
It’s always surprising that Ruddigore occupies a position of such modest popularity among Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Its faults are obvious – the disjointed narrative of Act 2, for instance, and the rather perfunctory ending – but this same Act 2 contains in succession three very different and possibly unique gems: the quasi-dramatic Ghosts’ High Noon, the gloriously deadpan duet I once was a most abandoned person and the manic anti-patter trio My eyes are fully open. Overall the opera has as many memorable numbers as any in the Savoy canon and more mischievous absurdity than most.
Initially, a parody of the then-popular Victorian melodrama, Ruddigore (a title that shocked some of the delicate flowers of the 19th-century press) tells of the bad baronets of Ruddigore, condemned by a witch’s curse to commit a crime a day or perish in unspeakable agony. Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd has managed to escape the curse by feigning his death and disguising himself as Robin Oakapple, a young farmer. Interestingly the course of goodness he pursues seems to keep him forever young. When he is unmasked, his brother Sir Despard claims “young Robin” as “my elder brother”. And he is unmasked, of course, in a crazy plot that parodies such tropes of the Victorian stage as the village madwoman and the jolly Jack Tar.
Opera North’s recent production set Ruddigore firmly in the 1920s. Cav. Vivian J. Coates’ production for the National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company is less specific, but the attractive costumes hint towards that era. How odd that two successful productions of an opera so firmly based on a parody of the Victorian era should be set some 40 years later!
The NGSOC production is less ground-breaking than Opera North’s, but intelligent, witty and highly enjoyable in a more conventional style. Bradley Travis (Sir Ruthven/Robin) and Matthew Siveter (Sir Despard) are well matched as the role-changing brothers. Travis, in particular, has a way with Gilbert’s high-speed lyrics and both are expert in changing gear from virtue to vice, though Siveter’s Act 1 bad baron is perhaps too obviously playing a part. Maybe he should have a touch more menace, but the result is unfailingly funny. The previous generation of Murgatroyds is authoritatively played by Steven Page as Sir Roderic, the ghost from the picture gallery, a part he also took in the Opera North revival. David Menezes lacks the devil-may-care manner and ringing tenor needed for the ideal Richard Dauntless, but he plays the comedy scenes well.
Like several Gilbert and Sullivan operas, Ruddigore begins with the female chorus and the splendidly animated NGSOC chorus seizes the opportunities for demented comedy as professional bridesmaids desperate to get a booking. Rosanna Harris has the voice, manner and moves for Rose Maybud, the likeliest bride (but for whom?), without always bringing out the comedy of a slave to etiquette.
A strong supporting cast, imaginative and sharply detailed direction and fine orchestral support make a good case for a consistently under-rated opera.
Reviewed on 26th August 2018 | Image: Contributed