3/7/2013 - W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s Princess Ida is basically a battle of the sexes, which is why, 130 years after it was first performed, it still leaves audiences laughing.
“It’s still a very contemporary idea,” said Eric Halter, who plays King Hildebrand in the Concord Light Opera’s take on the play premiering this weekend.
Actors and singers of various levels of experience make up the show, about 14 of whom also sing with the Concord Chorale. They’ve been rehearsing weekly since November.
“It takes quite a bit of music learning. It’s not one melody all along. At the same time, while singing four or five parts, you have to be moving along, doing things,” said Linda Ashford, the show’s director.
This is what differentiates an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan.
“In a musical comedy or in an opera, the chorus doesn’t do anything to distract the audience,” Ashford said. “Everyone watches the soloist. But in Gilbert and Sullivan, there’s constant movement and activity.”
The storyline is ridiculous, which Ashford says is also very characteristic of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The comic operetta (a genre of light opera, which is also usually an indicator that it’s in English) is about a princess named Ida, who wants nothing to do with the opposite sex. She enjoys her independence, her education, and she feels that men take away from that. So she creates a woman’s university.
There, women learn that men are “nature’s sole mistake.” Characters who live outside these university walls describe the women attending as those whose “hearts are dead to men.”
Too bad for Princess Ida; she’s already married. Not by choice, of course; when she was a year old, she was forced to marry a guy named Prince Hilarion. (He was 2.) They haven’t seen each other since. However, Prince Hilarion says that he’s still in love with Princess Ida.
He was apparently very upset when they were parted. He plays the “dumb hero,” Halter said, and his lines are some of the most absurd. (“My thoughts, I kept them to myself … as I had not learned to speak.”)
In Act II, he tries to win her back by sneaking into the university with his friends, the courtiers Cyril and Florian. They decide that the best way to get inside the women-only walls is to dress as women.
“Gilbert and Sullivan plays are wicked funny, full of innuendos, entendres … but you really have to pay attention to get them,” said Erin Deady, who plays Lady Psyche.
They’re often hard to catch, in part because of the older language. Exaggerated gestures are important, Halter said, as they help bring the audience up to speed and also add to the fun.
“It’s a ridiculous, hilarious show. Our job is to get that across,” Halter said.
The show will be performed in the South Congregational Church, 27 Pleasant St., Concord, atop a newly constructed platform designed specifically for the show. (Church ceremonies were worked around this stage for the Concord Light Opera Company for the few weeks prior, Halter said.)
This is a new location for the Concord Light Opera Company; last year, its production Patience took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church. The aged building caused problems, lacking the 21st century technologies that the show needed — namely, electricity.
“That church only had one unit of electricity for the entire building, and our lights required two separate units. We had to run cords down the hall,” Ashford said.