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gilbert and sullivan opera sydney present ‘the ghost of ruddigore’

Tobias. Pic by Dawn Pugh

The latest production from the GILBERT AND SULLIVAN OPERA SYDNEY is the relatively now rarely seen THE GHOSTS OF RUDDIGORE. The tenth of the Savoy Operas by Gilbert and Sullivan it is both typical G&S with its wonderful melodies and biting lyrics, and here is a satire on the Victorian Gothic spooky horror melodrama genre.

It has a silly complicated plot of curses, disguises, ghosts and yes includes witches and a dastardly villain . All of the Baronets of Ruddigore are under a terrible curse called up centuries ago by a witch – each of the Baronets must commit some sort of crime daily, or they will die in terrible agony.

Our hero Robin Oakapple has been living as a farmer for years, trying to find the courage to ask the beautiful village maiden Rose Maybud for her hand, but he is also hiding a secret–he is really Sir Ruthven , the Baronet of Ruddigore, and has been in disguise while his younger brother Despard assumed the title–and the curse. Betrayed by his foster-brother Richard, Robin’s real identity is revealed and he therefore must take on the burden of committing a crime every day in order to appease the curse– and the ghosts of all his ancestors past appear in Act 2. They are not at all happy with his attempt to dodge fulfilling his title and the curse. Will Robin be able to counter the curse and live the honest life he craves?

This version by the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Sydney is a fairly traditional one, directed by Dean Sinclair , ably assisted by Associate Director Sarah Pearce,set in Victorian times with great attention paid to music and libretto as well as terrific timing and pacing . Musically and vocally this was a magnificent performance as led by Maestro Rod Mounjed. The orchestra was in fine, lush yet precise form .

The set for the first act was a lavish bridal boutique where the village maidens lament the fact there have been no recent weddings. The second act at the Murgatroyd castle was most imposing and very effectively done combining backdrops of high vaulted Gothicky ceilings, a suit of armour, large heavy candelabra and a parade of large portraits of the ancestors.

Our hero Robin Oakapple (really Sir Ruthven) was delightfully played by Chris Lewis. Robin/Sir Ruthven is engaging yet shy. Old Adam Goodheart, his faithful old retainer who dreams of their former glory days, was terrifically played by Dean Sinclair.

As his brother the seemingly evil Sir Despard Murgatroyd, Andrew Pennycuick has great fun. He first appears very dramatically and unexpectedly like a pantomime villain all in very expensive elegant black, and swirling his flurrying cape . In Act 2 , as the curse has been passed on ,he has reformed and is dressed like a clergyman and is rigid and controlled, trying to live a calm, unobtrusive life of public service.

Richard Dauntless, Robin’s charming, handsome foster-brother was tremendously played by Daniel Verschuer in fine tenor voice. A sailor, he could have stepped off the HMS Pinafore.

Rose Maybud our rather sweetly naive , priggishly good mannered poor but virtuous heroine (who here challenges our perception of her as she confusingly changes partners) was delightfully performed by Kate Wilmot in fine form. Her aunt Dame Hannah was appealingly performed by Megan Chalmers.

Act 2 concentrates mostly on the ghosts as indicated in the title. There is a great chorus of eight men of different eras , ranging from Elizabethan to early Victorian and includes a judge and a bishop!

Tall dark and handsome , swoon worthy Tobias Page as Sir Roderic Murgatroyd , (resplendent in a sumptuous Admiral’s uniform , blue and gold jacket and feathered hat) gave a sensational performance , finely acted and with a chilling, thrilling gravelly bass voice .He first appeared vampire like, menacing and malevolent, leading the chorus of other ancestors in a frightening attack on Robin/Sir Ruthven, but this was tempered by his reunion with Dame Hannah.

Elizabeth Lowrencev as Mad Margaret was excellent. In Act I she was lithe and graceful, reminiscent of Ophelia or Giselle for example, fractured and broken in her love for love for Sir Despard Murgatroyd, the “Bad Baronet”. In Act 2 once recovered and married to Sir Despard she is dressed in a severe blue outfit and still occasionally breaks out of control. (Actually women today might regard some of the dialogue in Act 2 for Margaret and Despard as quite sexist , with Despard rigidly controlling Margaret and her continually referring to him as ‘ master’).

There are some fine ensemble choruses , some tongue twisting duos/trios ( eg My Eyes Are Fully Open ), some very demanding operatic solos, a madrigal and a hornpipe included .If you listen closely you can pick similarities between this and other G & S operettas.

Much fun was had by all.

THE GHOSTS OF RUDDIGORE by Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Sydney runs at Shore School 5 – 14 October 2018

Running time allow 2 hours 45 minutes including interval
Rose Maybud: Kate Wilmot
Mad Margaret: Elizabeth Lowrencev
Dame Hannah: Megan Chalmers
Zorah: Bernice Zandona
Ruth: Bridget Wood
Robin Oakapple: Chris Lewis
Richard Dauntless: Daniel Verschuer
Sir Despard Murgatroyd: Andrew Pennycuick
Sir Roderic Murgatroyd: Tobias Page
Old Adam Goodheart: Dean Sinclair

Bernice Zandona (Rose Maybud)
Joann Balasuriya (Zorah)
Nick Whiley (Sir Roderic Murgatroyd)

BRIDESMAIDS & BRIDAL SHOP LADIES: Joann Balasuriya, Kyran David, Marie Deverill, Angelica Lake-Brown, Candy McInerney, Grace McInerney, Emma Meredith, Mary O’Byrne, Ines Paxton, Dawn Pugh, Charlotte Pugh, Rose Sapuppo
GENTRY, VILLAGERS & GHOSTS: Scott Crichton, Wayne Davies,
Colin McLaughlin, Terry Matthews, John Millen, Gary Selby, Nick Whiley, John Wollaston


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