Playing the part of Strephon next to the excellent Lisa House as Phyllis. Photo courtesy of Gale Foster.
I can’t help but think that White Horse Opera should do more comedies. It brings out the best in both the performers and the audience. My three favourite main opera productions with the company (not counting touring productions) have to be La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker), Orpheus in the Underworld and this production of Iolanthe. In each production the chorus was a key component and heavily involved. Not only that, but thanks to the vision and management of Graham Billing and Chrissie Higgs each member of the chorus was an individual character. For example in La Sonnambula each performer was encouraged to create their own character quirks and decide what their role was in the town. In Orpheus each chorus member was a particular god and then a party-goer in the underworld. Finally in Iolanthe, both male and female choruses were customised. For the female fey, their magic wands were all different as were their outfits. The male lords had very different costumes to each other and some brandished wine glasses, trumpets and even a hunting rifle!
I believe this gave each performer more buy-in to their parts which in turn provided more energy on stage. Being able to feed off this energy and react to it gave both the principles and the audience is why the show was a success and received so much positive feedback. The other reason for its success was Roland Melia’s orchestra. The Musical Director stripped the original orchestra by half to just include a flute, violin, keyboard, cello, clarinet, percussion, oboe and trumpet. Any parts not being played by the other parts, the very talented Tony James was asked to fill in on the keyboards. This had the advantage of not only sounding great, but it meant that the singers on stage could be clearly heard. This of couse wouldn’t work if the musicians weren’t of a very high standard. Fortunately, Roland managed to find very talented musicians for these parts.
For Strephon, playing the role straight and with conviction is what worked for me. Thanks to the reactions and energy of the ensemble it was a treat of a role to play!
The cast of Iolanthe with Matt Dauncey as Lord Mountararat.