Patience/Odyssey Opera

by Ed Tapper

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday June 5, 2017

Patience/Odyssey Opera

Odyssey Opera packed the Huntington Theatre this weekend for its season finale, an outrageously amusing production of the Gilbert & Sullivan masterpiece, "Patience."

The operetta is not as well -known as G&S classics like "H.M.S. Pinafore," "The Mikado," and the "Pirates of Penzance." However, the music is of an equally high quality, containing Sullivan's trademark, infectious melodies, jaunty rhythms, and intricate ensembles. Gilbert's libretto is replete with humor, most of it bitingly satirical. The target is the Aesthetic Movement, at its height when the work was composed in 1881. The plot revolves around two highly affected poets and a claque of adoring female acolytes. Patience, the title heroine, is a conversely uncomplicated milkmaid loved by both. The character of Bunthorne, the more flamboyant of the two poets, was said to have been based on Oscar Wilde, which is why Patience was included in Odyssey's season of operas connected with the poet.

However, it appears that Gilbert & Sullivan had other contemporary poets in mind. In fact, they engaged Wilde to promote "Patience" in the US before its first performances here. The composers' blatant, satire of their contemporaries is all the more remarkable to us, a generation which holds the artists and poets of that period as sacrosanct.

Aaron Engebreth
Aaron Engebreth  

The Odyssey Opera production could scarcely have been bettered. A fine creative team brought the work to vivid life. Tenor Frank Kelley made his debut with the company as stage director. Having displayed his comic flair for several years singing on Boston's operatic stages, Kelley proved a masterful director, choreographing the work with intricacy and sheer virtuosity. Seizing every opportunity to maximize each comic situation, he never went entirely over the top with his touches; though his campy visions of aesthetic mannerisms came terribly close. However his ideas were in keeping with the intentions of the composers---and they elicited howls of laughter throughout. He was fortunate to have had a crackerjack cast that worked exceedingly well in the idiom and were able to carry out his directions to a tee.

As has been the case with most recent Odyssey productions, the "Patience" was visually splendid, with sets, and lavish costumes in keeping with the period in which the work was set. The street clothes of endless updated productions offered by most other companies do get dreary after a while. Tailored in rich silks and velvets, in a wide range of glorious colors, the "Patience" costumes were a real eyeful. The simple but highly attractive sets were reminiscent of Maxfield Parrish and served as an ideal backdrop for this pastoral, period comedy.

It seems unfair to single out anyone in the cast of "Patience" as the singing was uniformly superb. How these singers could manage to sound so good while carrying out all the elaborate movement and gesturing was a mystery. Yet they did. The roles of the rival poets Bunthorne and Grosvenor are the most conspicuously comic---and baritones Aaron Engebreth and Paul Max Tipton had a veritable field day. Both men sang with secure tone and fine diction, making audible most of the rapid patter-no mean task. As Lady Jane, mezzo Janna Baty nearly stole the show. Her cello song that opens Act 2 got a massive and well-deserved ovation from the audience.

As the "voice" of reason, the role of Patience is not the showiest in the operetta, but, as the heroine, she certainly has much to do. Sara Heaton is petite in stature but produces a sizable, seamless soprano that was most impressive. All of the other cast members acted and sang their roles with skill and authority. Once again, Gil Rose led a taut, spirited performance, keeping the singers, chorus, and orchestra together with characteristic authority. As is a tradition, he allowed the singers to encore some of the catchier duets,

With each season, Qdyssey Opera productions continue to improve; and this "Patience" was one of its best efforts to date. Continuing its dedication to rarely heard repertoire, the company has a thrilling and innovative lineup on slate for the Fall and next year. The "Trial by Fire" season will present five operas based on the historical character of Joan of Arc. Tchaikovsky's gorgeous "Maid of Orleans" will be featured, as well as "The Trial at Rouen" by Norman Dello Joio, and Honegger's "Jeanne d'Arc au bucher." Two Italian rarities will also be included. From the Bal Canto repertoire, Donizetti's "L'Assedio di Calais" is set for October; and, to delight Bostonians starved for early Verdi, "Giovanna d'Arco" will close the season next April. For more information, visit odysseyopera.org