After the pandemic-related hiatus, there was a definite air of celebration as Scottish Opera returned to the Theatre Royal for its first live performances in its home base for 19 months. That they chose to mark this reopening with Gilbert & Sullivan is a little surprising. G&S is fun but also rather frivolous – or perhaps that was the very point? And The Gondoliers, for all it may be a particularly well unified and successful work overall, lacks the really ear-catching tunes of The Mikado. There are a couple that come close but “Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes” wouldn’t be in my top 10 G&S favourites.
The familiar G&S tropes are present and correct: there’s a long-lost heir to a minor Spanish kingdom, languishing lovers and pompous aristocrats. There are the usual patter arias for principal buffoon, in this case the Duke of Plaza-Toro, a role which sees D’Oyly Carte stalwart Richard Stuart chewing up the stage. There is only a little modern updating, but when it does come it is slyly funny and definitely garners the most laughs of the night.
Stuart Maunder’s production, designed by Dick Bird, gives us the picture-postcard Venice of the Brit on his 18th Grand Tour. The backdrop is pure Canaletto, the ladies of the chorus clad in pastel-coloured crinolines. The Spanish grandees are like something out of a Velasquez, with some particularly ridiculous pannier skirts for Yvonne Howard’s Duchess. Everyone has an English accent and it all looks gorgeous. The singing is pretty good too, particularly Catriona Hewitson’s haughty yet coquettish Casilda, whose black and sliver costume with eye patch make her look like she has come straight from the role of Princess Eboli in a production of Verdi’s Don Carlos. Elsewhere, William Morgan and Mark Nathan have fun as the happy-go-lucky gondoliers who may or may not be the heir to the minor Spanish kingdom, with Ellie Laugharne and Sioned Gwen Davies equally spirited as their new wives.
In the pit, Derek Clark and the orchestra of Scottish Opera keep the action moving along at a well-mannered pace. It’s all good fun, if you can ignore the somewhat dubious Victorian morals underpinning it all (equality is bad, better to stick with the status quo of rich and poor), and Ben McAteer’s uncomfortably lecherous Grand Inquisitor, who just seems out of place in the post-#MeToo age.