by: Paulanne Simmons
Although Patience, Gilbert and Sullivan’s sixth work of comic opera, originally ran at London’s Savoy Theatre for 578 performances, the second longest run of any such work up to that time, it has not become one of the duo’s best known works. This may be because Patience is a satire on the aesthetic movement, at its height in England during the 1870s and 80s.
Aestheticism elevated aesthetics over moral or social themes, and some critics believed the result of this movement was insipid self-indulgence. Today, however, most writers and critics believe we have bigger problems to worry about.
Nevertheless, Patience has some of Gilbert and Sullivan’s cleverest lyrics, most rollicking tunes and funniest scenes, and it is fortunate that the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players revived it this season. Directed and conducted by the company’s artistic director, Albert Bergeref, the show features James Mills as Reginald Bunthorne, the “fleshy” poet, David Macaluso as Archibald Grosvenor, the “idyllic” poet, and Sarah Caldwell Smith as Patience, the lovely dairy maid who must choose between them.
The ever-present Gilbert and Sullivan choruses are made up of the rapturous maidens who are infatuated with Bunthorne until they fall for Grosvenor, and the Officers of Dragoon Guards, who have been forsaken by the ladies in favor of the poets. Although the choruses largely stay in the background, they have an especially important role in Patience because there are not many featured parts in this opera.
However, Caitlin Burke’s powerful voice and perfect timing make her a standout as one of the poets’ entourage, the besotted Lady Jane, the only one who remains true to Bunthorne.
As for the featured roles, Smith has the looks and voice that make her a natural romantic heroine. She steals the show every time she appears, even while carrying a yolk and two milk pails! Mills and Macaluso are both excellent, although it’s sometimes difficult to see how they are different, both physically and emotionally. Perhaps something more could have been done to distinguish them other than the blond wig Macaluso wears.
Special mention should be made of Gail J. Woffard’s very colorful costumes. They not only emphasize the mood of the show and the attitude of its characters; they are also a pleasure to behold.
Patience has some plot twists that even by Gilbert and Sullivan standards are quite ridiculous and hard to follow. But the opera’s numerous merits allow it to stand proudly beside better known works like H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance. This production certainly underscores the value of Patience.
Patience – www.nygasp.org Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street.