Topical satire has a shelf life shorter than unrefrigerated sour cream. Its sting, so reliant on the sharp poke of recognition to be effective, becomes less pointed with the passage of time. Exceptions can be enjoyed without a cavalcade of footnotes because the topical eclipses the specific. Ignorance of Socrates and ancient history does not diminish the satirical punch and pungent comedy of Aristophanes’ The Clouds. A similar lack of familiarity with Aestheticism, with Swinburne, Morris, Wilde, or Coventry Patmore, does not prevent Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience from continuing to tickle the funny bone, particularly when it is staged with the flair and finesse of Odyssey Opera’s production. While observing many of the Savoy traditions, Odyssey’s Patience resonates most as a lampoon of fads, fame, and the fickle fans who worship at the altar of celebrity. An enthusiastic packed house made it clear they were enjoying every minute of it.

Janna Baty (Lady Jane) © Kathy Wittman
Janna Baty (Lady Jane)
© Kathy Wittman

Two minimal sets, artfully incorporating elements from past productions, allowed the cast free play for swanning, swooning, languorous poses, and Larry Sousa’s antic, eccentric choreography. Amanda Mujica’s costumes were simple and traditional: white chitons for the “lovesick maidens”, pastel ones for the Ladies; cutaway and knee breeches of green velvet and a wide-brimmed hat, all modeled on one of Oscar Wilde’s American tour outfits, for Bunthorne; medieval doublet and hose for Grosvenor, and Patience in the milkmaid’s garb  borrowed by Gilbert from a widely reproduced painting by Sir Luke Fildes. Grosvenor as the reformed “everyday young man” sported a loud, checked three-piece suit and bowler hat, color coordinated with the blue bicycle he rode in on while the newly-minted “everyday young girls” exchanged their chitons for full Victorian regalia accessorized with bustles, hats, and parasols. 

The entire cast of impeccable singing actors employed the plummy tones and extravagant delivery familiar from the D’Oyly Carte recordings to great comic effect. Patience also adopted a rustic accent of indeterminate origin which vanished when Sara Heaton sang. Regardless of accent, Heaton’s crystalline soprano carried clearly and effortlessly. Patience’s ballad, “Love is a plaintive song” was like a shaft of moonlight, a rhapsodic interlude of repose and sadness. Some Bunthornes settle for speaking on pitch, yet Aaron Engebreth sang his part from start to finish. His Act II duets with Lady Jane and Grosvenor, both involving intricate choreography, were enthusiastically received, yielding the evening’s only encores. 

Aaron Engebreth (Reginald Bunthorne) © Kathy Wittman
Aaron Engebreth (Reginald Bunthorne)
© Kathy Wittman

Janna Baty came close to stealing the show – no mean feat with everyone performing at such a high level. Lady Jane is the most sympathetic of Gilbert’s older women, thanks mostly to Sullivan’s sympathetic setting of her words, particularly “Silvered is the raven hair”, which is Marschallin-like in its lament at the passage of time. Baty not only played the cello during the recitative, but she also transitioned smoothly and convincingly to the rueful elegy of the aria itself. Grosvenor is an amiable, guileless self-absorbed dolt. Tall and robust, Paul Max Tipton played him with the look of a ventriloquist’s dummy all over his face and a congenial and rich lyric baritone. “When I go out of door” was one of the evening’s several highlights. James Maddalena took some time to warm up. His speaking voice was initially much more resonant and audible than his singing voice. “If you want a receipt” suffered from muddy diction and a tempo which only compounded the problem. Fortunately, his voice settled as the performance progressed. 

The strength of this cast  was most manifest in the secondary roles. Each of these singers could easily take on any of the leads. Sumner Thompson was a stalwart Major. Jaime Korkos, Sara Womble, and Heather Gallagher as Ladies Angela, Ella, and Saphir were comic and vocal gems, with Ms Womble doing double duty on the cymbals in Act I. Steven Goldstein put his fireplug stature to humorous use as the Duke, but impressed most by contributing a lyric tenor with lift and metal to a role which rarely benefits from either quality. As a result, Sullivan’s skillful writing for the role gained a greater profile than it usually enjoys.

James Maddalena (Calverly), Sumner Thompson (Murgatroyd) and Steven Goldstein (Dunstable) © Kathy Wittman
James Maddalena (Calverly), Sumner Thompson (Murgatroyd) and Steven Goldstein (Dunstable)
© Kathy Wittman

Gil Rose led an orchestra of 27, responsive to the high energy happenings on the stage and sounding larger than its numbers in the 890-seat Huntington Avenue Theater. Veteran Boston tenor Frank Kelly has performed some memorable comic roles in the past. Now that he has branched out as a director, the inspired lunacy he often brought to the stage is channeled through his cast. 

A brilliant production as fun and infectious as this could have easily played for a month instead of just twice. There is obviously an audience for Gilbert and Sullivan; if you stage it, they will come. After such a success, Odyssey Opera should seriously consider programming more of the Savoy operas in the future.