A briefer version of this interview appeared in the print edition of April 6, 2011.
Here's the link to it: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/david-edg…
We are glad that we could enlighten Mr. Woods and rewrite his review. While his initial column stated that the orchestra "sounded conspicuously thinner than last year’s ensemble", he now realizes that it is the SCORE and not the orchestra that is thinner. As in medicine, the difference in diagnosing a problem makes all the difference is assigning the proper therapy. More importantly, I would genuinely like to hear Mr. Woods opinion on my previous question: Should a Savoyard theater company modify perceived musical and thematic weakness of an operetta or simply drop it from the canon?
Byron, I have not tried to refute any of your comments. I have simply asked for more information and reported a fact about the score. I am still waiting to hear back from you by email (I emailed you last Thursday morning as you suggested and have yet to hear back from you with specifics). I, personally, would like the information on problems with specific songs since if there are problems that we are not aware of, I would like to make sure they are corrected. If for some reason you did not get my email, you can email me directly at clubjuggler at gmail dot com.
My husband and I took our children to the Sunday matinee to introduce them to the pleasures of Gilbert & Sullivan and to opera in general. It was our first Durham Savoyards production, recommended to us by another family with 2 small children. My girls both loved it, sitting through the entire performance (at 5 and 8 years old, not insignificant). We had a very interesting discussion on the way home about (1) was the operetta originally set in outer space, (2) should Ida have left school to marry Hilarion, (3) is war wrong or right. All questions asked by our 8 year old daughter. So I would definitely say we got our money's worth, and going to productions of the Durham Savoyards is going to be a yearly family tradition.
It's difficult to debate the paramount importance of "original intent" -- and keep a straight face -- with a group of people who placed Princess Ida on an alien planet. Or two. Who use transporters to go from place to place. Populated by folks dressed like extras from Doctor Who and the Seussical. With twinkling little LEDs sprouting from their fingers.
And I'm absolutely baffled why Dukie74 (and actually, even Lovelace) thinks that asserting just how thin Sullivan's score is somehow refutes my original point. Which was that Princess Ida sounded thin. And largely unsupported by bass. (I suppose I'm indebted to Dukie74, under the circumstances, for consulting a musicologist who reached the same conclusion I did.)
They've made (or reiterated) my argument for me -- while, unfortunately, refusing to accept its conclusion, which is this:
Princess Ida is a problematic work, in its orchestration (according to the evidence generously submitted by the correspondents here), and in its text, which ridicules women's education, rights and independence.
Either the parties who selected and produced Princess Ida were mindful of those shortcomings or not. But given the company's nearly 50-year track record (and a previous production of the work) by now they clearly should have seen such difficulties coming.
Adding to those deficits, Princess Ida was flawed in its execution on opening night. Even with Sullivan's (now officially) thin orchestration -- and historically anachronistic stage and ceiling mikes -- many of its leads were repeatedly unintelligible.
These problems all raise questions about the selection and staging of the work.
As I stated in my original review.
There are now 51 weeks before the Savoyard's production of Iolanthe bows at Carolina Theater. Whatever lessons, if any, the company or its fiercest "defenders" choose to take from this production should be clearly on display then.
Mr. Woods identifies some excellent food for thought in his review of "Princess Ida". The thematic content of Princess can be interpreted as outdated by some, such as Mr. Woods. Others put it into the context of the time in which it was written, as most who attend a Shakespeare or a classic Greek play would do. The Durham Savoyards pride them selves in producing over time the entire canon of Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas. It had been 20 years since their most recent Princess Ida production; only "Trial By Jury" has had a longer hiatus of 21 years. I would ask Mr. Woods' opinion of whether a G&S company should continue to produce one of the canon that may seem thematically outdated to some, modify it from the original so it is more up to date, or simply drop it from the canon?
The Durham community hopes that Mr woods takes our criticism of his review as an opportunity to improve his skill so we all will benefit. One PhD musicologist discussed with me after this performance that the thin score of Princess Ida was uncharacteristic of Sir Sullivan, but that modifying it would not be true to the composer's intent. Mr. Woods' knowledge of music and musicology could be well served from accepting identification of his weak points instead of shooting the messenger. He could help us all by directing his energy at learning about productions before instead of after he reviews them.
Evening, Tanner (I presume). I'm glad to hear about the subsequent corrections -- and thanks for that info on the double, which sheds some light into what we were hearing.
If it would be helpful, I'd be happy to look back through my notes for commentary anchored to specific songs, for more detailed feedback. With your permission, we'll take that part of the conversation off line, since the minutiae of it would probably disengage the general reader.
Drop me a line at my Indy address -- firstname.lastname@example.org. Look forward to hearing from you!
Hi Byron, as the orchestra manager and the double bassist of the Durham Savoyards, I'd be interested to know which songs you thought the lower strings were inaudible on. The orchestra this year was exactly the same size as it was last year. The score of Princess Ida, however, is noticeably thinner than the score of Mikado. For instance, in many places in Ida, the double bass only comes in when the chorus is singing. I will admit that there were a couple of times where the orchestra and chorus weren't exactly in sync on Thursday night but those were the exception and were corrected in subsequent performances.
Okay, let’s see if I've got Kegray's argument straight: "As long as they gave a problematic performance in front of 400 people, and not 1000, then _that's_ different. A group of 400 is _okay_ not to be ready for."
"And if the majority of their male soloists can't be reliably heard -- but because they're being miked from stage and ceiling, instead of individually -- well, all of your problems are solved right there. You know -- as long as they're inaudible for the right _technical_ reason."
Friends, if the energy wasted in these attempts to shoot the messenger were actually applied to the problems -- none of them irreparable -- that the ensemble faced the night we saw them, the audience still interested in the Durham Savoyards would likely appreciate it.
Now, the group’s self-appointed “defenders” can continue wasting all our time by clinging to the narcissistic fiction that the company’s work is flawless – and if it somehow isn’t, that fact shouldn’t be reported in the press.
Or they can do something useful, like helping solve and learn from the challenges that came up this time.
Just a little clue that might have gotten lost somewhere in the discourse: We all actually want the Savoyards to succeed. And if the company learns from its mistakes, it will likely grow in audience and popularity.
But if folks like our correspondents convince the company that it has nothing left to learn and no reason to improve, another outcome is likely to occur. And if it does, it should.
Having gone on record as getting a genuine kick out of them in the past, we’re hoping the Savoyards get better.
We certainly can’t force them to. But the Independent can – and will – report what happens, either way.
Ultimately, community arts groups tend to wind up asking one of two questions.
The first one is "How can we get better?"
The second one is "Why should we?"
For some mysterious reason, the groups that ask the first question tend to last a lot longer than those who go with the second.
Food for thought.
Make that stage and individual mics.
There were less than 400 there Thursday night, according to the box office. No one was individually amplified. There are stage mice and ceiling mice only.
We don’t (knowingly) review dress rehearsals. If, on the other hand, a company chooses to make its final dress rehearsal its first public performance—-well, that’s just another Savoyards managerial decision among several I’ve already discussed that are ripe for reconsideration. I’m indebted to Dukie74 for adding it to the list.
We avoid preview performances after a show has opened wherever possible—-as a matter of professional courtesy, not some production’s prerogative or birthright-—but scheduling issues force us at times to see them. Once a production is opened to the public and a company accepts money for admission, the argument that the working press somehow must be barred from a room that anyone else can freely enter loses most of its credibility.
Thursday night’s performance played to hundreds of people. From my vantage point in the front rows of the first balcony (the same place I enjoyed last year’s “Mikado”), I saw a mostly full house downstairs, with a majority of the balcony filled as well. All told, I'd estimate that there were upwards of a thousand people at the performance.
This is the group that saw the show Dukie74 now rather desperately wants to claim was not “an actual performance.”
I also note that Dukie74’s seemingly all-important historical considerations-—about the influence the number of artists in D’Oyly Carte’s original orchestras and vocal ensembles had on the balance between them-—haven’t persuaded the Savoyards not to electronically amplify almost all of the male soloists and many of the females. That's clearly a luxury the singers who actually filled the Savoy Theater on their own vocal power didn’t have (or need) in 1884. So much for historical accuracy.
The point remains: If _tonight’s_ audience at a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta hears an orchestra in which the lower strings—-and any number of soloists—-are inaudible, there’s a problem. When that audience numbers upwards of a thousand, as it did last Thursday night, _that_ becomes the first (and potentially last) experience they take away of Durham Savoyards. Dukie74 should be worrying about their presence in the room on Thursday night more than mine. Particularly the ones who didn’t return after intermission.
Though it seems obvious, perhaps Dukie74 needs to be informed that, in theater, you just don't get to tell an audience of a thousand, "Oh, that wasn't an actual performance."
My review reflects what a witness—-one who has clearly savored previous Savoyards productions-—heard and saw the night "Princess Ida" had one of its biggest houses. I regret that information discomforts Dukie74. It discomforts me as well.
The Durham community is grateful for reviewers providing one person's assessment of various productions. Byron Woods attended the Durham Savoyards' PREVIEW (dress rehearsal) of this year's production, Princess Ida. He found that previews are just that; a time to refine issues with lighting, sound, timing and balance between stage and orchestra, etc. In that same light, Mr. Woods was kind enough to share an early draft of his review with the whole community before he had time to check for accuracy. After checking with a colleague knowledgeable about music, I am sure he would have discovered that the "thinner" musical score was exactly as written by Sir Arthur Sullivan and performed by the same Savoyard musicians as last year, which he lauded, only with some addition. In fact, many of the musicians are also veterans of the Long Leaf Opera orchestra, which he also apparently lauded. Woods might also be enlightened to know that Sullivan had frequent battles with his producers over providing a fuller orchestra for his comic operas. We hope that next year Mr. Woods will attend an actual performance of Iolanthe.
Love it! What a great way to spend a Friday, sounds like fun!
Main Street is yet another liberal Hollywood message movie masquerading as entertainment. The dialog is lame and the message is lame. Their subplots are no more than sugar syrup to get you to swallow their progressive poison that "all technology is bad." Strip away all of the subterfuge and what do you have left? Recycling industrial waste is all bad! A true lie if I ever heard one. Obviously this movie was made to promote the progressive anti-industrial agenda by forming public opinion against recycling industrial waste. They don't tell you where the waste came from nor do they tell you what products or materials were manufactured to produce the waste. And they certainly don't tell you how many people earned an income generating this so-called evil waste.
Doyle and Foote must hate average Americans – assuming Americans are their intended target -- because of their underhanded use of illegal Hispanic laborers to foment hatred towards the evil industrial waste.
Why did Doyle and Foote choose an American town for this movie? I thought progressives had successfully driven away most manufacturing from this country? Oh I understand now. They want to form public opinion against building more nuclear power plants. So where does Doyle and Foote think we'll get the juice to charge up our electric cars? Then again, where will we find jobs to afford the $40,000 electric cars in the first place? If you think I spent too much time on the politics of this movie, then I have made my point.
Milady(bug): I hear you. And you know, this assignment was a little chunkier than the usual. From a news aspect, we had to cover the new space (What's it like? How's it doing?). Then we had to deal with the script (which had some issues, which took some more room to unpack) and the production, as usual. Three easy pieces, when usually, it's two.
I actually ran the numbers--and just under a third of the word count dealt with the cast alone, leaving two-thirds for the new room and the troublesome script. Which, all things considered this go round, is probably about the way it should have shaken out.
Sorry I didn't give your faves enough praise, Abby. But if it helps, look at it this way: in over half of the space I didn't allocate to accolades, I was checking into their working conditions, which, like I said, weren't that easy. There's the love, right?
Sure, the space is a little odd, and it might take a little for REP to learn just the right way to navigate it. However, I sure would like it if you'd spent a little more of YOUR space here talking about one hell of a cast. I'm ADD as hell, and I tell you, I was not bored during the full three hours. Why? That was one hell of a cast. Not a weak one in the bunch. Saint Monica. The Devil. The "regular guy" who did the final monologue. Pontius Pilate. The judge. You mentioned some in there, but so much space was dedicated to the space and the play itself, I hate leave that cast uncomplimented.
That trailer is now on YouTube:
Did you see the trailer for the film we unearthed and included with Marc Maximov's account of the film's fate?
The dreadful accents are there for our mocking. I agree that the fictitious Durham seems to bear little resemblance to the real one, and one wonders why they didn't make up a fictitious name. However, it's worth remembering that large swaths of this city are mired in poverty and utterly untouched by high-tech businesses and five-star locally sourced restaurants.
Angelica, I'm just noticing your comment now, after seven weeks or so. I certainly hope the film is as good as you say. And having seen a half-dozen Foote-scripted films, I know to expect deliberate pacing, complex characterizations and grave themes. His films don't hit people over the head, that is for certain. Where did you see the film?
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