Opera San Luis Obispo's new season begins with Gilbert and Sullivan's Yeomen of the Guard, to be performed at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande, Saturday, October 22 at 7:30pm and Sunday, October 23 at 2pm. Tickets are on sale at $25-50 and may be purchased through the websites of OperaSLO or the Clark Center.
This is a joint production with Sierra Madre Playhouse in the Pasadena area. OperaSLO's artistic director, Brian Asher Ahladeff, will conduct both sets of performances. An hour before each of OperaSLO's performances, he will also present a pre-concert lecture that promises to be spectacular. With many audio and visual excerpts he will discuss "late 19th century comic opera, Gilbert and Sullivan's personal histories, the musical characteristics of Arthur Sullivan, and will provide a detailed analysis of Yeomen of the Guard characters and a synopsis of the plot."
Following the Pasadena run of the show, Maestro Ahladeff says, "we will pack up the sets, costumes, props, and cast and migrate north to San Luis Obispo." Since this production originated in a small theater, the move to other venues stands "in the true commedia dell'arte touring tradition."
Yeoman of the Guard is somewhat less frequently performed than the all-time favorites such as HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, and Pirates of Penzance, yet many experts and serious Gilbert and Sullivan fans consider it a real gem. In the libretto Gilbert explored a greater range of feelings and plot situations in Yeomen, probing somewhat more deeply than in his other comic works to date. Yeomen of the Guard has fewer of the "topsy-turvy" elements – those which satirize and turn on their heads conventional social pieties and institutions of the day. Characters' emotions come more to the surface.
The "yeomen of the guard" are presented in Gilbert's story as the guards of the Tower of London. The plot revolves around Colonel Fairfax, falsely accused of sorcery and imprisoned in the Tower under threat of death. Several romantic relationships, each involving mismatched lovers, conclude without the conventional last-minute revelations or other twists that make possible the resolution of conflicts and a happy, if improbable, ending.
Sullivan responded with more nuanced types of vocal numbers and also used a larger and more richly sonorous orchestra than in previous collaborations. It is well known, in fact, that Sullivan aspired to compose primarily grand opera, but the undeniable and continual success of his collaboration with Gilbert made this difficult. He was, in a real sense, a victim of their success. Yeomen, coming late in the list of his comic works with Gilbert, was one of his most ambitious operas, reflecting his increased desire to follow a new path.
Critics of Sullivan's time were quick to recognize the new features in Yeomen of the Guard. One, writing in the Daily Telegraph, found "the accompaniments delightful to hear, and especially does the treatment of the woodwind compel admiring attention. . . . We place the songs and choruses in The Yeomen of the Guard before all his previous efforts of this particular kind. Thus the music follows the book to a higher plain, and we have a genuine English opera, forerunner of many others, let us hope, and possibly significant of an advance towards a national lyric stage."
Opera Lovers Meet
Stanley Stern, pianist, presents a talk, "Opera without words", for the monthly gathering of Opera Lovers Meet on Wednesday, September 7. The event will be held at the Odd Fellows Hall on Dana Street in SLO. It begins at 10am and concludes by noon. There is no admission charge and the public is invited.
John Frey Reports
John Frey, past president of Opera Lovers Meet, fills us in about Stanley and his special program. The musical team of Stanley Stern, piano, and Pamela Sheffler, violin, have arranged a quiz. Pamela will play a series of three pieces from three different operas. For example, they might play a bit from "Mi Chiamano, Mimi," "Un bel di," and "Visi D'Arte." We would have to guess that the operas are (1) La Boehme, (2) Madama Butterfly, and (3) Tosca. We might also suggest that all three arias are (a) sung by heroines who die at the end of the opera and, (b) operas that are composed by Puccini, etc. There will be prizes for the best answers.
Stanley Stern started piano lessons at age five. He was taught by a minister from Newark who charged 25 cents a lesson. He continued playing through high school and studied harmony and composition. He minored in music in college and worked with student orchestras as an assistant manager as well as playing timpani and percussion.
He took advanced music lessons and directed and conducted an early Mozart opera, Bastien und Bastienna, as a student project. In addition, he sang in productions of Amahl and the Night Visitors and Down in the Valley. He gave piano lessons to children and was appointed music director of the Gingerbread Players, a professional children's musical theater group.
Stanley completed a PhD with a thesis on the creativity of gifted students. He joined a piano group at UCLA and became part of the LA Eight Hand Piano Quartet. After retiring from the Los Angeles School District, he moved to Los Osos where he taught folk dances to children in Cambria Elementary School, produced musical events for the Baywood Navy, and directed the Ponenmon musical series at Congregation Beth David. Stan has produced and performed in more than fifty shows on the Central Coast, including a fund raiser for OperaSLO.