Haddon Hall is an enjoyable English ‘light opera’ with a melodic score by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) and a libretto by Sydney Grundy. It retells the legend of Dorothy Vernon and John Manner’s elopement, which has been moved up a century or two. It’s the only time Sullivan and Grundy composed an opera together, and it had a modest run of a little over 204 performances after opening at the Savoy Theatre in September 1892.
The Victorian Lyric Opera Company has dusted off this little gem and after performing it 35 years ago, they resurrected it with a wonderful singing cast, a fine orchestra, some colorful costumes, and a clever set. I attended with two of my brothers and their wives and we had a great time laughing and enjoying the silliness of the story and applauding several of the vocal performances.
Catherine Huntress-Reeve directs this zany production like a traffic cop and keeps the focus on the story and the music and the wacky lyrics, and miraculously doesn’t let things get out of control-well, most of the time!
There are three acts of ridiculousness and I won’t even try to go through it all (and I don’t want to give it all away because I want you to go this weekend and have an enjoyable time), so here’s a synopsis of the synopsis:
Sir George Vernon (G. Stephen Stokes) has promised the hand of his daughter Dorothy (Audrey Kline) to the immature, arrogant, and all-round not-so-nice guy with no manners – Rupert Vernon.
Perky and very assertive Dorothy is pissed because she is in love with the handsome, adorable, and all-aroud nice guy John Manners, (James Carpenter), who has fine manners.
She ain’t gonna marry a Puritan, especially a bumbling one, and when she gets help from the clever and courageous maid Dorcas (Amanda Jones) and Oswald (Tom Mirenda), who have concocted a plan for them to escape and elope, it’s made more difficult by the arrival of the ‘Keystone’ bumbling Puritans and the McCrankie (Gary Sullivan), who arrives fom the Isle of Rum to help them. Let’s just say he is ‘dressed to kilt’ and is the brunt of ‘Scottish jokes.’
Back at Haddon Hall, the Puritans feel they are obligated to be a ‘pain in the arse’ and rush in to tell Sir George that his disrespectful daughter is a fugitive on the run. The horses are readied and the chase is on! And as you can imagine, as is the custom, all’s well that end’s well-in the end. Or does it?
Music Director Joseph Sorge and his fine orchestra of 33 musicians played Sullivan’s score beautifully and never drowned out a single singer all night. (although they may have drowned out a married singer or two!) Bravo to them!
Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden has created the perfect ‘Haddon Hall’ – an unobtusive set, with marble-looking steps, and a very strong door that allows the coming and goings of the rich who live inside – and the poor who live outside-like our silly Puritans who deservedly get stuck in a downpour.
Carlton and Jane Maryott’s choreography (they also provided the many props) is lively and classy, and Costume Designer Jesse Shipley dresses everyone in the colors of the rainbow, which adds some elegance to the Vernons’ outfits and to the divine and simple black and white garb worn by the Puritans. Lighting Designer A. Dawson Smith does a fine job as did the Sound Designer, whose name was not published in the program. Thank you anoonymous sound person for your contribution.
Audrey Kline’s singing of the role of Dorothy was vocally stunning-rich and lush with clear diction. And this was so evident in her performance of “Why weep and wait..Red of the Rosebud.” And the rest of the Vernon family also had chops to spare, as shown in their gorgeous harmonies in “When the budding bloom of May” and the emotional “Nay, father Dear.’ And the hubbie-wannabe James Carpenter chimed in with some nice vocals with his wife-to-be (Audrey Kline), in “To Thine own heart be True,” which ends Act I.
Gregory Stuart was perfectly snitty and hilarious in “I’ve Heard it Said” and “When I was but a Little Lad.” And he could sing very well!
Gary Sullivan recieved the loudest applause for his rollicking “My name it is McCrankie.” And when he joined Stuart in “Theres no one by” and then the lively Amanda Jones (Dorcas) in the toe-tappin’ “Hoity-Toity, what’s a kiss”- it was bliss! And the audience went gaga when he did a jig with the chorus at the end of the final Act called “Hech mon! Hech Mon!”
Jones and Tom Mirenda (Oswald) and Kline had a blast singing “Oh tell me what is a maid to say?”
Ant it warmed the cockles of my heart to see and hear the genuine affection displayed by G. Stephen Stokes (Sir George Vernon) and Denise Young (Lady Vernon) in their heartwarming and love-affirming “Bride of my youth.”
And so, I have thought the matter out: Ye must get thee to The F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre this weekend and have thee a great time with these zany characters.
Running Time: Two hours plus a 15-minute intermission, and a short pause while they change the set after Act II.
Haddon Hall plays on Friday and Saturday March 7 and 8, 2015 at 8 PM and Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 2 PM at The Victorian Lyric Opera, performing at The F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre at the Rockvile Civic Center-603 Edmonston Road, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 314-8690.
Sullivan Operetta ‘Haddon Hall’ Works Without Gilbert by Ed Vilade.