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July 31, 2009

Trying My Patience

100_0086 Ah...Gilbert and Sullivan. Such enchanting entertainment — perfect for a summer's evening. I was so looking forward to Wednesday night's performance of Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride, the 1881 G&S operetta served up this year as part of the Vermont Mozart Festival. Conductor William Metcalfe wields a skillful baton. Another biblical night of rain wasn't going to be a problem; unlike most VMF concerts, this one was held indoors, at the Inn in Essex. What could possibly go wrong? I spiffed up and headed out, ready to whistle catchy passages and giggle over silly lyrics on the ride home.

What? No air conditioning? With hundreds of people in tight quarters on a hot and stormy night? I haven't visited an Amazonian rain forest. But it felt like I did on Wednesday, along with many other unhappy fellow tourists who also hadn't planned on the tropical trek.

Apparently, the A/C makes too much noise to run during the performance. (It sounded peep-and-squeak-free when they were supposedly cranking it during intermission to cool the room back to semi-tropical conditions.) So the temp and humidity rose to seriously uncomfortable levels in the sold-out space. In my tissue-thin blouse, I was sweating like a Bulgarian weight lifter.

The unnecessary length of the ordeal made it all so much worse. The show started 20 minutes after the 7:30 p.m. curtain time. (Remember, the temp was rising as each minute passed since the A/C went AWOL.) A full eight minutes of the delay was attributable to VMF's always-interminable round of announcements and sponsor introductions. Should arts organizations thank donors at events? Abso-bleepin'-lutely. Should the jibber-jabber last as long as it takes to sing Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot" almost four times? No way, no how. And when another VMF'er started more talky-talky before Act II, I thought an elegant woman a few seats to my left was about to shoot spitballs through a straw she'd saved from her intermission cocktail. The 40-minute-long intermission.

I got home at 11:30 p.m., after detouring to Hannaford for some life-sustaining low-fat cheese sticks. I had permitted myself exactly one small bite of the sugar-intense dessert offerings at intermission, and that only because the show was already running so late. You don't drop 82 lbs. eating cake, unless you reserve it for celebrating the occasional wedding. (Two friends got hitched last year — woo-hoo!)  Instead of posting promptly about musical merriment, I was busy applying ice packs to places I can't discuss and cranking my A/C to not-Al-Gore-approved levels.

But the music was merry, and the performers themselves deserve medals for doing such a bang-up job under such harrowing conditions. (We were wilting in the audience just sitting there; they were moving around in costumes, wigs and under lights!) As Metcalfe so astutely pointed out in his pithy intro, Patience is a cutting cultural satire of England's foppish aesthetic movement, popular during the 1880s. Apparently, the Victorians loved seeing themselves mocked, and flocked to the show.

William Gilbert penned implausibly convoluted plots. Here, the innocent milkmaid, Patience, who has never known love, tries to learn about it by picking between two cra-zee poets. Whom a chorus of other Rapturous Maidens dig most heavily, including one — Lady Jane — who looks about 83 ... on a good day. The manly Officers of the Dragoon Guards — well, their manhood takes great offense at all this love of poetry!

The plot couldn't be sillier. (Actually, several other G&S operettas could compete here.) But pish-tosh, I say, on plot! Gilbert's lyrical brilliance as a librettist, I would argue, is unmatched in the history of opera or musical theater. Rappers could learn a thing or two from the rhymes he threw down. Act II's duet with Lady Jane and the poet Bunthorne, "So go to him and say to him," juxtaposes simple pairs such as "boo" and "pooh-pooh" with fancier ones like "jocular" and "ocular." On Wednesday, Monique Pelletier and William Bickford sang it with verve, articulating every priceless word.

Bickford excelled all night at playing the snotty sonneteer, as did David Neiweem who portrayed his versifying rival, Grosvenor. Bickford brandished a huge, feathery quill pen as he puzzled over pretentious lines, while Neiweem batted his lashes as he gushed about his own unmatched beauty. Jane Snyder was also terrific as the incredibly innocent ingenue, Patience. Other stand-outs included Pelletier, who rocked her grizzled gray wig, Aimee Bushey as Lady Angela and John Tirano as the Duke. The entire ensemble performed the G&S with gusto, including the regulars from the VMF orchestra who became musicians in "the G&S Band," as Metcalfe called them. In short: the music was delightful, but the conditions were frightful.

Wait, that rhymes. I blame Gilbert!

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