Decades of practice and patience lead to greatness--at least for some of the world’s most renowned opera singers, who often wait until their 30s, 40s or even 50s, before their voices mature to a perfect timbre.
Going into The Gondoliers, I kept this in mind.
Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, an operetta performed by the Syracuse University Opera Theatre, ran from Jan. 27-29 in Setnor Auditorium of Crouse College. In the story, two gondoliers, Marco and Giuseppe, marry they women they love, Gianetta and Tessa, only to discover minutes later that one of them is the King of the Island of Barataria and is already married to Casilda. But Casilda (Carina DiGianfilippo) is in love with her father's servant, Luiz (Matthew Hernandez).
These singers, mostly SU undergraduate students in their early 20s, still had many years before their voices reached a professional level. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the voices of DiGianfilippo and Rachel Boucher (Gianetta) voices. DiGianfilippo possesses some star quality, illuminated by her radiant face and vibrant voice. Unfortunately, she has not reached a level of comfort in her acting yet -- except for the few moments she was lost in song. Other performers also appeared uncomfortable -- Tevin Habeebullah’s Giuseppe consistently directed his lines toward one spot on the ceiling.
Some fared better than others, though. Evan Wichman delivered my favorite performance of the show, playing Duke of Plaza-Toro. He seemed most at ease onstage, and his voice was pleasant, though he needs more time for it to deepen and mature.
Some of the stiff portrayals made me question the casting of the performance. While Dominique Forbes' Tessa evoked a few chuckles from the audience, she overdramatized her actions. At the same time, her voice was not strong enough to project through the auditorium. Although I was sitting in the third row with nobody in front of me, I couldn't hear her the entire time.
Eric Johnson, a professor at the Rose, Jules R. and Stanford S. Setnor School of Music in the College of Visual and Performing Arts who produced and directed the show, must have had his hands full, playing Don Alhambra del Bolero. His voice was lovely, but not very operatic. In the middle of one of his solos, however, music director James Welsch almost forgot to get up and direct. (He managed to dive out of his chair to his music stand and bring everyone in during the last minute.)
Had the orchestra not come in at all, the song may have been better. The orchestra repeatedly featured mini-solos of players entering too early and became offbeat far too often for musicians still in college. The flautist especially bothered me, because she was placed on the end of the row. Without strong singers or any buffering, her high notes were piercing. Moving her into one row farther would have helped.
Overall, the performance seemed premature. Even for a low-budget production, the backdrop appeared hastily prepared--a slash of paint roller marks of blue on white depicted the sky. When I sat down and saw the backdrop, I knew the performance would either be avant-garde or substandard. Unfortunately, it was the latter.
Perhaps after a few years of maturation, this show will realize its full potential.