While I’ve been writing about Jo Rae Perkins, Trump, conspiracies, insanity, i.e., our current politics, I’ve been listening to Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers.”
I know a fine group of their operettas very well. I grew up with some of them and learned the rest when I became the volunteer prop person (I was called “prop girl” back in those incorrect days, although I was a teenager at the time, ergo still a “girl”) for Oberlin College’s Gilbert & Sullivan summer program at Highfield, an exquisite small theater in Falmouth, Cape Cod, on the top of a hill overlooking Nantucket Sound.
I still remember the number of seats in the auditorium. Three-hundred and six. And I can still sing through a number of patter-song verses. Not all, but some.
Anyway. I know G&S so well that when a young woman in the chorus sprained her ankle and thus could not do the classic G&S shuffle in “Mikado,” I was able to fill in without a full rehearsal. Although someone had to teach me how to zap a fan.
Anyway. I am now listening to “Gondoliers” and trying to recall the plot. Which is by itself an experience.
G&S plots live on loopy entanglements. All sorts of characters turn out to be something other than what they purport to be. As I listen, I’m thinking, “OK, so this is one of their Someone Switched Infants At Birth So Someone Else Is A Prince Engaged At The Age Of Six Weeks To The Soprano But We Don’t Know Which One He Is plots.”
But wait. This twisty shtick shows up in “Mikado,” too, and in variations in “Pirates of Penzance.” And “Pinafore”. And “Ruddigore,” except the twist is that the hero is hiding out as a simple guy so he doesn’t have to assume his title of (Bad) Baronet and commit one crime a day or die. (It’s a curse, don’t worry about it.)
Well, that was fun. For me.
Here’s my epiphany: if you strip out the gorgeous music and satirical hilarity, and turn the whole thing upside down, we could be living in a G&S operetta. Everyone in the executive branch of government is the opposite of what he or she pretends to be and we need him/her to be and, in classic G&S characterization, is pretty dopey. Mike Pence. Every moment of the plot is bizarre — to be sure, more Grand Guignol than Gilbert. The pirates are not harmless dolts but actual pirates, stripping us of our treasure. Bill Barr stars as the Lord High Executioner and doubles as the Bad Baronet of Ruddigore.
I could go on but won’t. Except to suggest instead of listening to the news you listen to any of the great G&S operettas. Except for “Yeoman of the Guard,” every ending is happy for every character.
Let it be so for us.