Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
Review from The Staffordshire SentinelWednesday 15 Feb 1928, page 6
Amateur Opera At Leek
"Trial By Jury" and "H. M. S. Pinafore"
Evidence of the steady progress of the Leek Amateur Opera Society is to be found in the production of "Trial By Jury" and "H. M. S. Pinafore" at the Grand Theatre, Leek, this week. In previous notices of their work mention has been made of the practical difficulties under which their producer, (Mr. W. Warrington), works by reason of the very limited stage space at his disposal. The area available for the movement of the performers could never have been intended to accommodate a crowded court scene, as in "Trial By Jury," or a ship's crew plus the First Lord's retinue of sisters, cousins and aunts, as in "Pinafore," Having regard to these handicaps, the two operas are well put on, and apart from the question of "production" in its narrower and more technical sense, the performances are of a good standard.
A Review of Resources
The Leek society is stronger on the vocal than on the histrionic side; indeed, in such principals as Miss Hilda Bloor and Mr. Frank Edge, it possesses singers who combine with the vocal gifts a talent for acting and an instinct for opera. From the standpoint of comedy and character- isation, the society has a great asset in Mr. A. D. Price, who in such roles as the Judge and Sir Joseph Porter reveals uncommon skills. His Sir Joseph Porter this week is one of his finest pieces of work of recent years, comparable in all respects with his outstanding interpretation of the Lord Chancellor in "Iolanthe." In addition, Mr. Edgar Bull is coming rapidly to the front, and he may be expected to fill more important parts in future productions.
As a conductor Miss Edith Russell Brown brings to her task a knowledge of operatic work on both sides of the footlights - an inestimable advantage for anyone who would seek to achieve artistic unity in performance. Thus she is not concerned merely with orchestral playing, b ut aims at weaving a sound pattern in which the vocal and instrumental threads maintain their proper mutual relation. Only in the best professional performances can a conductor come within sight of this ideal, but Miss Brown's approach to it since she took over the musical direction of the Leek society has been obvious to the careful observer. In the operas in current performance she welds the chorus work and the accompaniment ably together. Some of the wood-windplaying is not of the best, especially in the matter of pitch, but on the whole the orchestral work, notwithstanding occasional slips, is of a steadily improving quality.
Points From the Performance
Both "Trial By Jury" and "Pinafore" are early Sullivan operas, the one dating from 1875 and the other from 1878. Both musically and in their libretti they have in them the seed that later was to develop and ripen into so luxuriant a growth. Each of them is a clever skit - in the first on actions for breach of promise and the assessment of monetary damages for blighted affections and broken hearts, and the second on the shallow convention that affects to ignore social distinctions, and on the philosophy since greatly developed - that Jack is as good as his master. The scene in which the tearful plaintiff in "Trial By Jury" seeks to swell the hoped-for damages by a public demonstration of affection, the defendant meanwhile blackening his own character in an attempt to show what a lucky escape the poor girl has had, is truly comic, the more so because it skims so adroitly the boundary line of fact. Again, beneath the more obvious fun of "Pinafore," Gilbert is girdling at those who would deceive themselves into thinking that social rank counts for nothing in the marriage market. He is also having a dig at a system under which the veriest landlubber may become "Ruler of the Queen's Navy." Here, again, he comes very near to reality.
Of the two operas, "Trial By Jury," a curtain-raiser lasting some forty minutes, goes with the greater zest. Both Miss B Bloor and Mr. Edge sing and act with skill and fervour; Mr. Price gives a characteristically amusing depiction of the sentimental judge, who solves a knotty point by offering to marry the plaintiff himself; Mr. Edgar Bull throws all his energies into the role of the Usher; and Mr. Charles Gell, who looks a typical barrister, uses his pleasant voice excellently in pleading his client's cause in recitative. The singing of the male chorus is sonorous and impressive, but the female voices are not so good. The society has a particularly fine set of baritone and base voices - few comparable societies can boast of so rich an equipment in this respect.
Principals in Pinafore
In "Pinafore" there are certain weaknesses of casting, but most of the important roles are admirably filled. In the first act Miss Bloor and Mr. Edge have s splendid wooing scene of the authentic operatic type, and they use their opportunities to the full. Miss Bloor has a soprano voice of excellent timbre and range, and is careful not to abuse its power. In the matter of quality and expression her singing maintains a high level and is allied within aptness of gesture and movement that carry complete conviction. Mr. Edge gives us here one of his finest pieces of work. The passion of Ralph Rackstraw's love-making to his captain's daughter is reflected in singing that provides what is virtually a grand operatic thrill. His fine voice rings out with fine effect. It is here, in fact, that both Miss Bloor and he reach the high-water mark of their performance. Vocally and dramatically they are the mainstay of the opera.
Mr. Price's representation of Sir Joseph Porter is a b lend of pomposity and ironical humour. In his resplended uniform and white wig he makes the ideal figure; few amateur actors, indeed, look their parts better than he. His delineation is full of subtle touches that bespeak the experienced artist. His delivery of the dialogue is often brilliant, and the droll way in which he deals with the First Lord's songs is in the true Savoy vein.
Mr. Leonard Salt bears himself with the requisite dignity as Captain Corcoran. His voice is carefully used, and he speaks his lines well. If anything, he under plays the character somewhat; a little more animation would strengthen his hold on the minds of his audience.
In its own special way, Mr. Albert Weston's performance as Dick Deadeye is a capital study. He acts with ease and confidence, and his deep musical voice adds much to the value of his contribution to the opera. Miss Poyser's "Buttercup" is not wholly successful. Her voice does not "get over" well, but her acting in the amusing scene with the captain must not go unmentioned. Mr. Harry Hunt's best work is in the singing of "He is an Englishman;" here he makes good use of a true bass voice of unusual sonority. Master Joe Birch, as the middy, dances his hornpipe very nimbly.
In the presentation of these two operas the Leek amateurs have undertaken a considerable task, having regard to the facilities at their disposal. That they accomplish it with such a degree of success is due to the posting of a fund of artistic and technical ability, coupled with an enthusiasm that should be a stimulus to future ambition.
This review was submitted to the G&S Archive by Louis Silverstein.