Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


Part 6 - Productions and Recordings

6.1 - Teenagers and Princess Ida

Cindy Barr: Our group has a long G&S history but has never done Princess Ida. Now as we research its possibility the big question is can teenagers pull this off? Has anyone done Princess Ida with a high school cast? Let me give you an idea of the importance of G&S in our school - it is almost revered, students from the Jr. School can't wait to audition when they reach 16 years old. The students are not allowed to mess about with the libretto. (Let's face it there is enough humour and physical business to keep them hopping as it is.) In this atmosphere is it possible to pull off Ida?

David Craven: Personally I would be a little bit concerned about doing Ida only because it has the single most demanding role (in my opinion, which undoubtedly will soon be shown to be wrong) in the entire canon . . . that of Princess Ida. I would be concerned that it would not be possible to find a high school student who could summon up the dramatic ability, memory, striking appearance and vocal power and ability to pull this role off.

Outside of this role, the other roles are somewhat demanding, but in many cases less so than comparable roles in other shows . . . (Arac is a proverbial walk in the park, but then so are most of the bass roles in the canon . . .) It also has more roles than almost any other show . . . 5 Baritone Roles with Solos . . . The three Brave Brothers (and if you split up either or both of the solos, three very balanced roles) Hildy and Flo . . . And Hildy and Flo are, for the most part ensemble singers with substantial solos within the ensemble, but no solo songs . . .

In addition you need a patter Baritone (who has a rather small part, even for a patter-tone . . . and you need two tenors Hilarious and Cyril (Well Cyril could be played by a true baritone, which is referred to by some, but not others as a Baritenor . . .)

But if you have a lot of enthusiastic folk go for it.

One suggestion:

Do you have a relatively recent graduate of significant talent who lives in the area? If so, would it be politic to bring her back to perform the role of Ida?

Nick Sales: No, I don't know that you are. I really believe she is.

(Blatant misuse of Iolanthe quote just for David's benefit!)

(Neatly side-stepping this blatant baiting), you can do this, of course, swapping lines in the ensembles is done by many societies whose Hil is more comfy in the upper echelons than their Cyr; but it is cheating. Also, the kissing song will not be comfortable in Sullivan's key for a non-tenor; better to transpose it down a bit if you must cheat.

However, don't let that stop you from doing the show; cheat all you have to; the main thing is, I suppose, to give these children, these potential neophytes some G&S with their curriculum.

David Craven: The reason that I suggested the possible use of a baritenor/tenortone/lyric baritone (take your pick) for Cyril is that it may not be possible to get two tenors. In such case, with the switch as you have noted, it may still be able to be carried off . . .

Marc Shepherd: Cindy Barr asked if anyone had experience doing Ida with high-school students. At the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, I did Ida in both high school and junior high. The latter was a cut-down version designed to last about 45 minutes, but the former was musically complete. (The director did prune some of the dialogue.)

Assuming your school doesn't suffer from the acute lack of males some student drama programs have, the two most problematic roles are Ida and Hilarion. None of the other roles is particularly difficult, and indeed, the abundance of roles makes this show excellent for a student production, since it gives so many kids the chance to essay a principal role.

If you feel you can cast Ida and Hilarion adequately, I would go for it. I found that, even in junior high school, kids had no trouble finding the humor in the show.

Mike Storie: Princess Ida was done pretty well by St Mary's Catholic High School last August for the Buxton leg of the Festival.

A great strength of the production is that they set it as a conflict between a Boys prep school and a girls prep school. Because kids of that age often have unfounded animosity towards contemporaries of the opposite sex (before the hormones really kick in), it took a lot of the sexist sting out of the production.

The boys costumes were standard preppie, with blazers, shirts, ties and beanie hats. The girls had smocks with some sort of vest.

When they armed themselves for combat, they used cricket bats, lacrosse sticks, tennis rackets, etc.

The three dumb brothers came in on bicycles with leather jackets, etc.

My recollection is that the chorus was very big, maybe 50 or so.

The first act was extremely good. It got a little weaker in acts two and three because the young principal voices were not as strong as required given the size of the chorus.

The set was very simple with lots of exits so the big chorus could come and go efficiently.

The choreography was a bit too stylized (synchronized) for my taste, but was effective for that type of production.

Paul McShane: I once directed Ida at a boys' High School (ages 12-17 or thereabouts), and it went over very well with the cast. Two of its particular attractions are:

1) Good action - soldiers, swordfights, a near-drowning.

2) The opportunity for each chorus member to be a character in his/her own right - particularly in Act I - and have their names highlighted as a character you can invent in the programme (see Hildebrand's Court).

We were very lucky in that we had John Antoniou, who was a great Ida - he went on to be a terrific tenor in later productions, and joined the Australian Opera Co. after leaving school, with some success for many years.

Deborah E Sager: I'm very pleased to announce that next year's spring Penn Singers show is Princess Ida (For the first time in the 27 years of Singers history.) But, the vote to choose the show was only 4-3. This is highly pathetic for a group of 30 in any case, but the lack of any kind of mandate worries me. Especially when the other choice was Pirates of Penzance, which everyone in the group has heard of and so have all of their friends. I was highly vocal about supporting Ida, and I have some prestige in the group as a G&S expert. I was certainly not the only person who supported the show (so did the other G&S expert, and so did the director), but I'm still worried that the group will sing through the show, read the dialogue, and decide they hate it. Because I agree with Harriet that the music and lyrics are much less anti-feminist than the dialogue. If the show fails, by group enjoyment standards and/or audience standards, it's partially my ass on the line.

Of course the real problem is that 2 of the 3 big Pirates supporters are my roommates for next year, so unless Ida is unbelievably successful and enjoyable, I may never hear the end of it. (Charming roommates and wonderful friends they may be, since you never know who's reading this.) If it really fails, I'm going to have to move in with one of you.

Judith Weis: But Deb, it should be great fun for college students to play college students . . . If your 2 roommates are female, the women's chorus in Ida is much more fun than in Pirates. So be brave. Take heart, fair days will shine.

Michael Rice: My Gilbert & Sullivan experience has come almost exclusively from a student group. They've been in existence for 17 years, and I worked with them from the time I was 15 until last year. In my 6 years, the youngest person we ever had (as a regular chorus member) was 14 and the oldest was I believe 25. In it's "glory days" however, the ages were typically junior in high school to senior in college.

I think (and box office receipts will back me up) that we produced some of the best G&S I have ever seen. A few years ago I saw my first D'Oyly Carte tape (the Mikado) and was amazed at many similarities. I think that our productions were filled with more energy (especially in the chorus) though some of the voices were not as developed (though many were, as we had a GREAT pool of talent), but the thing that struck me as so interesting was much of the "business" that went on. I am of course referring to the gags and bits of scthick (sp?) that has become tradition in the history of G&S. The funniest part about it was that though none of us had seen a D'Oyly Carte tape, many of our gags were the same, or in the same spirit as D'Oyly Carte.

Some might say it was the director's influence, but most of the things we did we would work out in rehearsal, showing it to the director as we practiced. Anyway . . . to make a long story short, I think that G&S is very accessible to younger performers, provided that they take what they are doing "seriously". By this I don't mean "stuffy", but that it should obviously never be played just for the cheap laugh (as many younger performers often do . . . the shows of Northwestern, Q.E.D.).

Page created 10 May 1998