Backstage with ‘The Gondoliere’

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(Host) One of the last great works of Gilbert and Sullivan is being performed in the woods of East Calais.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff went “Backstage” with “The Gondoliers,” being produced by the Unadilla Theater Company.

(Charnoff) Inside the converted barn that serves as Unadilla’s Mainstage, the set is bare, but a colorful backdrop and period costumes transport us to eighteenth century Venice.

In “The Gondoliers,” two happy-go-lucky “gondoliere” brothers have just found wives. But when one of the brothers inherits the throne of Bataria, they decide to rule the kingdom together. Each wife then wants to be the queen, and as often happens in Gilbert and Sullivan works, complications ensue.

In Unadilla’s production of “The Gondoliers,” the brothers Guissepe and Marco are played by actual brothers, Neal Cerutti of Northfield and Charlie Cerutti of Montpelier.

Charlie Cerutti says that one of the challenges of performing Gilbert and Sullivan is conveying the old English dialect through some fairly complicated music.

(Charlie Cerutti) “The words, the lyrics – they’re so wonderfully written and to try to get them across so that the audience can understand them in a wonderfully musical way. The music is absolutely marvelous too – the wittiness and the humor that lies in those lines that we’re singing is just wonderful. And to be able to get that out to people, it’s a lot of fun.”

(Charnoff) Cerutti adds that working with his brother adds a special dimension to this production.

(Cerutti) “For one reason, the huge reason of why we’re doing this is it’s a part that was written as brothers. Even though they’re probably not really brothers in the show, it helps that our voices sound the same, that we look alike, it makes the part much more interesting to watch and listen to.”

(Charnoff) The family connection in this production of “The Gondoliers” is widened with the musical director, Allison Cerutti, who is married to Neal Cerutti. She says that for her, Gilbert and Sullivan is a much richer experience than most other forms of musical theater.

(Allison Cerutti) “The music is much more classical, it’s much more like playing Mozart than playing pop music, for example, or Sondheim. And the emotions in it, the angry emotions aren’t like real angry emotions, they’re like play angry emotions. And it’s a lot of traditional classical forms – there’s a gavotte, there’s a barcorolle. I think this is one where Sullivan wanted to concentrate more on the music, and that’s probably why you have all these different musical forms in it, and his plot is probably the lightest of all of them.”

(Charnoff) Naomi Flanders of Montpelier is directing the Gondoliers. Flanders points to two concepts that distinguish a Gilbert and Sullivan libretto.

(Flanders) “One is the English humor and the particular English humor and how they poke fun at absolutely everyone, no one is spared, and also I think they’re set apart in that Gilbert’s words really show his English roots and his relationship to Shakespeare in a lot of ways, because when I would go over the words myself, I’m struck with a lot of the things that Shakespeare does with his plays, in terms of alliteration, in terms of the way he writes the poetry.”

(Charnoff) But Flanders adds that the real draw of The Gondoliers is the exquisiteness of the music

(Flanders) “It’s beautiful music, a lot of people think of just the patter songs but they forget that a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan has this beautiful, beautiful quintets, quartets, trios and choral pieces, and just gorgeous, and Sullivan loved to poke fun at various famous operas as well.”

(Charnoff) For a schedule of The Gondoliers performances, go to the Unadilla Theatre Web site.

For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff.

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