LINDA OF LONDON: Gilbert & Sullivan opens 49th season

The Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society opened its 49th season June 10 at the Bagley Wright Theatre at the Seattle Center. "The Gondoliers" continues a summer tradition that is still alive and flourishing in Seattle, even with all the excitement of the new opera house's grand opening.

The society's healthy longevity is due to the dedication and foresight of the late Gordon Gutteridge. In 1963, Gordon G. Gutteridge assumed artistic direction of a Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society that had fallen on hard times. The group's founder, John Andrews, had died in 1961, and a misguided effort to present two productions in 1962 proved finan-cially disastrous. At the end of the season, the society had $28 to its name.

Advancing his own funds, Gutteridge signed the group up as a tenant in the new Seattle Center Playhouse and produced "Trial by Jury." Thirty-three years and hundreds of successful performances later, in 1996 he took the company to the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England, where they presented an award-winning production of "H.M.S. Pinafore." Upon his triumphant return he became the society's only artistic director emeritus. Gutter-idge passed away on Jan. 19, 2002.

Gutteridge was truly unique. Few stage directors would have been able to do what he did. Artistic staff deserve to be paid, rather than having to fund production out of their own pockets. To guarantee enough money to pay the artistic staff, the society's board of trustees created the Gordon G. Gutteridge Endowment fund to ensure that Gilbert & Sullivan productions would continue in Seattle.

"The Gondoliers" is one of the happiest and silliest of Gilbert & Sullivan's collaborations. It lives up to the repu-tation of their best operettas, featuring a topsy-turvy plot, mistaken identities and babies switched at birth, coupled with joyful, bubbly music.

Written in 1889, the plot involves two brothers, now young Venetian gondoliers, who were raised by foster parents. One of them is really the heir to the throne of Barataria and was married in infancy to the baby daughter of a Spanish nobleman. As the opera opens, the young people have all grown up and the gondoliers are married to local girls. No one can remember which one is the king, and the noble Spanish family arrives to claim their daughter's rightful place as queen of Barataria.

Thursday night's opening performance lived up to all expectations. The curtain rose on a spectacular, marble-terraced piazza with the Venetian sky-line in the background. The set's upper terrace accommodated a group of peo-ple who, as the lights went up, turned out to be the 28-piece orchestra.

The conductor appeared, followed by a bevy of beautiful maidens. Then, accompanied by enthusiastic applause, a full-sized gondola glided upstage, bringing the two leading gondoliers. Quite magical, with the lapping water reflected in the lights. All this splendor was created by the artistic genius of Nathan Rodda.

The singers were in splendid voice and well matched. The acting, singing, dancing and humor was in perfect time, with just the right amount of corn and slapstick. The diction was perfect, every word coming across loud and clear so that you could understand all the "in" jokes, including a couple of dot-com gags and local references. The all-new sets and costumes were dazzling. Bravo, bravo! Maybe after 49 years, they have really gotten it right. I have never seen better!

The principals include Richard Barrett, Amanda Brown, William J. Darkow, Glen Guhr, Signe Mortensen, Alyce Rogers, David Ross, Susan Salas and Julian Schrenzel. Bernie Kwiram conducted the society's own 28-piece orchestra and the cast of 17 principals, backed by a 32-member chorus.

Anna Maria Gutierrez, whose choreography was last seen in the "Iolanthe" in 1997, has added a Spanish flavor to the several major dance numbers. She is also a featured dancer, along with Phillip Laue.

Scenic designer Rodda created a beautiful set of the Venetian waterfront for Act I and a magnificent throne room in the imaginary king-dom of Barataria for Act II. Ron Erickson designed new costumes for this show. Special effects include a "float-ing" gondola, a huge sailing ship and flaming torchiers. The society last performed "The Gondoliers" in 1992.

The performances include three family nights and three Saturday matinees. Tickets are $29 for the pub-lic and $25 for senior citizens. Family nights offer discounts for all adults. Student prices are $10.

For tickets, call the Gilbert and Sullivan Society at 341-9612 or Ticketmaster at 292-ARTS or go online to the society's Web site at Performances are July 17-19 and July 24-26, with evening shows starting at 8 p.m. and matinees at 2 p.m. on the main stage at Bagley Wright Theatre, 155 Mercer St., in the Seattle Center. I thoroughly recommend you take the whole family to enjoy this fine production full of joyous merriment.

E-mail regarding this story may be sent to[[In-content Ad]]