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As they have been doing for nearly five decades, the Durham Savoyards are presenting their spring production of a Gilbert and Sullivan classic. And as their shows have been for many years, this year's presentation of Princess Ida, the duo's only three-act comic opera, is in Durham's venerable Carolina Theatre, with the Savoy Opera Orchestra in the pit. They played smoothly and with brio under the musical direction of Alan Riley Jones—this is his 21st Savoyards production, and ninth as music director. For stage director/choreographer Derrick Ivey it is also the ninth outing with this exuberant company of cheerful players.
The plot of Princess Ida is one of the classic ones, involving the luring of a smart woman from her chaste world of learned women into the world of men and marriage. Princess Ida was betrothed at the great age of one to Prince Hilarion, son of King Hildebrand (Jim Burnette), but on the day 20 years later when her father King Gama is supposed to deliver her up, there is uncertainty in the court. There's a hilarious song/skit about how Hildebrand's courtiers are to treat Gama if he comes with her or without her. Without her it is, but Gama (delightfully acted and sung by John Adams) is such an aggressive old goat that he sets Hildebrand's court on its ear, rather than the other way around.
The grand silliness progresses from there. Gama's three sons — "of the masculine sex" — Richard Dideriksen, Kent Parks and Scott Sino, make splendid buffoons. Another threesome is formed by Hilarion (Carl Johnson), Cyril (Ben Neufang), and Florian (the funny and well-voiced Steve Dobbins, who is also currently president of the Durham Savoyards). These men set off for the princess' redoubt, where she runs a women's university in Castle Adamant. Princess Ida, portrayed by the regal and large-voiced Lee Galbreath, puts up a good fight, but boy gets girl, and another girl gets her boy as student Melissa (daughter of the scheming Lady Blanche, who wants to take over the university) falls hard for the first man she's ever seen. Kate Farrar is wonderful as Melissa. She's tall, bold and beautiful, with a fine voice, and she scoops up the slender Florian with a zest that will not be denied.
Zest is the byword for this show, and it is thoroughly enjoyable. The set by Richard Dideriksen and costumes by Karen Guidry and Diane Woodard combine medieval elements with retro-futuristic ones in a way that makes you laugh with pleasure. There are a few sound issues (for some reason, the lower voices sounded muffled, and often the balance between singers and orchestra favored the instrumentalists) and some missed lighting cues, and you would never think you were at the Met. But it is a joyous thing to be entertained by several dozen people who have worked their hearts out since this time last year to put on a show for four days. Their singing and dancing and capering filled the old auditorium with happiness.