When “Gilbert and Sullivan” are mentioned, the lively comic operas “Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado” and “H. M.S. Pinafore” probably come to mind. But librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan wrote 11 other operas, noted Brian Asher Alhadeff, artistic director of Opera San Luis Obispo.
“A few are performed over and over,” he said. “They overshadow the others, but some of the others are just as great.”
“The Yeomen of the Guard” is one of the lesser known, but Alhadeff says it is noted for some of Sullivan’s best music. The Opera San Luis Obispo chorus and orchestra will join singers from Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Playhouse to present the opera at the Clark Center.
“The Yeomen of the Guard” is not typical of Gilbert and Sullivan’s more popular comic operas, Alhadeff said. Although the libretto contains humor, including a lot of pun-laden one-liners, the trademark satire and topsy turvy plot complications are more subdued.
“They are all comedies, making fun of everything English,” Alhadeff said. “This one is also a comedy, but it ends on a sad note.”
The Clark Center performance has grown out of a production in Pasadena. The 14 principal singers of the Sierra Madre cast join the 15-member chorus of Opera San Luis Obispo and a 16- piece orchestra that includes principals from the San Luis Obispo Symphony. Sets and costumes are from the Sierra Madre production, which ran for 16 performances. It was followed by three more at Leisure World in Laguna Hills.
After so many performances, the opera was well-polished, Alhadeff said.
“It was in such amazing condition it could be performed anywhere.”
The cast could adapt to any venue, he added. “They are like a band of Gypsies — young, vibrant, athletic go-for-broke performers.”
The addition of the local chorus and orchestra enhances and embellishes the opera.
“This is thoroughly beautiful music. Sullivan treats the chorus as another character itself,” Alhadeff said. “It is almost like a Greek chorus. It sums up the action, reminding what happened in case you missed something.”
The plot involves two traveling minstrels, a man and a woman, who stumble into a situation at the Tower of London where a decorated colonel is accused of sorcery by his cousin, who wants him executed so that he can inherit his property. The yeomen of the guard, who oversee executions, hatch a plot that involves finding him a wife to be his beneficiary.
There are many relationships involved, Alhadeff said. It is mostly comedy, but director Eugene Hutchins has given it a tragic twist. Hutchins is director of the production and Alhadeff is musical director.
Alhadeff was appointed artistic director and conductor of Opera San Luis Obispo in July after serving as assistant conductor for two years. In addition to conducting in the United States and abroad, he is also a pianist, lecturer and arts presenter. He will give a pre-opera presentation an hour before each performance. His presentations are “very integrated with technology,” he said, a necessity in this age of iPods and Xboxes.
He uses video to explain why Gilbert and Sullivan are popular and enduring, using clips of films and concerts that used their music and songs. For example, in 1968 when the Sydney Opera House in Australia was inaugurated, Peter, Paul and Mary sang “I Have a Song to Sing” from “The Yeomen of the Guard.”
“I use video and audio, and every presentation is tailored to the audience so they have a head start as to what to expect,” he said.
Among his community outreach events related to “The Yeomen of the Guard” are presentations to fifth-and sixth-graders, to a San Luis Obispo High School history class, to Cuesta College students and to Opera Lovers Meet.
There is a lot of interest in this area, he said, noting that it is an artistically rich community.
“My strongest point is selling opera to young people,” Alhadeff said. “We have to procreate the art or it will die.”