THE GYPSY BARON
The Operetta Company
Director: Sandor Barinkay
Musical Director: Dr.. Robert Asto
For the company’s 12th season this presentation of Johann Strauss’s operetta, The Gypsy Baron, played to large audiences. The Operetta Company has proved there is an audience for this genre. It is filling a musical void by serving its audience and performing semi-staged productions. This has been achieved by presenting productions in costume, with linking dialogue and narration of the story, all enhanced by being having a full orchestra. On this occasion, Irene Smith was the narrator and she has, over the years, elegantly delivered the unfolding plots. I do hope that in future presentations the narrator will have an even greater input.
The chorus was dressed in black, and all the principals were costumed and wigged. It does make me wonder why the need for full costumes when a scarf, a waist coat, or a hat could do the same job for this type of presentation.
Johann Strauss II desperately wanted to succeed in writing operettas. For ‘The Gypsy Baron’, his librettist, Ignas Schnitzer, who based the operetta on Mór Jókai’s story, Sáffi. The audiences went wild for it but, alas, as happened with many of Strausss stage works, it was sadly short lived. Possibly the one stage show that was an enduring hit was ‘Die Fledermaus’.
Set in Hungary in the 18th Century, this is the colourful story of the marriage of a landowner (returned from exile) and a gypsy girl who is revealed as the daughter of a Turkish Pasha, and the rightful owner of hidden treasure. It involves a fortune-telling Romany Queen, an absurdly self-important Mayor, a rascally Commissioner, a Military Governor, a band of gypsies and a troop of Hussars.
Strauss’s blissful score was well interpreted by the cast and orchestra. The musical highlight was when all the voices, chorus and principals, came together. I would suggest that it is the music the audience is there for, and it was not disappointed.
A strong cast of experienced performers brought the colourful characters to life. All the supporting roles, from Steve Brennan, as Graf Peter Homonoy, Zack Thornley; playing the villain of the piece, Count Kareska; Jean Forester, as Arletta; Tony Meehan, as Arletta’s suitor; and Ken Rees, as the snorting pig breeder, Zsupan, helped with the story telling.
“Strange Are the Powers” of the Gypsies, Czipra, queen of the Romanies, was given a mystic aura by Susan Bradley. When Gypsy Princess, Saffi, meets Baron Sandor Barinkay, a romance follows. Claire Unsworth delighted the audience with her rendition of Saffi, both vocally and with her characterisation. On their betrothal Sandor, played by Allen Christey-Casson, is given the title of the Gypsy Baron. Allen was in fine voice and very well partnered with Claire. He notably sang “Danube, River of Dreams”, an aria popularised by Richard Tauber.
There is so much to admire about The Operetta Company for the work it is doing, that of keeping operetta alive and in front of an audience.