Posts Tagged ‘Gilbert & Sullivan’

Several musical strains run deeply in my blood. One is the Beatles. I have three older brothers whose ages range up to nine years my senior, so between that and the fact that my parents were pretty hip (e.g., Dad took me to Cheech and Chong movies), I grew up listening to Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, Hey Jude—too young to know it wasn’t a real album—and, in the years before such compilations became as common as unnecessary remakes are now, the red and blue 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 double albums, which I got on audiocassette and played till they wore out. Last weekend I learned the crushing fact that my 22nd wedding anniversary was also the 40th anniversary of the official breakup of the Beatles, which should be a national day of mourning. My wife gets the last laugh because she never really liked them. If anyone ever wanted proof that it’s really love, they need look no further than the fact that I married a girl who wasn’t a Beatles fan.

By now, I’ve internalized their songs to the degree that I’ve rewritten the lyrics to about two dozen of them, for the amusement of my friends, and only Talking Heads has even approached them in my esteem. (While attending the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Course in Cambridge, I walked into a screening of Stop Making Sense knowing nothing about but having a total misconception of their music, just because I’d heard it was a really good movie, and walked out a fan for life.) I never got to see either band in concert, which in the case of the Beatles isn’t too surprising, but on one of the greatest nights of my life, Loreen took me to see David Byrne at Toad’s Place in New Haven in 1994, and he did seven Heads songs, including the truly transcendent “And She Was.”

But another one is the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and I’m proud to say that my daughter has embraced both strains. I was raised on the infectious melodies of Sir Arthur Sullivan, and especially the lyrics and libretti of that champion wordsmith W.S. Gilbert, who—like the Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog of the light-opera world, only less violent—created great art together even, or perhaps especially, when they didn’t get along. (Speaking of which, I highly recommend Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh’s film about the fractious creation of The Mikado, especially Jim Broadbent’s performance as Gilbert.) I can still sing slabs of some of their best-known shows, such as H.M.S. Pinafore, from memory pretty accurately, and at Trinity College in Hartford I even got to sing the modest role of the Lieutenant of the Tower in The Yeomen of the Guard.

Y’see, on and off since I was a kid, Mom has played cello for Troupers Light Opera in God’s Country (aka Connecticut), which next weekend finishes its 65th production in Fairfield County, The Gondoliers. She sometimes woke me up for school by dropping the needle on a classic D’Oyly Carte recording—we’re going back to Martyn Green here—and I’ve seen the major shows more times than I can count. Now, I’m not gonna lie to you: these are not the world’s most polished productions, featuring a decidedly mixed bag of local talent. But it tells you all you need to know that TLO co-founder Fred Scharmer celebrated his 97th birthday during rehearsals, and was up there on stage in the men’s chorus that very same Bradley/Beatles anniversary night. They’re truly keeping the spirit alive, and I for one wouldn’t miss it for the world. So check out http://trouperslightopera.org/ for further details, and tell ’em Jean Bradley’s son sent ya.

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