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 March 2010 - Nr. 3
Happy Easter - Frohe Ostern

Lucille de Saint-AndreLEO, THE ROYAL CADET, recently performed by Toronto Operetta Theatre, (TOT) at Jane Mallet Theatre to continue its twenty-fifth anniversary season, was a delightful experience. A more enthusiastic younger crowd than we usually observe for such established operettas as The Gypsy Baron, Fledermaus or Countess Maritza applauded wildly for this Canadian musical comedy.

This comic Canadian military operetta in four acts was written by Kingston composer Oscar Ferdinand Telgmann, with libretto by George F. Cameron and Charles Cameron, and performed for the first time to great enthusiasm at Martin’s Opera House in Kingston in 1889.

Over the next 30 years LEO presented more than 1700 performances until in 1925 it was savaged by a devastating flood that damaged sets, costumes and orchestra parts beyond repair. After dedicated research TOT founder and general director Guillermo Silva-Marin resurrected it and brought it up to its first modern staging in 2001. He also directed the present version.

It’s now a comic operetta within an operetta in two acts, a real time-trip with many echoes of Gilbert & Sullivan.

1889 was the year The Eiffel Tower opened in Paris, the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed and Bayer introduced aspirin powder in Germany. Canada was 22 years old and the Military College in Kingston 13 years.

Instead of the elite princes, dukes and counts we usually encounter in light opera, LEO features Colonel Hewett, the commandant of The Royal College, and hero Leo and the love of his life, the valiant Nellie. A swaggering Col. Hewett, sung by Baritone Robert Longo, is trying to impress Nellie but she resists him fiercely. Soprano Kristin Galer as Nellie is in fine voice in duets with Leo, her girl-friends and the colonel. Tenor Cory O’Brien as Leo matches her in the love scenes although there is not much chemistry between them. Patrick Whalen is the upstanding British soldier who sings “I cannot sing of ladies fair or damosels of high degree” — and continues with, “Fill up! My toast is of the best, the good old First Profession, Arms!” His name, a sample of 1889 humour: Captain Bloodswigger.

Other comic relief comes in two professors of the Kingston College played by Joseph Angelo and Gregory Finney with appropriate accents in German and French and some nice dance routines. But Wind (Stefan Fehr) is lovely as a young poet who can’t pronounce his R’s as he is working on his “faewy opewa” and constantly writing down notes “so as not to forget.”

The first act begins, naturally, with a drinking song: “Fill up The Bowl, Boys,” heartily sung by the cadets in their brilliant red coats. They are celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday with a picnic and eagerly expecting the guests for an open house at the military college. When the guests (maidens) arrive they enter from the backs of the auditorium and, giggling, descend with their parasols through the audience to appear in full light of the stage with their lovely period costumes in gorgeous muted shades. Their parasols are immediately put to good use in dance movements very much in the Gilbert & Sullivan mode as they sing, “We Are the Maidens.”

Commandant Hewett and Captain Bloodswigger are eager to sign up new bodies for the South African campaign against the Zulus and succeed to enlist Leo and his friend, Wind. The commandants orders the new recruits to leave for the war with the next transport. Nellie is distressed and fears she may never see Leo again. Mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Prata is especially good as Nellie’s friend Caroline. The party ends with a hymn to Pumpkin Pie and tender farewells.

The British camp at Isandlwana, January 1879. Leo, on a dimly lit stage filled with leaf shadows volunteers to watch over the sleeping soldiers and remembering Nellie, sings sadly about “the days of long ago.” The Zulus sneak up, in a sort of hissing and low mooing attack. A stylized pantomime battle ensues with very realistic Zulus and great fun for the audience. The redcoats run off, pursued by the Valiant Zulus.

The battle is over and the heroes return to the Military College. Amidst much rejoicing the couples are reunited, especially Leo and the now happy-again Nellie, and all dance happily into the night. Wind has finished his Faewi Opewa and insists on rehearsing it then and there. Everyone loves it.

The orchestra was in the good hands of Conductor/Music Director Jeffrey Huard, recently in charge of the Mirvish hit SOUND OF MUSIC. This is a marvelous look back at an early triumph of Canadian theatre.

Lucille de Saint-Andre reports about film festivals, art, entertainment, museum, exhibitions & travel. She writes her own reviews.

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