Opera North’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore is directed by Jo Davies and was premiered last year under the baton of light music crusader John Wilson, who recreates the version of the musical score which both Gilbert and Sullivan finally settled upon.
Wilson and every member of the original cast have returned to reprise their acclaimed performances. Although the action has been updated from the period of the Napoleonic Wars to the aftermath of the First World War, the Victorian critics who slammed Gilbert’s libretto would probably spin round in their graves to discover that it remains untouched more than 120 years later – save for the insertion of an additional verse which parodies the MPs’ expenses scandal, tabloid journalism phone hacking, and the recent appearances of the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons in Celebrity Big Brother!
Sepia-tinted sets and costumes created by Richard Hudson and Gabrielle Dalton with muted, atmospheric lighting designed by Anna Watson contribute to a production that is ravishing to behold. The silvery-grey sea and pale blue sky for the Cornish coastal village in Act One imbue the scene with the quaint charm of a 1920s picture postcard resort. The Picture Gallery of Act Two fills the full height of the proscenium and tapers to a point at the back of the stage inducing a feeling of claustrophobia as the ghostly ancestors of Ruddigore step down from their picture frames amid the obligatory lightning flashes and amplified rumbles of thunder.
Everything gels under the baton of John Wilson who clearly has the measure of Gilbert & Sullivan. Wilson takes things at a brisk pace but is careful to shine light on detail. I don’t think that I have ever heard the Act One finale with so much clarity, such as the intricately-beautiful harmonies of the pseudo-madrigal “When the buds are blossoming” sung here with palpable joy by the entire company.
This terrific production of a hitherto under-rated Savoy opera oozes so much humour and visceral energy from an expert cast who now inhabit their roles. In fact, it’s ruddy marvellous!