on September 29, 2000
The Brent-Walker series is currently the only complete (except for "Utopia, Limited" and "The Grand Duke") video set of Gilbert and Sullivan operas available. And, as far as I can tell, this is the only version of "Yeomen of the Guard" available on video in the U. S.
This is the "serious" Gilbert and Sullivan, the closest thing to a grand opera the pair would ever do. If, like me, you have viewed the entire Brent-Walker series, you'll know that this production relies less on cutesy camera tricks and more on characterization and a real sense of the opera's purpose. The costumes and sets are really lovely, and the acting is very good, considering that many of the cast are singers before they are actors. Particular mention must be made of Alfred Marks as a likable Wilfred and Elizabeth Gale as a sympathetic Elsie (which is no mean feat; I consider Elsie the least sympathetic herione in the G & S canon).
Pride of place, however, must go to Joel Grey's Jack Point, a stunning portrayal. I know there are those who disagree with me (I read one review that called him "dull as dishwater") but I find Grey a wonderful Point. He shouldn't be, of course -- he plays the part with an American accent and is a high tenor rather than the baritone the role calls for. However, the accent helps to mark Point as an outsider, and Grey has no problem with the lower end of his range. He really plays the role with a sense of the bitterness underneath the jester's facade, without alienating the affection of the audience. Jack Point is the pivotal part in this piece; depending on how the actor chooses to portray him, "Yeomen" can end up being a light operetta or a dark opera. Here, it is most decidedly the latter. Grey is especially moving in the final scene as well -- if he doesn't break your heart, you really must be a cynic.
My review has been positive thus far, so why only three stars? Alas, the video is marred by the excision of no fewer than six entire numbers, as well as the opening verse of Phoebe's spinning song. Some of the most famous songs are gone -- both of Fairfax's arias as well as the quartets "When a Wooer goes a-wooing" and "Strange adventure." The decision for the elimination of these numbers is inexplicable. Apparently some of them were filmed and shown on the BBC broadcast, but no video version contains them. There is missing dialogue as well, most notably the scene between Elsie and the disguised Fairfax and the scene when Dame Carruthers discovers Sergeant Meryll's secret. Presumably these cuts were made so that the piece would fit into the two-hour time slot alotted to the other videos, but if so, that is a poor reason.
So enjoy this video for what is there: costumes, sets, performances (especially Grey), but make sure you have a good recording handy so you don't have to do without the missing music.
on July 4, 2000
Yes, I'm in love with Poor Jack Point (Joel Grey) and with Sir Arthur's music and Gilbert's lyrics. The video could be better; it leaves out a great song by Colonel Fairfax, and one of the weddings (Dame Carruthers really does get a man in the original). Elsie Maynard is one of the best leading ladies in this series of G&S. Wilfred, the assistant tormentor, is the perfect foil for Jack Point. A feast for the eyes and ears despite my quibbles.