The Montreal West-End Operatic Society (MWOS) returns to the concert halls this weekend with their production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, being performed until May 22nd (weekends only!). With stage direction by Andrew Cuk and musical direction by Gohar Manvelyan, The Gondoliers is a lighthearted and nonsensical comedy of errors that pairs some of W.S. Gilbert’s most intricate plotlines with some of Arthur Sullivan’s most lyrical music in order to transport audiences from the canals of Venice to the fictitious Kingdom of Barbaria in Spain. While the plot might be confusing, the production teems with infectious laughter and engages through its chorus of live singers and live piano accompaniment.
For those unfamiliar with Gilbert & Sullivan: the two Englishmen formed a theatrical partnership in the 19th century with Gilbert writing lyrics and Sullivan composing music. The result of this duo was a canon of work falling somewhere between opera and musical theatre in a genre that has become known as operetta. “It’s kind of hard to describe,” says Shelagh Glover, the MWOS’ Director of Communications, “Saying opera or operetta gives people the idea that it’s grand opera. I like to call it musical comedy.” But whatever name you give the genre, Gilbert & Sullivan’s works promise a whimsical excursion into the hilarious and absurd.
The Gondoliers follows Marco Palmieri (Rodrigo Monardes) and his “brother” Giuseppe (Terence Wojnowski) who both live and work in Venice as rambunctious gondoliers who are adored—suffocatingly so—by the town’s bachelorettes. It is soon revealed that one of the brothers was whisked away from Spain as a baby and it is he who is the rightful heir to the Kingdom of Barataria and pledged to be wed to its Duchess. But! Which brother is the true heir to the throne? And do these gondoliers have the skills required to run a kingdom? This is the farcical world of topsy-turveydom which is weaved together in Gilbert’s ridiculous plot! And audiences can expect some local references peppered throughout the script, injecting some unique Montreal charm.
Founded in 1939, the MWOS boasts an incredible 77 years of annual productions, performed and produced almost entirely by volunteers who are united by their passion to create. Glover attributes the organization’s longevity to its history of community engagement and partnerships, “Cote-St-Luc has been great in that they give us rehearsal space and we give back to their community in the form of concerts to their senior homes and they take the gate for one [mainstage] performance.” MWOS also partners with Victoria Hall in Westmount and gives back through their annual Christmas carolling charity fundraiser for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “We receive as much as $1000 in funds from the very generous folks in Montreal West.”
In 2012, in an attempt to expand and diversity their audience, MWOS produced their first show not written by Gilbert & Sullivan. The show in question was Orpheus in the Underworld by J Offenbach and was adapted into a bilingual production. Through this show the company was able to successfully connect with Montreal’s French communities and they’ve since pledged to perform a bilingual show every two to three years. In the works for next year is an exciting, bilingual adaptation of the French operetta, Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne which MWOS has titled La Vie Montrealaise and is being produced as part of Montreal’s 375th anniversary celebrations.
For those in search of comedy and music produced by the community and for the community, The Gondoliers is a production not to be missed! And keep your eyes on MWOS in the coming years, as exciting opportunities are on the horizon!
The Gondoliers will be performed the following dates and locations:
- Victoria Hall in Westmount (4626 Sherbrooke Street W) on May 7 & 14 at 7:30pm, and on May 8 at 2pm (in collaboration with the City of Westmount).
- Greenspon Auditorium in Côte Saint-Luc (5801 Cavendish Blvd.) on May 20 & 21 at 7:30pm, and May 22 at 2pm (in partnership with the City of Côte St-Luc).
MWOS is always seeking volunteers to help out with administration, marketing, front of house, and a variety of other roles. Any interested volunteers can find more information at www.mwos.org.
Photocredit: Brent McGowan.