The Stratford Festival Gondoliers (1983)

Duke of Plaza-ToroEric Donkin
LuizKimble Hall
Don AlhambraRichard McMillan
MarcoJohn Keane
GiuseppePaul Massell
AnnibaleJim White
Duchess of Plaza-ToroDouglas Chamberlain
CasildaDeborah Milsom
GianettaMarie Baron
TessaKaren Skidmore

Stratford Festival
Conductor & Arranger: Berthold Carrière
Stage Director: Brian Macdonald
Camera Director: Norman Campbell

Stratford Video Cover
Stratford Video Cover

This Gondoliers video production from Canada's Stratford Festival has assumed near-infamy among serious Savoyards for its casting of a man as the Duchess of Plaza-Toro.

These were Bruce Miller's comments:

The drag performance in Gondoliers offends me, but a lot of what they do in these productions offends me. The "improvements" in the music are uniformly unnecessary and tasteless. The dancing is intrusive and adds very little to the effect of the plays. I could go on…

Stan German provided the following review:

As a stage director and a musical director/conductor, I found the Stratford Gondoliers absolutely fascinating! I have never in my life seen a production of anything that was exactly half right and half wrong!

I found the cast to be excellent: my objection to the Duchess was merely a resounding why? Actually, the gentleman in question performed the role reasonably well and I was particularly impressed with his diction and, if his pitch strayed a little from time to time, God knows I have heard worse. But a gimmick for the pure sake of gimmickry is strange in the extreme. Nothing wrong there, just nothing right.

The rest of the production followed suit. In one moment something would happen musically, visually or dramatically where I would cry out loud, "At last! Someone got it right!" only to be followed literally seconds later by some touch or interpretation that I wouldn't let pass in a public school production! Has there ever been a lovelier rendition of "Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes" (which I usually consider to be a bumpy road on the way to the entrance of the chorus) only to have it ruined by the introduction of the doll a moment later?

The lovely performance of "Kind Sir" played perfectly until Gianetta inadvertently sort of touches the Don's crotch and leaves her hand there for a period of time.

"Small Titles and Orders" worked for me for the first time in my life (even with lyric alterations), displaying a larcenous glee which I have never before seen pulled off successfully, only to face the cut of "I Am A Courtier!" As I said before 50/50 in almost perfect proportion. Truly, I have never seen anything like it.

A "Dummy Dance" was actually quite fun, but as this video stated a copyright of 1983, this would place it a year or so behind the New York City Opera Candide that featured exactly the same routine (also great fun). As I continue to say, if you are going to steal, steal from the best! Strangely enough, I heard the Venetian blind ad lib at the Village Light Opera here in New York and honestly cannot figure who stole from whom.

The collapsing boats in Act I were also used in the City Opera Candide, but in this case the boat at the end of Act I provoked a shriek of "NO!!!" from me, because at the point when the music reaches goose bump level, suddenly the clown appears and deposits a ladder down stage center, making it impossible to think about anything else for the remainder of the number!

I have rarely heard so beautiful a rendition of "Now Marco Dear" or seen it staged with such taste and delicacy — right up to the final exquisite ensemble when the chorus roams back onto the stage! ARGHHH.

There was indeed pork pie being served from time to time (the Duchess in red checked pantaloons!) but the pork pie was only half baked and as we all know, what is underdone cannot be helped!

We can only thank our lucky stars that this production was filmed before the appearance of the Taco Bell commercials or we could have renamed the entire evening "The Adventures of Don Alhambra".

Phil Sternenberg added:

My first impression, seeing and hearing a fairly straightforward opening scene, was that the whole production would be great — and then things started going so far downhill when the Plaza-Toros arrived that one would need a decompression chamber to emerge from their depths. This isn't really a criticism of their performances. I think Eric Donkin was a decent all-purpose patter man, and, given that he had to play a role not written for his own sex, Douglas Chamberlain did as commendable a job as possible. My gripes are with the entire concept of transsexual casting and the massive rewrites — not to mention the canned laughter. The Don Alhambra interpretation was nontraditional to say the least, but it was certainly executed well; there's just the lack of logic in not giving the Plaza-Toros Spanish accents as well.

Why — why — WHY was "I am a courtier" omitted?

Lastly, H. Nick Wantiez added:

Although casting a man as the Duchess was a bit gimmicky, in my opinion, the extraordinary talents of the key players made up for everything — especially the singing of Karen Skidmore and Marie Baron. After hearing Karen and Marie perform, I am not interested in listening to anyone else.

Issue History
1986 Connaisseur NTSC VHS [no number]