The Brent Walker Princess Ida (1982)

King HildebrandNeil Howlett
HilarionLaurence Dale
CyrilBernard Dickerson
FlorianRichard Jackson
King GamaFrank Gorshin
AracTano Rea
GuronPeter Savidge
ScynthiusChristopher Booth-Jones
Princess IdaNan Christie
Lady BlancheAnne Collins
Lady PsycheJosephine Gordon
MelissaClaire Powell
SacharissaJenny Wren
ChloeElise McDougall

Ambrosian Opera Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Alexander Faris
Camera Director: Dave Heather
Stage Director: Terry Gilbert

Videocassette Cover
Laurence Dale, Bernard Dickerson, Richard Jackson
OperaWorld PRI10V
DVD cover
Frank Gorshin as King Gama

This video is part of the Brent Walker series that was shown in the U.S. on PBS in the mid-1980s. The casting of Frank Gorshin (Batman's Riddler) as Gama was clearly designed to enhance popularity for American audiences, and the role fits his abrasive television personality. He reprised the role in 2000 on stage for the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP).

The production is staged as a Victorian performance party, wherein an invited audience follows the performers through an English manor house. As a result of this conceit, Princess Ida's address to the Girl Graduates is witnessed by a gallery of guests dressed in Victorian costumes; the men are shown grimacing at Ida's attacks on the opposite sex. Later, when Hilarion and his friends enter, they sing their songs as audience members drift about the grounds, often coming to within a few feet of the action. At the end of Act I, the whole cast are shown sipping champagne served by tuxedo-clad waiters.

The overlaying of this extraneous concept seems to be the director's clear signal that he considered the material too weak to stand on its own, and this is the production's fatal flaw. The "invited guests" are a constant and irritating intrusion, detracting from, rather than adding to, what is already one of Gilbert's weaker operas.

Even ignoring the extraneous "guests," this Princess Ida, is not entirely satisfactory. For example, Hildebrand delivers much of his Act I dialogue on a horse, which makes a good initial impression but which makes the action dramatically stilted. In Act II, "A lady fair" is illustrated by a slide show — a more than slight anachronism — with all of the Girl Graduates, not just the three men, observing. "Now, wouldn't you like to rule the roast" is sung with all the other women present, as if the director hadn't noticed that this is supposed to be a private conversation between Blanche and Melissa. Superimposing a house party on top of already shaky dramatic legs simply ruins the production, making it one of the worst in the Walker series.

Although I liked Gorshin's Gama, Ben Elton had a contrary view:

Perhaps the greatest let down is Frank Gorshin's King Gama. There is parlando, and there is just ignoring the music. Gorshin's performance certainly comes into the latter category, ruining "If you give me your attention" and "When'er I spoke sarcastic joke." This is all the more regretable as his rendition of "P'raps if you address the lady," although not fully satisfactory, does show that he is capable of following a tune if he puts his mind to it.

The performance is complete, aside from miscellaneous dialogue cuts and "Come, mighty must."

Issue History
1982 Brent Walker Productions VHS PAL [unnumbered]  
1986 Woolworth VHS PAL S1006
1991 BraveWorld Video VHS PAL STV 2050
1994 Polygram Video VHS PAL 6325123
1996 Opera World VHS NTSC PRI10V
1999 Roadshow (Aust./NZ) VHS PAL 102028
2002 Acorn Media DVD AMP-5378 Available only in a 10-disc boxed set (cat. AMP-5483) including the entire Brent Walker series, excepting Trial and Cox and Box.