Story: Wilfred Shadbolt, head jailer at the Tower of London sometime in the 16th century, is in love with Phoebe Meryll, daughter of Sergeant Meryll. Aware of her interest in Colonel Fairfax, one of the prisoners, he informs her that the esteemed Fairfax is to be beheaded for sorcery.

Fairfax nobly accepts his fate, but the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Richard Cholmondeley, is melancholy about his friend’s impending death. The latter gladly agrees to help Fairfax find a bride before his death within 24 hours so that Fairfax’s scheming cousin and accuser will not inherit his considerable fortune.

A pair of wandering performers, the jester Jack Point and singer Elsie Maynard, entertain an unruly crowd near the Tower. Cholmondeley approaches Elsie and extends to her Fairfax’s unorthodox proposal. Given the marriage’s short duration and its substantial financial benefits, she agrees, as does an apprehensive Jack, who wants to marry Elsie himself.

Phoebe, her father and her brother Leonard all conspire to trick Shadbolt, free Fairfax and have him pose as Leonard so he will not be caught. After Fairfax escapes, Jack approaches Shadbolt with a plan that will extricate Elsie from her marriage to a man she has never seen. Meanwhile, posing as Leonard, Fairfax meets and is enthralled with Elsie, and works to win her on his own merits once his ruse is discovered.

Highlights: General director Gina Galati and her Winter Opera colleagues have begun their ninth season with a spirited rendition of this delightful 19th century opera by composer Arthur Sullivan and lyricist W.S. Gilbert.

Led by some top-rate performances and a lively reading of Sullivan’s infectious score by conductor Scott Schoonover and the orchestra, Winter Opera’s production of The Yeomen of the Guard proved to be a handsomely prepared treat for Gilbert & Sullivan aficionados.

Other Info: While it’s considered to be one of the famed opera duo’s best works and was performed regularly by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company from its debut as a Savoy opera in 1888 until 1982, it’s been sparsely seen in these parts. Bravo to Winter Opera for bringing this melodious, two-act light opera to the impressive Viragh Center for Performing Arts on the Chaminade campus.

Director John Stephens maintained a breezy, easy-going pace that was accentuated with a number of top-quality performances, led by Eileen Vanessa Rodriguez in the role of Elsie. She brought zest and sauciness to the role of the warbling minstrel, with a beautiful soprano that elevated Elsie’s arias in clear, distinctive style. Her acting proved satisfactory as well.

Andy Pappas delivered a poignant melancholy to the role of the ill-starred jester Jack Point, a tragic character whose comic exploits can’t conceal his broken heart. Pappas’ rich baritone provided suitable contrast in his duets with Rodriguez as the partners who aren’t quite lovers.

The cast also included talented tenor Clark Sturdevant as the gallant Colonel Fairfax, James Harrington as his friend Sergeant Meryll and Adrian Rosas as his trusted comrade, Sir Richard Cholmondeley.

Gary Moss seemed to be channeling Bill Murray’s character Carl Spackler from Caddyshack as the oafish jailer Shadbolt, and Sharmay Musacchio played the desperate affection of Dame Carruthers for Meryll in suitably exaggerated style.

Amy Maude Helfer lent her clear mezzo-soprano to the role of the frustrated Phoebe, with Elizabeth Bivens-Logan as her niece Kate and Zach Devin as Leonard. Adam Stefo and Winston Sullivan portrayed a pair of yeomen in minor parts.

JC Krajicek’s costumes hearkened to the 16th century English setting of the story and complemented Kyra Bishop’s scenic design set against the Tower of London, with Sean Savoie adding lighting and Kristine St. Gemme providing props. Nancy Mayo was chorus master and Hannah Frey served as concert master. Good work by all involved.

The Yeomen of the Guard contains one of Sullivan’s most mellifluous scores as well as a libretto by Gilbert that features an ending filled with as much unhappiness for some characters as euphoria for others. It’s a rich and resonating work and it received a splendid interpretation by Winter Opera.

Opera: The Yeomen of the Guard

Group: Winter Opera St. Louis

Venue: Skip Viragh Center for Performing Arts, Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 South Lindbergh

Dates: Run concluded

Photos courtesy of Riq Dilly

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