Valley Light Opera brings “Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse” back to the stage

The Valley Light Opera Company’s fall show is Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse, one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most beloved operettas- hilarious, tuneful, romantic, and delightfully terrifying. Performances will be at the Northampton Academy of Music on November 11-13, 18-20, 2016. For ticket details go to the Academy of Music website.

Ruddigore is known for its ghosts, for the curse laid upon the Murgatroyd family (commit one crime a day forever or die in agony!) and for its jolly choruses of rustics and bridesmaids. But Ted Blaisdell, the director, finds more in the story, seeing it as a commentary on Victorian society, especially on ways of thinking about women.

The operetta, Blaisdell says, is usually set in the early 19th century, but he has moved it ahead by several decades to late Victorian England. He sees the two principal female roles as fascinating opposites.

“Rose Maybud (played by Soprano Elaine Craine) relies on established conventions to guide her behavior,” he says. “She’s looking for a titled husband with money and land-the Victorian ideal.”

In contrast, the character Mad Margaret (played by VLO newcomer Stephanie Gilbert) is decidedly unconventional.

“What’s most important to her is love, and she has been driven to madness by a broken heart.”

He adds that we might almost see Rose as a classic gold-digger and Margaret as clinically depressed, “but fortunately both of them are also hilarious.”

The show is a kind of homecoming for Blaisdell; his first onstage appearance with the VLO was in Ruddigore in 2004. He has since played many lead tenor roles in VLO productions and most recently with the Worcester Opera. Ruddigore remains his favorite Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, and he has enjoyed digging deeper into it and finding new ways of thinking about the story while never losing sight of the opera’s high comedy and the wild eccentricity of some of the characters.

“Victorian audiences would have recognized these people as sendups of types from melodrama,” Blaisdell comments. “They walk right up to the line of the absurd without quite going over. We’ve been having a lot of fun with that, and audiences will too.”

Fun Facts

Like many Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas, Ruddigore has had an influence on popular culture, particularly 20th century theater. “Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse” was the 10th collaboration between Gilbert and Sullivan. The “supernatural opera” opened on January 21, 1887 at the Savoy Theatre and ran for 288 performances. It was not revived until 1920 when it was substantially cut and provided with a new overture arranged by Geoffrey Toye.

In one of the most vivid scenes from Ruddigore the ghosts of all the ancestral Baronets of Ruddigore emerge from their portraits in a rousing, show-stopping chorus. This and other plot elements from Ruddigore are found in subsequent musicals; for example, 1937’s Me and My Girl features a portrait gallery of ancestors that, like the portraits in Ruddigore, come alive to remind their descendant of his duty.

The Matter Patter trio – arguably one of the best in the G&S Canon – was used (with some changed lyrics) in Papp’s Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance, and the tune of the song is used as “The Speed Test” in the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein also features satire of the horror and melodrama genre and pays homage to Ruddigore in its musical themes – particularly the instrumental melodrama in Act 2. In the stage production, the ghost of Victor Frankenstein even emerges from his portrait.

Michael Greenebaum

Michael Greenebaum

Learn More

Ticketholders to the matinee performances of Ruddigore are invited to attend a pre-curtain talk by Michael Greenebaum. Michael is a founding member of Valley Light Opera and has conducted and staged many works throughout its history. He was the conductor of the company’s first “Ruddigore” in 1982. The talk will begin promptly at 1PM and there will be opportunity for comments, questions and conversation – including with some of the cast and crew who may be in attendance!

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